J.C. Penney In Manhattan Harbinger Of Fashion Apocalypse, Fat Suburbanites

Cintra Wilson set out to write a lighthearted, snarky article about the arrival of J.C. Penney in Manhattan for her “Critical Shopper” series, and somehow ended up insulting nearly everyone who read the article. Those who took offense included, but were not limited to: overweight people, tourists, plastic mannequins, people who are attuned to rampant classism, residents of “middle America,” diabetics, and anyone who has ever found an attractive article of clothing at a J.C. Penney.

Her assessment of the fashion choices at the new J.C. Penney (or, indeed, any J.C. Penney) is mostly fair, but the article, and the kerfuffle, don’t have much to do with fashion. They have to do with the perceived clientele of the store.

AND herein lies the genius of J. C. Penney: It has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy’s). To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of “Roseanne.”

I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that passing a 30 BMI doesn’t mean that diabetes automatically sets in, let alone gangrene.

Somehow low prices, poor quality, and unattractive clothing are all rolled into what looks like praise but sounds more like a sneer.

The strategy, and a good one, is to mark nearly every item on every rack 30 to 60 percent off, and announce this with signs shouting “Doorbuster!” It all feels dizzyingly bargain-sational, prices so rock bottom as to seem virtually free.

The piece ends with the helpful advice that “No matter how many Grand Slam breakfasts you’ve knocked out of the park, Penney’s has a size for you.” Amazingly, nobody at the Times realized that some of their readers might find the piece offensive. They have an excuse: they’re the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times.

WIlson posted three separate apologies on her personal blog, one of which was deleted after it received scores of critical comments. In it, she insisted that she meant this as a favorable review, she has nothing against fat people, and how could people think such a thing? She even name-dropped Beth Ditto, so you know she is totally serious.

Now, there is a more succinct apology meant to soothe the polyester-and-bacon-addled masses:

I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my JC Penney article in the Times. It was meant to be irreverent — as usual — but not actually hurtful to real human beings. There is often a very fine line between ‘funny’ and ‘offensive’ — and for many people this week, I seem to have erased this line.

I very much regret that my article caused any wounded feelings whatsoever, particularly to people who already feel they take more than their share of abuse from our very shallow and ridiculous society. My insensitivity to this, and the extent to which my article exacerbated these feelings is a very real failure on my end for which I sincerely apologize.

Remember that for future reference, kids: there’s a very fine line between hilarious exaggeration and things that aren’t very funny at all. Like classism. And gangrene.

Playing to the Middle [NY Times]
Times Writer Finds J.C. Penney’s Focus On Fat People Clever, Amusing [Jezebel]