"Difference and individuality is what gets you punished on the Internet."
Noted feminist and Hollywood actress Lena Dunham expressed her disappointment toward an online retailer after the company's attempt to spread a body positive message backfired and it was accused of fat shaming.
“Being fat is not beautiful, it’s an excuse" read the message on a $168 shirt intended to highlight hateful messages directed toward women and listed at the website of clothing company Revolve.
Who seriously thought this was a good idea? https://t.co/fgZytpHaFg— BUST Magazine (@bust_magazine) September 13, 2018
After swift backlash erupted on social media, the company removed the offending item, which was part of a body positivity and anti-cyber bullying campaign orchestrated by fashion brand LPA in partnership with various celebrities and influencers.
According to a statement obtained by Fox News, the collection -- whose proceeds were intended to benefit the "Girls Write Now" charity for underserved young women -- was "prematurely released."
Dunham, one of the celebrities involved in the project's conception, took issue with Revolve's use of a slender, caucasian model to promote the shirt.
"Without consulting me or any of the women involved, [Revolve] presented the sweatshirts on thin white women," Dunham wrote in an Instagram post. "[N]ever thinking about the fact that difference and individuality is what gets you punished on the Internet, or that lack of diversity in representation is a huge part of the problem (in fact, the problem itself.)"
Dunham went on to say that as a result of the events, she could no longer support the campaign nor lend it her name in any way and pledged to donate to a charity chosen by her fellow collaborators.
I hope this is a lesson for brands that if you are going to launch merch intended to break down stereotypes in regards to “fat” bodies, you need to use a VISIBLY plus size model & have size inclusive sizes. You can stop at XL (which is prob a junior plus), you have to do better.— Tess Holliday 鹿 (@Tess_Holliday) September 13, 2018
Dunham and Holliday's comments evince a broader culture schism beneath the surface of what looks merely like a disastrous marketing campaign.
Whether thin women should model for campaigns intended to break down stereotypes about fat bodies, whether men should "just shut up" about #MeToo, or whether it's possible for an asian woman to be racist toward white men -- conservatives and liberals often find themselves on opposing sides of questions that hinge on the identity of the messenger delivering the message.
The right, which pretty uniformly opposes "identity politics," consistently attempts to deemphasize the importance of the messenger. To conservatives, "equality of opportunity" is often paramount and thus they support the notion that as long as we all have the same platform to speak, it shouldn't matter who's doing the speaking.
Those on the left tend to view this position with skepticism, arguing that such a perspective fails to take into account the historical marginalization of oppressed groups and that the notion of an "equal playing field" is largely illusory. Hence, context and identity absolutely matter when it comes to the articulation of a message.
Revolve, for its part, has learned that this debate isn't one to take lightly. They've pulled the controversial collection and donated $20,000 to the "Girls Write Now" charity.
Adam Johnson is an editorial intern at Pluralist.
You can reach him on Twitter @4DAMDAVID