March 27, 2011

The Gap Vows to Be “Always Skinny”

Filed under: Advertising — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 9:50 pm

I came across this display at The Gap a few days ago. Not exactly subtle, eh?

From skinny pretzels and skinny soda cans to skinny water (yes, skinny water) and Skinnygirl Margarita, courtesy of reality star, Bethany Frankel, we’re a culture saturated with messages about getting skinny, staying skinny, and as The Gap proclaims, remaining skinny by any means necessary.

When body image activists call out products and advertising campaigns, like Urban Outfitters recent “Eat Less” t-shirt, for the irresponsible messages that cultivate, promote and reinforce unhealthy, even deadly, definitions of beauty, there’s always a backlash.

We’re overreacting. We have no sense of humor.  We must be ugly and bitter (after all, we’re jealous because we’re so damn ugly) if we object over the name of a pair dark-washed jeans or a bag or pretzels, the shape and name of a soda can or a brand of margarita mix. They’re harmless.

Perhaps, one bag of pretzels or one protein bar named “Think Thin,” might arguably be fairly innocuous and benign, but these messages and images are not isolated or few. They’re one in a torrential flood of repetitive images and messages actively constructing our cultural reality through the process of cultivation, a theory proposed by media experts George Gerbner and Larry Gross.

Cultivation is the building and maintenance of a stable set of images, a theory steeped in several longitudinal studies that assessed the behavioral and attitudinal effects of television. The studies revealed that long-term exposure of television shapes our ideas and concepts of reality; our expectations of others, our relationships, our dreams and goals and, ultimately, our view of ourselves.

I’m not concerned solely with The Gap’s jeans campaign. I’m distressed how message after message, image after image, reinforces a cult of thinness. This cult of thinness is not limited by age, race, or class. It’s a message that is ubiquitous and celebrated in every aspect of our media culture. Thinness is one of the primary components of our beauty ideal, the primary and, often sole way, girls and women are valued and ranked in our culture.

As my student, Elizabeth P., noted, “Because anorexia and harsh diets are no joke. Healthy balanced diets are always better than “always skinny” and skinny by all means.”

Am I taking these messages seriously? Absolutely. Am I taking them too seriously? Absolutely not. You can’t take these issues too seriously when 4th graders are dieting because they’re “scared” to be fat and women are dying.

I vow to be “always critical” and always expose the potency of media messages. After all, they’re the water we swim in and the air we breathe.

Cross-posted at WIMN’s Voices.


  1. “The cult of thinness” – how right you are about that. It is just so pervasive and so incredibly strong and I fear many girls and women (men too) simply don’t realise it’s power.

    Brava for calling them out and keeping up the education and awareness. It’s the only way to beat it – that and closing our purses to products and company that support the thin culture at any cost.

    Comment by Julie Parker — March 27, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  2. Thanks for commenting so quickly, Julie. Please spread the word by re-posting, tweeting etc. I’m so tired of this trend.

    Comment by Melanie — March 27, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  3. I am deeply saddened how these companies, instead of promoting healthy balanced diets, they promote thinness by all means (even deadly ones as mentioned). It is striking how these companies don’t even have to be subtle about these type of messages, because they know how to feed on women’s insecurities. When have we heard about “Always Skinny” jeans for men… um NEVER! Media literacy and being critical of EVERYTHING around us. Thank you for sharing this.

    Comment by ElizabethP — March 27, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  4. Great piece. I just linked to you via my Fat Acceptance blog.

    Comment by Bri — March 27, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

  5. The Gap’s new motto should be, “Shapeless.” Gone are the days of jeans that fit well as according to the Gap, all people have the physique of 11 year old boys. I miss the bright hues and sunny personality that the store used to emulate. Walking into the Gap, (with rarely happens,) I leave depressed and yearning for something besides earth tones and tunics. I’m not surprised by their campaign. They’re a retailer grasping at straws, and pushing a detrimental view that is entirely too trendy. Skinny can be unhealthy. Thanks for reminding us of the TRUE message behind the brand, Melanie.

