Speaking Up or Standing Down: What Happens When Creators Face Backlash

When I published my blog last week on brands using fat bodies as a marketing tool, I knew it was a strong message. A potentially risky one. And as I tweeted, could have negative consequences but I thought it was important anyway. I still do.

The idea to write about brands using fat bodies started in May, and I used this messaging as a call out of sorts in a ‘Curvy Palz’ group on Facebook: I am working on a story about companies that utilize plus-sized people in marketing but aren’t actually all that inclusive when it comes to sizing – and I want to focus on Canadian companies if possible.

About 30 people commented, with one person saying, and several supporting: I would call out Knix for this — Canadian leakproof underwear. I love their stuff and their inclusive ads/models but when I was a similar size to their larger models, I found their largest size (XXL) way too small.
Which echoed my feelings exactly. But, the hesitance was there because of the fear of backlash.

I stayed away from wording that sounded like ‘canceling’ any brand mentioned and purposefully didn’t tag any as I’ve shared away. Partially because it is not about one brand but many, and also because directly throwing a brand in a headline or tagging them felt a little more direct AKA scary. Baby steps!

The day it was published, the woman who manages partnerships and the ambassadors at Knix reached out to me to let me know more sizes would be launching in the new year, and offered to jump on a call to chat it out. An amazing response, and unexpected, but welcomed! I thanked her and let her know that I would love to post about the extended sizes when they were launched, and looked forward to it. It was a learning moment, and I thought that it was a good start.

And that was that. Because it wasn’t about just one brand, and it wasn’t about me. I was happy they reached out, but would wait until it actually happened before blogging about it, or updating the post.

Cutting ties with Knix

And I then I was sent a DM by Knix’s founder and CEO late Saturday night.

Followed by 3 more before I even had a chance to come up with a response. To be fair, I was rapidly texting my other half for guidance because I was a little in shock – and also playing Zelda.

I’ve attached the messages not only for full transparency/ and context on both sides, but also because behaviour like this, to anyone, is not okay. If I was a writer for a publication, this would not happen. Okay well it might, journalists get the worst DMs, but I think you get my point. Either from the view as me as an ambassador and blogger, but also me as a customer, this is not the way to start a conversation – especially as a CEO.

And maybe I am in the wrong – I very much could be. Tone, for example, is hard to read over text, but do not think that these DMs were appropriate to send.

Here are the messages I received first.

Followed by my response and a few more messages (I only answered once, and do not intend on answering again.)

I do believe that the messages were sincere, and I do think she wants the brand to do better. Also, that yes a message of mine was answered – although the fitting never happened, and there were messages and emails unanswered. I was removed from the FB group before I too could grab screenshots (honestly something I didn’t even think to do).

What I do not support is intimidation, and having a brand expect I would only share positive things about them. I shared my codes when asked, I never let details slip about new products and I was never disrespectful in my posts. I do not think I was ‘bashing’ any brands, nor do I think I am gaslighting anyone. As for picking fights, if that’s what I’m doing then that’s what I’m doing. Does this enter into “the sphere of wanting to severely tarnish a brand’s reputation?” I am not sure, but I am also not here to protect a brand’s reputation.

I am okay with giving up a discount if that means awareness happens.

I know that I am saying things that fat women have been saying already.

And I know that my point isn’t that I can sometimes fit into Knix, this isn’t about me. Although maybe now, it is.

I have been removed from the ambassador program (I would guess my discount codes are closed, so I removed them from my link tree) and have no interest in supporting the brand further.

Opinions vs. Facts

I shared my blog post as an opinion piece, more or less. Although I think opinions and reviews go hand in hand, and I don’t want either to be dismissed. Joanna tweeted and messaged a few times about me writing the facts wrong so I did add an editor’s note to my post, but the overall opnion of the post still sands.

Yes, they started to include XXXL.

No, that XXXL does not fit a size 18/20.

Yes, it’s a step.

No, that is not inclusive sizing – and to say so is dismissive of people in fat bodies. And that isn’t up to a straight-sized CEO to determine if it’s okay.

Numerous people have shared similar stories with me on Twitter and through Instagram, most often the issue being sizing-related even though they ordered their ‘correct’ size at other stores/brands.

And my story of the sizing not working during the runway was mirrored in a similar situation from another content creator:

“Last year I did a shoot that was sponsored by them, but I couldn’t comfortably wear the bra and underwear they gave me so I just wore my own stuff. A day later they posted a fatphobic meme, got called out for it, and then posted my fat friend in their product an hour later.” 

