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Should ‘plus-size’ clothing stores like Addition Elle embrace the ‘fat’ label?

An Edmonton-based Addition Elle sales associate updated her Facebook bio to read "Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time." It was meant to be empowering. But Addition Elle didn't feel the same way

Apr 7, 2016

by Elizabeth Hames

Body positivity and acceptance is at the core of Addition Elle’s brand. If you were to visitthe ‘plus-size’ clothing company’s Facebook page right now, you’d see a profile photo of a woman in lingerie with the hashtag #IAmSizeSexy emblazoned over the image. On Instagram, the company encourages customers to post photos of themselves looking confident in Addition Elle clothing using the hashtag #AdditionElle. And on its website, it declares itself as an advocate for “fashion democracy, where style isn’t limited by size.”

But even with all that careful messaging, it appears the company doesn’t speak the language of its customers.

Ashley Graham

Ashley Graham, a plus-size model, has created a lingerie collection for Addition Elle
Photo: Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

Recently, Constance Levitsky, an Edmonton-based sales associate at Addition Elle, updated her Facebook bio to read “Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time.” It was meant to be empowering. After all, Levitsky uses the word “fat” to describe herself, and its one she finds liberating.

But Addition Elle, it turns out, didn’t feel the same way.

Earlier this week, Levitsky was fired after a district manager discovered the message on her Facebook page, even though Levitsky had already removed the post.

Levitsky shared her disappointment with her former employer, and its parent company Reitmans, in a public post on her Facebook page.

“As part of the body positivity movement, I feel that if companies like Reitmans Inc. are still censoring the word fat, then we are never going to get anywhere,” she wrote. “But in a world where even the places that are supposed to be made for bodies like mine continue to silence and demean those of us who love ourselves, the only identity that matters is the one that manifests itself as a number on a scale.”

After that post, Addition Elle was inundated with messages of support for Levitsky — and criticism for Addition Elle — on its Facebook page.

Classless to fire an associate for using the word ‘fat’. We only shop at your store because we are fat…….we are not fat AND delusional. I don’t support companies that don’t support their employees.

Posted by Karen McKenzie on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I live in the Seattle area, but occasionally get up to BC to shop and hang out with friends. I just wanted to let you…

Posted by Ulrika O’Brien on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I am fat! It is what it is! Call a spade a spade! Don’t beat around the bush!

Posted by Kimberlee Mclean on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Comments like these raise an interesting question: If Addition Elle’s customers have embraced the word “fat,” should Addition Elle embrace it, too?

Kyle Murray, a marketing expert at the University of Alberta, says, while Addition Elle did overreact in this instance to an employee’s use of “fat” — “firing an employee should be a last resort, not the first reaction,” he says — it likely has it right when it comes to its own use of the word.

“It is hard to imagine that a marketing campaign built around referring to customers and prospects ‘fat ladies’ would be very effective,” he said in an email.

But Levitsky argues that Addition Elle risks alienating a portion of its customer base if it does not use the word “fat,” as is evident by the messages left on the company’s Facebook page.

“While I understand why a company like Addition Elle may not want to associate themselves with that word,” Levitsky wrote in an email, “I believe they would benefit greatly by doing so, because it would show solidarity with a movement that directly affects their clientele.”

Addition Elle has since apologized for the overreaction saying it “took the word ‘fat’ out of its context and were afraid that it might offend our customers and employees. However, we believe that anyone should use whatever words they are comfortable with when describing themselves and whatever makes them feel empowered.” The full statement can be viewed in full on the company’s Facebook page.

The company has offered to reinstate Levitsky as sales associate, but Levitsky, a university student, declined the offer.

Read Levitsky’s full statement

I’m feeling angry and disheartened as I write this today.The other day, I was called by my former manager at ADDITION…

Posted by Connie Levitsky on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

 

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