Skip to Content

The Shame in Advertising

By now, you've probably heard of Gap's Twitter fiasco, in which the clothing retailer landed itself in an uncommon, too-skinny debate after tweeting this photo last week:

The internet erupted with comments like “Seriously, @Gap? In what world do people look like this?” The model was referred to as "a pencil in plaid," and some claimed she needed to eat a cheeseburger.

Body image defenders swooped in to defend Gap's choice and accused online commenters of skinny-shaming the plaid-clad model. Many cited skinny-shaming as just as painful and dangerous as shaming those on the other side of the weight spectrum. 

And it's true, these comments are hurtful and misinformed. I'd love to live in a world where we refrained from judging and criticizing each other's bodies - period. 

But, this has nothing to do with this particular model's body. All she did was put in a day at the office. Oddly, I read five articles on this subject, and I couldn't even locate the model's name. It just reinforces the idea that no one's really interested in her.

What we need to do is step back and look at the larger context. If clothing companies routinely featured models of varying weights, the Gap ad would likely have fallen through the cracks- the model's body understood as yet another iteration of body assortment, rather than an exemplar of female beauty. Most clothing companies, however, widely promote our culture's thin ideal. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that says only five percent of American females are naturally shaped like the models we see in advertising (arguably an even smaller percentage when compared to the ultra-thin Gap model), and yet advertising sells us this ideal - at all costs.

We need to see more body diversity in the media and in advertising. We need to understand that certain images, when insufficiently balanced by others, can dangerously normalize eating disorders. And we need to recognize that the Gap controversy isn't about the skinny-shaming of a too-thin, nameless model but about an industry that perniciously thrives on selling an unrealistic, unattainable ideal. Here's where the shame lies.