April 23, 2015Linda Heasley, CEO
c/o Lane Bryant
Lane Bryant Headquarters
3344 Morse Crossing
Columbus, OH 43219
I'd love to take a second of your time and share my thoughts about the #ImNoAngel campaign with you.
We met a couple of months ago in NYC along with a dozen other bloggers and your Chief Marketing Officer. We gathered to discuss how Lane Bryant can better serve the plus-size community and it turned into a passionate discussion where those in attendance openly requested more diversity both on the catwalk and online. That, and less Sharkbite dresses, wink wink. I left the lunch inspired and looking forward to what Lane Bryant would produce next. Truthfully? While it's absolutely gorgeous, I expected more than the #ImNoAngel campaign.
Even though I was disappointed, I’ve been reading the responses with great interest since your launch; observing those who applaud the images saying FINALLY, and others who are saying We want more. It’s been fascinating to say the least. What has interested me the most though, is watching some individuals quickly become frustrated with those who demand representation. Individuals asking “for more” are often told to stop "whining" about a "first world problem" and many defended the campaign saying that fashion figures are supposed to be aspirational and not necessarily representational. Many of these comments were visibly supported by your company via social media.
This seems to conflict, however, with your ultimate intention. You were quoted as saying:
"Our '#ImNoAngel' campaign is designed to empower ALL women to love every part of herself. Lane Bryant firmly believes that she is sexy and we want to encourage her to confidently show it, in her own way."
Personally, I question how empowering these images can be for “all women.” #ImNoAngel only shows ONE shape while redefining the sexy plus women; that shape being the traditional hourglass: a body with a waistline considerably smaller than a larger bust and hips. This is almost always (and is, in this case) accompanied by a flat belly. This shape is ubiquitous in plus-size modeling and some say that only showing one type of body isn’t an issue (after all, at least they’re plus-sized and on the F train, right?!?), but I disagree and would like to share with you a little bit about diversity and why it’s more important than you think.
We’re all aware that only a miniscule percentage (a whopping 5%) of body types are positively represented in the media. What some of us don’t realize is how monumentally this affects us and our wellbeing.
When we, as a society, fail to include diverse bodies in our media, the message becomes clear to those excluded: you are unworthy of taking up space. It’s a powerful message that settles into the core of those who aren’t represented. #ImNoAngel, seemingly attempts to convey empowerment for plus-sized women, but instead has continued to perpetuate this exact same message. This time, though, with a specialized addition for the bodies not pictured: not only are you unworthy of taking up space, but you are also not invited to feel sexy.
Given that the majority of your customers (and plus women in general) don't see themselves represented in #ImNoAngel… this campaign seems to be an empowerment “backfire.”
When a person is constantly bombarded by images of one "ideal" body (plus or otherwise) it wreaks havoc on their psyche. The continual exposure mentally trains them to believe that only ONE body is worthy and this unfortunate social conditioning is one of the largest contributors to low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and other severe body image related issues- all of which affect daily living. Visible diversity is a solution to these problems, and asking for it is anything but egotistical. It’s absolutely necessary.
I'd like to also point out that exclusionary images cause more than just personal pain. They also cause negative reactions from others that can turn into harassment, bullying and general hatred. Because we haven’t been given a positive framework within which to process “alternative” plus bodies, when presented with models of varying shapes feelin’ all sexy and shit (like the images that follow) the public’s knee-jerk reaction is almost always negative. No doubt, this post will receive its fair share of ghastly remarks and this response is directly linked to the fact that we've been conditioned to believe that only one kind of body deserves to be seen as sexy. Anyone that breaks this rule is met with animosity. Bummer, man.
The cool thing though? This reaction can be eventually disappear if companies like Lane Bryant were to step outside their comfort zone and do something radical like: incorporate body diversity. It’s critical that we #EmpowerALLBodies, and it's more important to do so than we think.
Of course you can't represent every type of body when you have six models (trust me, I know- #EmpowerALLBodies isn't perfect either), but what Lane Bryant can do... is a little bit better. You’ve presented the “ideal” plus body: hourglass, perceivably "healthy", cellulite free, able bodied, cis-gender, and "conventionally" beautiful. And while I appreciate your conscious inclusion of varying skin tones (and Elly's scar), I’m going to ask you to consider including some of the following next time: cellulite; 90% of women have it. Bellies; many plus women don't have flat torsos. All abilities; we’re all inherently sexy. Transgender women; they're "all woman" too. Small boobs and wide waists; we're not all "proportional." Stretch marks and wrinkles; they're trophies of a life lived. And this is just the beginning! I’ve taken the liberty of creating some inclusionary images with Jade Beall, reminiscent of yours. These photos highlight all of these things mentioned above… and y’know what? I find them sexy as hell. I believe that constructive criticism is an important part of making progress, but I also believe that when you attach a solution you've got a game changer! Hopefully these can be a game changer for you. Now, I realize that you are a company with financial motives (and that change is often met with resistance), but if you’re truly interested in empowering all women and joining the body positive conversation, I strongly suggest you consider widening your definition of sexy.
I want to be clear: the models you chose are not wrong or unworthy of being photographed. They're beautiful, they exist in the real world, they are valuable and I’m so happy that some identify with their presence. But they are not the whole story.
Linda, as the head of the largest plus-size retailer, you have the opportunity to tell the WHOLE story. You have the platform. You have the financial backing. And after meeting your team, I know you have employees who are interested in taking the conversation in a new direction. So let’s work together to make that happen! Whaddyasay?
All the love (body and otherwise),
P.S. I'm happy to consult at any time and I know a lot of other bad-ass babes that would love to do the same! At the end of the day, we're all in this hot mess together, y'know?
P.P.S. Lemme at your social media accounts already. Someone needs to address the big issues in a big way and I'm DEFINITELY your gal.
GREAT NEWS! Lane Bryant has responded!
Linda said "Yes, we can do even more in supporting women, pushing body confidence and self-esteem amplification as well as making inclusiveness more a part of the norm. Over the many decades that I have been active in Women’s Issues and Concerns, I have come to appreciate that Feminist issues are in fact Humanist issues. We together can make this world better for so many."
This reinforces everything I believe: Maybe it's possible to NOT shut down those who have the ability to reach individuals that we can't, but to still approach them with honesty and ask for change. If we are honest with ourselves about how change is best achieved in this fucked up world, we'll acknowledge that utopian ideals will always be the goal, but the steps towards this will be slow and anything but perfect. This is how all giant movements go, and there is still an overwhelming amount of societal pushback when it comes to visible body acceptance. Sometimes, the most effective way of creating change is by breaking down old walls and dismantling social issues from the inside out and I fully plan on doing this whenever the opportunity arises. Lane Bryant reaches many women who are still unfamiliar with the concept of body love and I'm hoping that their small (or large?) changes will bring this idea to light for those who find me too radical or abrasive;) Will we see this change? I don't know. Retail has had a long standing relationship with Exclusivity, but I'm hopeful.
If you have any suggestions on what YOU feel needs to be represented in their future campaigns, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be sure to pass them along.