I am not going to even get into the conversations I’ve had about the quality of their products, the stories shared about the office environment, and the lack of customer service – something I used to constantly say was amazing.

And the same message keeps appearing: they thought they were the only one. An outlier, when in actuality it’s become apparent that this isn’t a ‘one off’ moment happening.

Is there a space for honest reviews?

Yes, this is for SEO once more. I have replaced thinking me with…angry, might cry, me.

I know it’s a little hard to think big picture with all of this but what bothered me the most was what if all brands responded to criticism like this?

At the end of the day, my blog is not paid for or run by any brand, including Knix. Whenever I do sponsored content, I do not let payment affect my reviews, as that is unethical and would completely erase any trust I’ve built with readers.

I believe you can criticize something and still love it – Knix was a prime example. I’m actually wearing the romper I bought last month as I write this, which I think is amusing.

Not just Knix though. I think another example that I think would be more well-known is Lululemon. They extended their sizes recently (woo!) but still only go up to a 20. It’s a step, but just one. And you can celebrate it and at the same time, acknowledge that there is still work to do.

Which led me to wonder if this happens with other brands. I did a call out on Twitter asking for other bloggers to come forward (if they wanted) and share if they ever faced backlash from a brand after sharing their experiences, and I received a handful of stories that all had something in common: a brand attempting intimidation:

“I saw your tweet about calling brands out and I had to DM you, anon please however you’re sharing these. I accepted a pair of gifted hair extensions to do a YouTube review, I explicitly said if they wanted to use my words or video in promotional material then we’d have to come to a paid agreement. Long story short, they downloaded my video and uploaded it to their YouTube channel and uploaded it on their website, I emailed the PR with no rely so I copyright strike the video and YouTube took it down. They then got in touch threatening legal action, told me I’d be blacklisted from all e-commerce websites (haha) called me ugly and I didn’t even fit their model requirements, and knew I’d be trouble (lol). Said their lawyer would be in touch if I didn’t pay for the extensions, obviously, I didn’t and explicitly told them that if they threaten me one more time our conversations will go public and they should pay content creators and set a contract if they want to use content in that way and they’re deluded if they think a lawyer would get involved. Conveniently went quiet after that but I’d hate for a smaller creator to feel threatened by it.”

I’ll be the first to say if I had received these DMs a year ago (okay, like even in March) I would have apologized profusely and taken down the blog.

There’s the fear of burning bridges, ruining brand deals, getting blacklisted from PR companies. And they are valid fears, and anyone is allowed to have them!

I, for better or for worse, just have nothing to lose with speaking out. A privilege, but also probably because I’ve been listening to ‘mad woman’ a lot so…if you know, you know.

What I’ve learned

That this story, if you will, can go in a lot of different directions. Sizing, representation, fear of brands, ethics, how to decide what brands to support, and what ones not. I’m sitting here at almost 2K words thinking that this is way too long for a blog and there’s still so much I could say.

That some posts that are hard to write are hard to write for a reason. And that sometimes speaking up might backfire on you, but that doesn’t mean it was bad to do so.

You are allowed to change your mind. Knix is a great brand for a lot of people, and if they work for you that’s great.

I don’t regret my post, I know that nothing I shared is ‘new’ to a lot of people and that it might have shocked people. I think this year has changed my priorities and I don’t feel the need to show up for a brand that hasn’t shown up for me. But not just me, because really where I sit on the plus-size range still has a ton of privilege and that needs to change. I know I won’t always be able to talk about the most inclusive brands, but I want to be more aware of brands that are.

Could I have written more tactfully? Was I too harsh? Out of place? I am not sure. I have felt nauseous all day as a zillion thoughts bounced around me, including these. I have re-read my blog post too many times. I have read the DMs every hour on the hour (only slightly dramatized) to see where the ‘gaslighting’ began. I had my first anxiety attack in a long time Sunday afternoon.

On the flip side, I have seen an outpouring of support and learned that chances are if you think you’re alone in something, you’re not. Women of all ages and from all over have been messaging me, something that is a little overwhelming, and the conversation is happening. Will it make a difference? Maybe. I hope so.

Could I have avoided all of this not so fun stuff by not saying anything or engaging? I think so.

I’m not even sure if I should be sharing this – which I am writing on Saturday and will wait a few days to make sure I still want to.

But I do know that companies should really leave communications up to the PR professionals.

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