    Comment by kate-madonna — March 27, 2011 @ 10:50 pm

  6. Yay for this post. 🙂

    I lose my appetite, and therefore a lot of weight, when I am under severe stress. My lodger, who is on the autistic spectrum, caused me enormous stress a few years ago because he couldn’t see how certain aspects of his behaviour were affecting me, and consequently I lost between two and three stone and ended up with a 28″ waist – not at all healthy for me, as I am quite tall. It was only at this point that he realised what he was doing and conscientiously amended his behaviour. Because of the autism he couldn’t see the link until it was as obvious as that.

    Now, thankfully, I have put most of that weight back on, but I made some allusion the other day to this, and the lodger said that when I was so thin I had had “the perfect figure”. Congratulate me; I managed not to kill him. Instead I explained exactly why I had the perfect figure RIGHT NOW, thank him very much, and it was not up to him to tell me what he thought I ought to look like. I know what sort of weight range I function best in.

    We need more articles like yours. And people like him need to see them. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Mongoose — March 28, 2011 @ 1:31 am

  7. I think that this is being blown way out of proportion. Young women and girls are, indeed, getting bombarded with images of unhealthy, skinny, disgusting looking women, but they’re also bombarded with words like “SuperSize for only a dollar” and “Fat can be Fit”.
    I think the real issue here is that, as a country, we’re trying to make excuses for the obese. THAT is the real problem. So Gap has a pair of jeans that are called “Always Skinny”. That’s what they are. Skinny Jeans. The kind that hug the leg. It really shouldn’t cause so much of an issue.
    But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Too many people are complacent in their sedentary lifestyles, that instead of trying to find a solution to their growing bellies/heart probles/diabetes issues/obesity epidemic, they, instead, attack an industry that happens to cater to the (few) woman who aren’t.
    And I am not, by any means, condoning anorexia or bullemia. They’re both serious diseases that “pro ana” and “pro mia” sites are only encouraging, and it’s disgusting. You don’t have to be a size 00 to be beautiful. There are lots of women out there that are absolutely sexy and they’re normal (Christina Hendricks. Google her. You’ll fall in love).
    But, goddamnit America. Since when did it become acceptable to wheel yourself around WalMart because you’re so obese you cannot walk? When did we, as a country, begin to accept that in society? Instead of actually attempting to eat HEALTHY (which, yes, would mean a lot of people have to EAT LESS), we want to argue the science that “Oh, I’m healthy at 300 lbs. I’m fine.” No, sweetheart, you’re not. You’re obese, and it’s going to catch up to you (especially since you’re probably a slow runner). No one ever wants to blame themselves, rather, they blame everyone else (ie, the two morbidly obese women who sued mcdonalds). Obesity IS an issue in this country. Open your eyes! Instead of fighting a losing battle with companies promoting “thinness”, how’s about putting down the fork, America.

    Comment by A.N. — March 28, 2011 @ 7:55 am

  8. I would like to reply to A.N. I think that it is unfair to lump all overweight people into a category that seems to assume that they are doing nothing for their health. The women who have sued McDonald’s for their obesity are certainly ridiculous since we have some level of control over what we choose to put in our mouths; however, we do not have complete control, and I think your argument suggests that we do. There are millions of girls who are naturally bigger and can never be “skinny” even through dieting and working out. For these girls, messages like those from The Gap and other media outlets can be extremely detrimental and mentally damaging.
    I personally have been bombarded with these images and worry that I’ll never be skinny, but I have to stop and realize that, because of genetics, even being a size 6 would be unhealthy for me. My body is built to be heavier, and that’s that. It’s unfair to try to push an unattainable ideal on young, impressionable girls that don’t have complete control over their body image.

    Comment by Gaby — March 28, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  9. I didn’t say “overweight”. A lot of what is considered “overweight” by today’s standards is actually a healthy size for some girls. I’m not a size two and I’m happpy with that. That being said, there are a lot of people who take that and use it as an excuse because they don’t want to be healthy, and they don’t want to work out, and they don’t want to put the effort into actually helping themselves.
    Blaming McDonalds and Burger King and your “thyroid” issues will only go so far.

    For the record, yes, I do believe some people have a thyroid issue. It’s not an excuse.

    There is no one to blame but yourself. At the end of the day, take some responsibility. I don’t mean that for everyone who could stand to lose a few. I could stand to lose a few. But I take my health into my own hands. I eat right, avoid fast food, excersize a few times a week, etc. Diabetes runs in my family, and I refuse to be a victim.

