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Why is No One Talking about Lena Dunham’s “Fat is Not Beautiful” Sweatshirt?

Around the beginning of September, a clothing company called Revolve released a new sweatshirt design that they created and were about to put on the market in collaboration with Lena Dunham. You might have heard of Lena Dunham because she is the creator of the HBO TV show Girls, or from when she accused a woman of lying about being sexually assaulted. Yikes.

 

The sweatshirt in question was modeled by a skinny white woman and read: “Being fat is not beautiful, it’s an excuse”. I’m not joking.

The first time I saw this, I thought, “how can this even be put on the market?” There was absolutely no explanation I could think of to turn this around positively because it’s literally telling women that they need to be skinny to be beautiful as if women don’t get that message from the media every single day. Apparently, there’s an explanation.

 

Revolve noticed the backlash after the release of the clothing line and acted quick. They hastily took to their Instagram and website and posted an official statement about it. In it, they state that “the product released on [their] site was part of a collaboration intended to shine a light on the darkness of the internet, by printing real-life, damaging comments that have been left on the social media feeds of women everywhere.” They go on to say that “the intention was not to promote or endorse these hateful words, but instead to empower all women by making them understand that even the world’s most beautiful and successful women have been subject to hateful messages from internet bullies.” Apparently since “fat is not beautiful, it’s an excuse” was said to a plus-sized model named Paloma Elsesser, it’s okay to put on a shirt. I’m honestly confused. How can printing negative things on a sweatshirt to sell possibly be empowering?

 

If they wanted to get this same message across, they could have crossed out “not” and “it’s an excuse”, leaving behind “fat is beautiful”. This would better show that the intention was to empower, instead of just putting an insult on a shirt and saying, “yeah, that’s good, sell that.” To make matters worse, people started to notice that Revolve doesn’t even sell shirts over the size XL, so bigger people couldn’t even wear the shirt. If this company wants to start releasing empowering clothing for plus sized women, they should take after Corissa Enneking, the creator of the FatGirlFlow YouTube channel and clothing line, and release something with a more positive context and goes up to a size 6X. Enneking is the queen of reclaiming the word “fat”, so I think Revolve and Dunham need to take a page from her book.

It seems like this company and Lena Dunham weren’t even thinking about the consequences that could have and did arise from such a controversial piece.

 

Lena Dunham herself posted an Instagram apology as well (which you can read in full here), where she states that “without consulting me or any of the women involved, Revolve presented the sweatshirts on thin white women […] as a result, I cannot support this collaboration or lend my name to it in any way.”

Although she was in collaboration with this company, it sounds to me like she just threw them under the bus when she was also partially to blame. Dunham or Revolve never addressed the fact that the shirt was just downright offensive and the idea should have been scrapped in the first place because reclaiming a word is okay when used in a positive light, but this one absolutely crossed the line. This shirt is offensive even with context.

 

On the bright side, Revolve immediately removed the line from their website and donated $20,000 to a program called ‘Girls Write Now’, which gives young girls mentors and helps them discover who they are through writing. Although Revolve and Lena Dunham did apologize and tried to mend things, I think the whole thing could have been handled better. This just shows that the fashion industry still has a long road ahead of them before any of us see an array of different body types in every fashion catalog.

 

Haley Howard

Kent State '21

Haley Howard is an LGBT+ Art Education major at Kent State University. She enjoys painting, drawing, singing, and playing video games with friends.
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