The statement "I CAN'T" appears on the screen in big white letters, followed by a plus size woman in a chic black top and black leather skirt, carrying what appears to be a crowbar. She grips her weapon tightly before smashing the final letter in the lineup, staring defiantly at the "I CAN" that remains.
It sounds like the kind of lucid dream I have right after I eat spicy food and right before pitching a big project at work, but really it's just Kmart's latest campaign video, a 40-second spot that spotlights plus size fashion lovers. The campaign was released in tandem with Kmart's announcement that it will be renaming it's plus size clothing section to "fabulously sized."
As surprised as I am to be writing this sentence, Kmart has given me something to think about.
Most of this thought has to do with the language that the brand wants to use to define us — or rather, the language that they hope we'll start using to define ourselves. "You can," the brand tells it's plus size customers, without any indication of exactly, what we can do — or any consideration of the fact that we already knew we could, and are doing it. "You don't have to be plus sized, you can be fabulously sized," the message implies, without recognizing that for many plus size shoppers, the original term doesn't feel like an affront, but rather a simple tool to find clothing in a store.
All of this was done with good intention. According to Women's Wear Daily, the retailer is extending its size selection for all of its in-house brands, including Attentions, Adam Levine, Everlast, and Basic Edition, with some ranges extending as high as a 4X. This change will rollout at all of its 482 locations. It's also important to note that the decision to change the language of "plus" to "fabulous" was done with customers in mind.
"When we reached out to our members on social media, they told us we needed to have a better assortment and that we should we call it something different. They absolutely love this whole mantra of ‘Fabulously Sized,'” Kelly Cook, Kmart’s chief marketing officer, told Women's Wear Daily.
"According to Cook," WWD continued, "Kmart’s older female customers prefer to have a separate area for large sizes, which was the rationale for installing the 'Fabulously Sized' sections with the Basic Editions and Jaclyn Smith brands."
If the social media outreach on "plus sized" came from older customers (no specific age range is noted), it makes some sense that they'd want to get rid of the term. After all, the concept that being plus sized, or fat, or even unapologetically curvy is very much a product of newer surges in fat activism, the kind that didn't exist when our mothers' and grandmothers' generations were contending with the world while living in fat bodies. For them, perhaps "fabulous" feels like a kinder descriptor.
Additionally, the fact that Kmart is one of the biggest box chains in the country and provides clothing at reasonable price points is a solid enough reason to get excited about its extended sizing. Still, words have impact. Dedicating an entire campaign to telling plus size women that they "can" completely neglects the fact that the reason these campaigns exist is because plus size women are commanding the market — in fact, according to WWD, larger sizes make up over 21 percent of Kmart's overall women's sales. A 2017 report from Business Insider showed that the plus size apparel business generated a massive 20.4 billion in annual sales in the US since 2014, growing by 17 percent and outpacing sales of straight size women's apparel overall. Simply put, we know we can — and now we're just looking for straightforward, quality brands with which to invest our dollars.
Along those same lines, the addition of "fabulous" feels, for me, like a condescending attempt to assure plus size women that they're something other than human beings over a size 14 who have to remove themselves from the general population every time they step foot in a brick and mortar store. Sure, it makes a certain amount of sense that a brand would think this wise — after all, in media, fashion, movies, and more, we often avoid the phrases like "plus sized" (and the even more horror-inducing "fat") in favor of ones like "curvy" and "fluffy" and "full-figured."
When I think about this reality, a word like "fabulous" feels arbitrary in a way that "plus" doesn't: Call it Plus Sized, call it Fabulously Sized, call it Shockingly F*cking Huge — either way, we're headed for the back of most clothing sections in most stores, desperately browsing racks in dark corners while our straight-size counterparts find clothing with much more frequency and ease — and there's absolutely nothing fabulous about that. Instead of reinterpretations of "plus size" making headlines, or campaigns that tell us what we can do after we've already done it, I'd like to see a consistent increase in the quality, variety, and accessibility of plus size clothing for all, presented without the insinuation that the target customer is anything but exactly what she is: A plus size woman who can, did, and wore something most excellent in the process.