    THE VAST MAJORITY of people do it to themselves, and then try to blame someone else when they suffer the consequences.

    Comment by A.N. — March 28, 2011 @ 10:18 am

  10. This is in response to Mongoose…..yes, you have been very patient with your lodger. However, the time comes when we choose to actively seek out people to bring into our lives who make us feel good about ourselves, who are in line with our values and beliefs. It seems its been a long-time struggle with this lodger of yours. Could you find someone to live in your house who is positive, supportive, and understanding? Someone who makes sense to you and you make sense to them? Let him go hang out with and demoralize someone else. You are not reponsible for any other adult – autistic or otherwise. There are lots of people out there who you can bring into your life that will build you up and make you feel good:)

    Comment by Jennifer — March 28, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  11. A.N. , whatever you think you know, whatever you think is right.

    YOU are NOT allowed to police MY body! ever! For whatever reason, no REALLY, not even for my own good,

    Bugger off


    Lili DeathFat 5ft7 280 lbs

    Comment by Lili — March 28, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  12. That can be misconstrude. What I meant to say was that some people do, in fact, have a thyroid issue, and they are the weight they are because of it. People who don’t have a real thyroid issue shouldn’t use it as an excuse for being obese.

    Comment by A.N. — March 28, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

  13. A.N. I suggest you check your privilege around weight and ability/health. In the mean time I repeat:

    MY fat body, MY fat business. Thyroid issues or not, able to walk around Wal-Mart or not, slow runner or no. It is MY fat body, MY life, MY story to tell, never ever yours.

    Again check your privilege.

    Comment by Lili — March 28, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  14. And that should read privileges !

    Comment by Lili — March 28, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  15. That shit pisses me off so much. As someone who fought for 16 years to get rid of my eating disorder despite being bombarded with messages like that, it truly pains me to see younger and younger girls hate themselves and their bodies for not being whatever size society and the media tells them they should be. That’s not to say that my eating disorder was the media’s fault, but it damn sure contributed. I believe we need to be as watchful about this type of “skinny” dialogue being marketed to youth as we are about drugs and alcohol in advertising. It’s damaging and dangerous.
    And to A.N.- which coincidentally stands for anorexia nervosa- until you experience the deadly effects of such a disease, you need to keep your mouth shut about what you don’t know.

    Comment by Sarah Ann — March 28, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

  16. A.N. – I am neither ‘overweight’ nor ‘skinny enough to not look naked when wearing skinny jeans’. I still wouldn’t shop at the Gap! Not just because their jeans most likely wouldn’t flatter my figure, but because they’re promoting such a ridiculous body ideal that most people aren’t born to fit into.

    Comment by Tami — March 28, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  17. @Lili: How’s about calming down a bit and actually reading what I said. So you pointed out that you’re 280lbs. Good for you for being confident in your body, and if, at 280lbs, you have absolutely no health issues associated with your weight, then I commend you (however impossible that may seem). However, if you, at 280lbs, are experiencing health issues related to your sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating choices, then I’m right. Be it your body or anyone else’s. You can choose to argue with me all day, but at the end of the day, it is your body, and it is up to you to decide what you choose to do with it. Now, your weight was none of my business to begin with, but you are, in fact, the one that chose to tell me that, and then you proceed to say that it is “your business”. Go crazy chick. You just need to know that, at the end of the day, “Fat Acceptance” won’t cure diabetes.

    @Sarah Ann: I agree with what you say. Our younger generation IS being bombarded with images of unnaturally skinny women and an obsession with thinness. But if we’re going to discuss that, we should also point out that many a young people in general are eating unhealthy and not getting enough excersize. There are WAY more obese children than there are children with anorexia. I know. It fucking sucks either way. Life is cruel to these children no matter what. Blah blah fucking blah. I’m just tired of people always attacking “the industry” for encouraging thinness, when we should be complaining about both the obsession with thinness and the acceptance of UNHEALTHY, OBESE CHILDREN. But no one wants to sit there and look at themselves and say “Well, fuck. If my goddamned doctor said I have high cholesterol, predisposition for diabetes, and poor heart rate, maybe my fatass should get the fuck out off of the living room sofa and, i dunno, go for a fucking walk.”

