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Leading Retailer Serves Up a Heaping Portion of Body Shaming

Megan Amrich headshotWords by Megan Amrich
Health & Education
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Recently, Macy’s stopped selling a line of novelty portion-control plates following online accusations of body shaming and insensitivity.

So, what was so bad about these plates?

You know those jovial, animated dishes in Beauty and the Beast, the ones singing “Be Our Guest” and encouraging Belle to eat more? Well, these plates are basically the opposite.

The dishes, made by the New York-based company Pourtions, feature three concentric circles, each with a phrase describing that portion size. The smallest portion circle says “Skinny Jeans,” the middle says “Favorite Jeans,” and the largest says “Mom Jeans.” The obvious implication is if you want to stay skinny and not end up in the dreaded (or beloved) mom jeans, you'd better only eat what’s in that tiny circle-sized portion.

Harmless humor, or public shaming?

This plate, widely derided across social media for its apparent body shaming, isn’t the only product Pourtions produces. The company also makes other items such as a plate that says “Feed Me” and “Feed Bag,” a pasta bowl that says “Manicotti” and “Man Overboard,” and a wine glass that says “On the Lips” and “On the Hips.” (These other items were not sold at Macy’s.)

While the “mom jeans” dishes have been available at Macy’s for a few weeks, according to Pourtions’ Instagram account, they hadn’t garnered much attention until podcaster and comedy writer Alie Ward tweeted a photo of the plates on Sunday, asking, “How can I get these plates from @Macys banned in all 50 states [?]”

Macy’s replied to Ward’s tweet hours later, apologizing and stating the plates had been pulled from the retailer’s Herald Square location (the only store displaying the plates).

Ward later explained in an email to HuffPost that she “just wanted to show the world how insidious beauty culture, and in this case one that shames women, can be. But I wanted Macy’s to know that what they carry and display matters, it can hurt people, and they’re accountable for it.”

Pourtions’ co-owner Mary Cassidy said in an email to The Washington Post that the company never intended to shame or hurt anyone, as the plates were meant to be “a lighthearted take on the important issue of portion control.” She went on to write:

“Everyone who has appreciated Pourtions knows that it can be tough sometimes to be as mindful and moderate in our eating and drinking as we’d like, but that a gentle reminder can make a difference. That was all we ever meant to encourage.”

Why body shaming is an epic fail

Cassidy is correct in stating the importance of portion control. Science confirms that awareness of food portions can be an effective tool in losing and managing weight. This is why so many weight loss plans—WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and Noom, for example—incorporate portion control education in their curriculum.

What doesn’t work, however, is shaming people into losing weight.

And what tactic definitely doesn't work when it comes to motivating people on any challenge, period? Shaming. It’s not an effective strategy for businesses, and it’s not effective for people looking to lead healthier lives.

A 2017 University of Pennsylvania study found a “significant relationship between the internalization of weight bias” and greater health risks.

“There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health,” said lead researcher Rebecca Pearl, PhD, in a press statement about the study. “We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.”

So as “lighthearted” as Pourtions intends its products to be, the reality is that seeing messages like “Feed Bag” and “Man Overboard” can be damaging in part of a larger context.

Were these dishes meant to trigger disordered eating habits? Of course not. But they normalize an already pervasive culture of finding humor and promoting disdain in larger body sizes. And with body shaming already ubiquitous in everything from advertising to fashion to sports, we don’t need our dinnerware to join in, too. 

Image credit: Pourtions

Megan Amrich headshotMegan Amrich

Megan is a freelance writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. Her blog - chronicling her experience as a parent of a special needs child - will launch later this year

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