It’s easy to design a dinner plate upon which portion sizes are described in a way that toxically shames diners for eating a lot. The most destructive method would be to combine our own self-loathing with our fear of the judgment of others.
The message around the smallest, tiny-portioned circle on the plate could read, “Worthy of love!” The note around the medium-sized circle could say, “You’re basically invisible.” And then the words that describe heaping the plate with food all the way to the outer edge would say, “So disgusting.”
And if Macy’s was selling tableware boasting messages that full of judgment and hate, and activists protested, I’d side with the activists. “Boo on Macy’s,” I’d write. “Stop the fat-shaming and know we are all worthy of love, even those of us whose gravy lake dug in Mount Mashed Potato reaches the borders of the plate universe.”
But that’s not what happened, at all.
Macy’s was selling plates with portion-size related messages on them. Those messages caused a grade-16 hullabaloo, and the plates have been removed from the stores. But the three messages on the offending crockery were, to me, cute and inoffensive: “skinny jeans” for the smallest circle, “favorite jeans” for the middle size, and “mom jeans” for a plateful.
Sunday afternoon, writer Alie Ward saw the plates at Macy’s Herald Square store in Manhattan and tweeted a picture of them with the message, “How can I get these plates from @Macy’s banned in all 50 states.” The answer was simply to ask the question, because by Sunday night Ward’s tweet got body positivists on board and Macy’s tweeted “Hi, Alie — We appreciate you sharing this with us and agree that we missed the mark on this product. It will be removed from all STORY at Macy’s locations.”
None of this, it’s important to note, is a disgrace or a scandal. Still, different factions have described the messages on the plates, Ward’s and the body-positivists’ responses, and the decision by Macy’s to stop selling the plates in such terms. Not every discussion or disagreement has to go nuclear.
Ward later tweeted that the word “banned” was hyperbole, and it’s good that she feels that. Few things need to be banned. As for Macy’s, it’s in this for the profit, it had to decide whose outrage cage bars it wanted to rattle, and it picked the “death to your PC limits on my plateware” conservative crowd. Fair enough.
But are these plates really problematic?
According to data collected by the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention between 2013 and 2016, half of adult Americans tried to lose weight in the prior 12 months. Many of us talk all the time about dieting and healthy eating and exercise. And plate size is related, and deserves mindfulness: A 2012 paper in the Journal of Consumer Research showed the average plate diameter in America had grown from nine inches in 1900 to 12 inches in 2010.
But what struck me was that, for people who aren’t looking to get angry, gentle messages on these plates were positive. Skinny jeans are for kids, caught in the mating ritual of youthful attraction. Mom jeans come in all sizes and the term means that the fit is relaxed, not that the wearer is fat. Favorite jeans, comfortable and full of memories, can be any size at all.
Body shaming is wrong, and rampant, but when we see it even in innocent playfulness, the hatred we sense isn’t coming from the outside world anymore.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.