    You can take as much offense to this as you’d like, because I’m not encouraging anyone’s eating disorder, but at the same time, I DO NOT PITY YOU, mostly because you feel it’s necessary to throw it around to everyone on the internet. Boo fucking hoo. I tried not to be too much of an asshole, but I guess if we’re going to all be disrespectful here, I can at least drop a few “F” bombs to level the playing field. If the two of you, from opposing spectrums, find it necessary to defend yourselves in such a way, go ahead. Lili, at 280lbs, is morbidly obese. THere is no nice way to say that, and if she decides that she would rather fight for acceptance rather than actually do something about how downward spiral, that’s her decision. What I don’t want is for the rest of the country to think that being that MORBIDLY OBESE is okay. It isn’t. It’s not an image issue. It’s a health issue.

    And once more, at Sarah Ann, who seems to believe that I want to encourage everyone to give up food altogether and vomit their way to success, maybe, instead of attempting to get the sympathy vote, you’ll actually come up with a valid argument.

    Comment by A.N. — March 28, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  18. @ A.N I think the main point of this article was to point out how the media is obssessed with everything being “SKINNY”. Never did it excuse or support unhealthy overweight individuals or, as you called them, obese people. Now, if you were about an ounce critical and actually paid attention to the article, the call was to promote HEALTHY lifestyles rather than promoting only “SKINNY”. As anorexia and bullemia can attest, skinny is not always healthy. So no one is ranting about how people shouldn’t be healthy, but rather how the media shouldn’t promote “SKINNY” to be the trend. Having a balanced and healthy diet as well as excercise should be promoted, not just skinny. So before you rant about obesity and how we are “supporting” it, read carefully.

    Comment by ElizabethP — March 28, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

  19. AN

    You just need to know that, at the end of the day, “Fat Acceptance” won’t cure diabetes.

    Did it promise too?

    By the way the point is the pursuit of anorexia, using thinness as a trigger is causing real damage and as you said, hardly lowering weight, so it cannot be about that.

    Did you get any of that, or is it too out of your parrot zone?

    Keep on being a sanctimonious tool though, as it clearly empowers you.


    Comment by wriggles — March 29, 2011 @ 11:01 am

  20. As a plus-sized person I would like to support A.N’s original post. The arguments that followed, I’m not really interested in that.
    But she had a point – we’re getting bigger as a society and it is a problem. And sadly, there are individuals who will make excuses before they’ll help themselves.

    I’m NOT here to make anyone feel bad about themselves, I’m NOT here to police anybody and I’m NOT here to judge someone’s health (that’s private information…and I’m not a Dr! I don’t even play one on t.v). I’m a plus-size girl too, have been forever, and I know all too well how hurtful and degrading it feels when you’re treated like a second class citizen because you don’t fit into someone else’s “ideal”.

    However – what has stopped me from becoming more personally involved in the F.A movement is this reluctance to call a spade a spade. I feel like I have a foot in both camps – I would love it if people could recognise that all different shapes and sizes are beautiful. Weight doesn’t exclude you from being a worthy, wonderful human being. But I know if someone’s weight is too extreme on either side of the scale (meaning, over AND under weight), that’s not healthy and I’m not prepared to pretend it is.

    Just wanted to share my two cents.

    Comment by KC — March 31, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

  21. […] The Gap Vows to Be “Always Skinny” […]

    Pingback by [link] The Gap Vows to Be “Always Skinny” | — June 1, 2013 @ 5:03 am

  22. AN and KC – I just got on this site not too long ago, and already here are too asshats coming on with the “Why don’t you get off your fat ass, fatty, and quit stuffing your face and I can say that cuz I’m a sanctimonious turd that knows EVERYTHING cuz I get all my obesity info from the media which promotes fat hatred? I know all about why you’re fat better than you do, so therefore I’m superior! Nyaah!” Why don’t you guys go do something more your speed, like I don’t know, torture small animals or something, because obviously only cruel, self-congratulating morons like yourselves see your statements as having any kind of value or logic. This is a FAT ACCEPTANCE SITE! People here already hear that kind of shit all the time from smug idiots like yourselves who think they know everything and have the right to judge everyone else as inferior to themselves. If you’re coming on here to be a fricking troll, go hide under a bridge and attack goats like in that fairy tale. Idiots!

    Comment by Dizzyd — June 15, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

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