Today’s post comes from Victoria Tokarz. Victoria is a PhD candidate in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto. She is also the current Financial Director of the OC-SNP National Executive.
The plus size retail experience happens in obscure, specialty boutique stores that design clothes meant to fit our bodies. The rest of the mall is usually off limits – until Nike made what some are calling a bold move to make their clothing line more inclusive of all body types.
This summer, Nike revealed a plus size mannequin clad in shiny black leggings and a matching sports bra in one of its flagship stores in London. Until now, plus size representation in the mainstream fitness space has been dismal.
In their official press release, Nike stated that the move was intended to “celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport” and Nike’s general manager Sarah Hannah said that the inclusive mannequins are “another demonstration of Nike’s commitment to inspiring and serving the female athlete”.
The internet immediately and ferociously reacted to the announcement, where two equally passionate, but opposing viewpoints quickly emerged. While the unveiling was widely received as a ‘win’ for plus size representation by some, dissenters criticized Nike and alleged that the mannequins endorsed “unhealthy lifestyles”.
One particular dissenter, Tanya Gold of the Telegraph, broadcasted her disdain for Nike’s plus size mannequins under the headline, “Obese mannequins are selling women a dangerous lie“. Quite contrary, I would argue that the only things the mannequins are selling are the plus size clothes that we (in the plus size community) have been asking for.
Contrary to what some of the naysayers will have you believe, our bodies were made to run and exercise, too. Like our lower weight counterparts, plus size men and women run marathons, lift, hike, climb, bike, etc. Since we’re doing all the same activities, we also require the same type of clothing (pants, leggings, sports bras) to do it in. Plus size model Candice Huffine is painfully familiar with the desperate need for plus size workout wear and she said in an interview that “the only thing about my size that made running difficult was finding gear available to do it in”.
While it is likely that Nike made this decision in efforts to maximize their profits by expanding into an untapped segment of the market, the social impact of this decision is undeniable. It redefines (and challenges) what we’ve come to accept as “the runner’s body”. The message is clear – all bodies can move, all bodies should move, and all bodies do move.
Despite the backlash, Nike has remained resolute in their stance that plus size bodies deserve representation in the fitness space. In the myriad of reckless, fatphobic articles about the mannequin, equally loud supportive voices have emerged. In a whirlwind of social media posts from plus size runners all around the world, people flocked to Nike’s defense by sharing their deeply personal stories. Posts and pictures from proudly plus size marathon runners started cropping up on social media by the dozen. Unlike usual, the fitness segment of social media was flooded with posts boasting fitness accomplishments by people who were not ashamed of their size. The seemingly infallible association between being fit and being thin was slowly chipped away, post by post. The posts were widely liked and shared, and in most cases received more support than the fatphobic articles that prompted them. One particular comment on Tanya’ Gould’s tweet promoting her fatphobic Telegraph Article received over 30x more likes and shares (28.7k) than the original tweet. In it, Twitter user @rgay plainly says, “I work out six days a week. I am fat. I wear workout clothes while working out. The world continues to turn. Shut up.”
Nike’s business decision had profound social impact that I don’t think they saw coming. Every time I go for a run, I will lace up my Nikes that remind me that my body is capable of so much more than so many people think. Backed by the support of socially responsible brands making socially responsible moves like this, we can dismantle these unfounded stereotypes step by step.