Monday

Fat acceptance and the market

I’ve been burning my neurons in trying to find “the” link that better connects the Fat Acceptance movement to consumer theory. There are some highly relevant concepts I can borrow from sociology and psychology and I’m already reading a lot about stigma, new social movements, and online communities. However, I find recurrent posts on the fatosphere dissecting, analyzing, questioning or criticizing market practices and I do there is something there…Something we - consumer researchers – do not fully understand.

This feeling was reinforced today after I read this post at Shapely Prose (which I consider one of the nicest blogs on the fatosphere). In this post, Kate refers to another blogger who had a “dilemma”: whether to support an online store’s efforts to continue carrying larger plus sizes or to discard them as a retailer because they had just cut her size off their selection.
As I was reading both posts and the comments left by people who had read them, I realized that in this situation, the general attitude was not that of criticizing the market. They were actually attempting to help marketers to better serve “the plus market”. In this mood, Kate published a long email she got from the owner of the store involved in the dilemma, and even invited her audience to help the store owner:
“How do we help her make B & Lu a successful store that at least fulfills the promise of carrying sizes 14-30 (better yet, 30+)? If you wear a size in the high 20s, did you even know you could shop at B & Lu (before the selection became so limited, anyway)? How do they get the word out? What else can they do to improve? And of course, if there are things you do love about B & Lu right now, positive feedback never hurts.”
What this post tells me (I’m aware that there are many other relevant issues here – this is just the perspective of someone sited on a business school office) is that these individuals are trying to help marketers to serve them better. They want to fully participate in mainstream domains, and being the market is one of these domains, they want to have the same product choices and consumption experiences of other people, no matter their size.
From other posts, I know these bloggers and commenters are fully aware that the stigma associated with fat is frequently reinforced and fuelled by market practices – the market who excludes them is the very same market they are trying to get into.

So far I’ve read the activities of Fat Acceptance bloggers as a “collective form of stigma rejection” (Gofman 1974, p. 112) and I though marketers were simply caught in the middle of these fight against the stigma.
But this notion of collective stigma rejection does not fully account for the practices of the FA bloggers who sometimes praise market practices and attempt to “educate” the market on how to serve them better. Henry & Caldwell (EJM, 2006) already suggested that “in contrast to withdrawing into an enclave, the stigmatized individual may respond by challenging the stigma label by attempting to participate in the mainstream domains” but we have no data so far on how stigmatized individuals develop workable ways to interact with the mainstream (some studies on immigration deal with similar issues: e.g. Askegaard, Arnould & Kjeldgaard 2005; Penaloza 1994; Mehta & Belk 1991).
To fight the stigma also involves fighting its underlying economic and social aspects. Since the market practices are deeply rooted and strongly influential in these two arenas, they become one of the most evident targets for activists in their rejection of a stigma.
Being part of a group (in this case the Fatosphere) probably allows stigmatized individuals to access more information and share resources that are eventually directed to criticize market practices that reinforce the stigma they are fighting.

So if any of you from the fatosphere happens to read this – does my interpretation resonate with your thoughts? Would you like to discuss the topic further? I have some great references to share and I would love to talk to anyone who’s also interested in the topic. Just click on the comments link and let me know what you think!

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