The complimentary lemon bars aren’t the only thing leaving a sour taste in our mouths…
Early Tuesday afternoon, I came across a post on Facebook from a group I’m in which serves as a forum for curvy and plus size girls to share outfit ideas. The poster mentioned that she received a sample of a new Atkins lemon bar along with her order from Forever 21’s plus size range. I thought it was strange, but kept scrolling. Later on I noticed that more and more people were coming forward, and the case of the extra Atkins bar had become a full-blown news story.
In the past few years, I have made a few online orders with Forever 21, and they always seem to throw in something extra I didn’t ask for (for me it was a coupon for five dollars off a grocery subscription service). So while I think the Atkins partnership was a mix of a poor choice, and bad timing, I can’t help but also wonder how it got approved in the first place. Here’s the problem with Forever 21 sending a free Atkins bar to their customers (straight, an plus sizes alike). Aside from selling fast fashion, they’re also selling diet culture. Not only are they selling diet culture, they’re quite literally shoving it, and lemon Atkins bars down the throats of their young, and impressionable customers. For those of you who don’t remember the Atkins craze in the early 2000s, Atkins was a diet program that fed into the super popular low-carb lifestyle 20 years ago (kind of like today’s keto).
If I, a 25-year-old body positive, and confident woman were to open a package of some clothes I have ordered online, and found a diet bar inside, I would think it was pretty strange, and probably throw it away. As an insecure teen, I can guarantee that I would have probably cried over it because it felt like a targeted attack. For some, it might not just be a sample of a low-carb snack option, it’s another gateway for self-body shaming, and even more exposure to diet culture. The sad reality is that Forever 21’s target demographic has been exposed to diet culture for a while now, and receiving a sample diet bar in a clothing order, just adds to the mountain of information they’ve already been fed about their bodies, and how they should, or should not look.
After some research, it appeared that though the Atkins lemon bars were sent to a number of people who placed orders from the plus size range (they were the ones making the most noise online about it), they were also sent to people who ordered from the straight size ranges, but even when we take the size of the customers out of the equation, the bars are still just as big of a problem as they were before. Women (and especially plus size women) can’t even shop without hearing the word “flattering” in the fitting rooms, or see tags that promise tummy control, which really means restricting your body by wearing an uncomfortable piece of shape-wear. We’ve been conditioned to shop for things that make our bodies look as small as they possibly can, so receiving a diet bar from a store that notoriously fits small just adds to the pile of diet culture we seem to be consuming on the daily.
Even though the customers who received the diet bars range in size, it makes the same impact on somebody buying a medium, to somebody who has ordered an extra extra large. It’s unfair that diet culture is so prominent while we’re shopping for a new pair of jeans. It seems we can’t even open a magazine, or scroll through social media without reading about the success of the keto diet, or how much intermittent fasting has changed the way somebody things about food. The free Atkins bar debacle was a mistake, and it was a really bad case of unfortunate timing, but it’s not shocking, and as long as diet culture exists, it will unfortunately always have a place in the fashion industry, whether it’s heavily edited photos, celebrities and influencers selling slimming teas on Instagram, or major companies making public statements that they will never hire plus size models to walk in their show. It’s up to us to call continue calling them out, in hopes that nobody will receive a diet bar with their online order again.