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Lifestyle Brand Athleta Issues Apology After Labeling Straight-Size Models ‘Plus-Size’

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The fashion industry is building a slow but consistent road toward body acceptance. In 2016, lingerie brand Lane Bryant dropped their This Body campaign commercial which starred Ashley Graham, Precious Lee, and Tara Lynn. The ad managed to crush stereotypes and establish the idea that plus-size bodies are sexy too. Other efforts to encourage fitness and self-love among curvier women include Iskra Lawrence‘s cover story on SELF magazine’s last print cover as well as Nike’s fitness line that was expanded to a variety of plus sizes. 

But amid all these great changes, there is always a setback once in a while. This time, it was the Gap subsidiary brand Athleta, which is famous for offering a wide plus-size section. However, the brand had to do major damage control after being called out for using straight-size models to advertise plus-size clothing. 

Athleta Apologizes for Plus-Size Model Controversy

Plus-Size Brand Athleta

Last week, Athleta was bombarded with critics when it was discovered that their plus-size section on the website featured straight-size models. For those who don’t know the difference, straight-size models or “inbetweeners,” as they are sometimes called, are size 10 to size 16 models, meaning they fall somewhere between the bracket of editorial and plus-size models. So when customers discovered Athleta’s misleading photos on their website, many took to social media to express their disappointment. 

The issue was spread throughout their categories including tops, dresses, bottoms, and even the best deals page. They remained unfaithful to their banner, which says, “Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. That’s why our bottoms come in petite, tall, and plus sizes to give every athlete the same support from the ground up.” 


The ads are problematic for several reasons, most importantly because it sets unrealistic beauty standards for women. For example, when an outfit labeled large is worn by a medium-size model, it can create a negative effect on how women view their own bodies. To make things even worse, Athleta used models as small as size 2 in some photos to sell their plus-size items.

This is not the first time a retail brand was called out for misleading ads. A few months ago, Fashion Nova Curve was called out for using size 2 models to sell plus-size clothing. Many branded them as “hypocrites” especially since Fashion Nova had previously stated before that they always regarded their plus-size consumers as “valuable customers.”  They have since apologized for their actions.

Athleta has issued an apology statement on the matter as well, saying:

“This is a place where we can do better. The positive portrayal of women in the media is very important to us,” the company’s statement said. “We celebrate women of all body shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and ages across our stores, website, campaigns, and social media channels. The Power of She campaign is what we really stand for. It’s really important for us to acknowledge the strength, health, and beauty all women have. This is something we’ve been looking at and working fervently to solve.”

Hopefully, the brand has truly learned from their mistakes and will only promote with body-positive ads in the future. 

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