FASHION All The Rage

Why the Lilly Pulitzer 'fat-shaming' dustup is an overreaction

Social media has become a battleground for rage against the fashion machine--Lululemon’s too-sheer yoga pants, Dolce & Gabbana’s opinions that gay people shouldn’t have children, and now, fat-shaming cartoons at the corporate offices of Lilly Pulitzer.

The latest controversy is over a pair of cartoons in the preppy pastel brand’s corporate headquarters in King of Prussia, Pa. On Tuesday, New York Magazine’s fashion blog The Cut posted a photo tour of the offices featuring stylish employees against walls papered with colorful sketches and prints—including a couple of thinspiration cartoons drawn by an employee. One sketch reads, “Just another day of fat, white and hideous… You should probably just kill yourself.” The next says, “Put it down, carb face.”

The company has apologized for the images in a statement, saying: “These illustrations were the work of one individual and were posted in her personal work area. While we are an employer that does encourage people to decorate their own space, we are a female-dominated company and these images do not reflect our values. We apologize for any harm this may have caused.”

But on social media, that hasn’t quieted the keyboard masses, who are decrying the brand for fat-shaming, barely a month after the mass market Lilly Pulitzer for Target collaboration with sizes up to XXL sold out within a half hour of hitting stores. One tweet read, “This #proudcarbface will spend her fat, white, hideous money elsewhere! You should be ashamed!”  And another, “I’ve always liked #LillyPulitzer designs, but I’m feeling particularly fat, white and hideous today so I’ll pass on future purchases.”

Undoubtedly, the company bosses probably should have scanned the office for offensive materials before allowing a camera crew inside. And the sentiments on the cartoons are particularly harsh. The phrase, “you should probably just kill yourself” goes way past being a diet motivator. Still, you have to question the wisdom of piling on an entire brand for the behavior of one employee who obviously needs help. It’s Internet bullying of another kind.  

The larger question to consider in the wake of the social media outrage may be about the future of fashion branding itself, which counts on women feeling incomplete and less than to make their next purchase. More than anything, that’s what social media pundits seem to be raging against.  And indeed, if employees of Lilly Pulitzer feel that badly about themselves, what could they possibly have to sell us?

In the case of Dolce & Gabbana, the designers gave an interview to an Italian magazine in which they were quoted saying that babies conceived using IVF and surrogacy are “synthetic,” and born from “wombs for rent.” It created such a dustup on social media that Elton John, Sharon Stone and others called for a boycott of the brand. But again, is it right to boycott a brand solely based on the views of two employees, even if they are the founders? Or would that be punishing thousands of others working for Dolce & Gabbana who do not necessarily hold the same beliefs.

These are complicated questions, made more so by the global size and scope of brands today, and the connection between fashion and identity. There’s a sense that by choosing to wear a certain brand you are also wearing their values, even if those values can sometimes become perverted by the hue and cry of the social media environment.

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