"You Look Great!" Cards Are Bethany Rutter & Navabi's Response To Fat Shaming On The London Subway
Last weekend, tweets began to surface from individuals who either received or witnessed others receive fat shaming cards while riding the London subway. Though the individuals behind the cards have not been identified, the cards are linked to a group that calls itself Overweight Haters Ltd. But as quickly as the negative cards appeared, a more positive message took over.
UK-based plus size label Navabi took a cue from its social content executive Bethany Rutter of the blog Arched Eyebrow and swiftly responded with an alternative positive message: telling plus size women that they look great. When so many plus size fashion brands seem to create body positive campaigns that are somewhat out of touch with the actual experiences that fat women face, Navabi's choice to support Rutter's idea as a fat woman ingrained in the community was extremely refreshing.
Rutter tells me in an email interview that she first saw the fat shaming cards on Facebook and Twitter. She describes her initial reaction as disgust followed by fear. She asked herself, "How would I react if it happened to me, what would it do to other fat women who are less confident than me?” so she decided to do something about it herself.
"I really know how much a compliment from a stranger can brighten my day and had thought in the past how nice it would be if I had cards like business cards except with compliments on," Rutter adds. "When all this was kicking off with Overweight Haters, I tweeted about wishing I had cards saying 'You look great!' to hand out."
When she got back to her desk, a colleague encouraged her to make the cards, telling her that Navabi would pay for the printing. Although they're backed by the clothing company, the cards feature no branding. They just contain the message, "You Look Great."
While Navabi did fund the cards, Rutter says it did so to help her execute an idea that she had as "a lone ranger fat woman" outside of her work for them. But Navabi did something else, too. Rutter says a colleague of hers, who she describes as "such a fundamentally good person," came up with the idea to offer a £500 outfit to the one of the people who received the card.
Plus-focused publication Slink Magazine joined in on the support and tweeted that it would like to invite any of the women who received the fat shaming cards to do a shoot with its team. Though Rutter tells me that no one has come forward to claim the outfit yet, the same colleague who offered the £500 outfit also came up with another brilliant idea.
Although Overweight Haters Ltd. was likely organized online, Rutter's colleague noticed that the domain overweighthaters.com was available — so he bought it.
The website details the story of the fat shaming cards, how Navabi got involved, and features a template for folks to download and print cards of their own to hand out. It encourages people to "go out and be positive." Rutter picked up the cards last week and went to Oxford Circus in London to hand them out. The first people that she gave the cards to were two women walking into Lush. Rutter says their positive reaction to the cards really set the tone for the experience that was to come.
While Rutter did the work in person, the online UK plus size fashion community was rallying as well. Plus size blogger, Debz Aiken of The (Not So) Secret Diary Of A Wannabe Princess tweeted that Dec. 1 would be #YouLookGreat day.
Throughout the day on Dec. 1, bloggers continued to tweet positive messages, either about individuals or about fat women in general. The fact that this burst of positive energy was born out of something so hateful is what grassroots activism is all about. That this movement also came from the genuine reaction of a fat women is significant in and of itself. But it's also important to note that Rutter's employer not only listened to her experience as a fat woman, but also supported her. There's been a lot of debate this year as to whether or not plus size fashion brands have the obligation to also serve as activists, or whether their capitalist pursuits would even allow for that. To this, Rutter offered her take:
"I don't think they're obliged, but I do wish more brands understood the good they could do if they got more involved in [the plus size] community," she tells me. "Financially, socially, ethically — it's a mutually beneficial thing to put positive and supportive messages, products, relationships into the community rather than seeing fat women as purely something to profit from."
As a designer and activist, I find fashion to be a means of empowerment; my brand is one of the ways I can make a difference. And while brands are often quick to create marketing campaigns that claim to promote self love, they don't always seem to understand what the plus size fashion community really wants to see. A more diverse representation of models in these campaigns is one thing that comes to mind.
But with so many of mainstream fashion brands run by straight size men and women, I kind of get why they don't understand (though I don't excuse it). I can't tell you the number of times my straight size friends have had an epiphany when they go shopping with me and realize just how few places I can actually make purchases at. They don't realize the lack of plus size fashion options in retail stores because it doesn't affect them. When I asked Rutter about what brands could learn from this experience, her response really resonated with my own feelings
"Have real fat women working with you," says Rutter. "Having me — a loud, opinionated, hard-to-please fat woman right there means you've always got the most skeptical side of your target demographic to run things by or generate ideas with. It makes responses inherently organic rather than calculated, [because] no one knows how to speak to other people like me than I do."
It may start with smaller companies like Navabi, but it's my hope that this genuine response to the experiences of plus size consumers will inspire mainstream fashion brands. And that these larger corporations will put fat women in positions of power that will allow their voices to be heard, so we can be united in a goal to end fat shaming movements like Overweight Haters for good.