Forever 21 accused of fat-shaming after mailing diet bars with orders, including plus-size orders

The clothing chain is facing allegations of body-shaming and encouraging eating disorders after sending Atkins meal replacement bars with its online orders.
People walk next to Forever 21 store at Jockey Plaza Mall in Lima
People walk next to Forever 21 store at Jockey Plaza Mall in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 9, 2016.Mariana Bazo / Reuters file

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

Clothing store Forever 21 is being accused of fat-shaming after it sent Atkins diet bars with its online orders, including plus-size orders.

Twitter users who ordered from the store, popular among teenage girls, shared pictures of the Atkins meal replacement bars that came with their clothes. Many of the women who thought the promotion was in bad taste said the bars were included with their order of plus-size items.

"BUSINESS TIP: If you're selling a product geared to Fat people, probably best not to tell them that you want to eradicate fat bodies... FYI we're not only fat, we're fierce too and you're not getting our money anymore! *cough* @forever21 *cough*," author Rebecca Sky tweeted.

The Atkins diet peaked in popularity in 2003 and 2004, ushering in the age of bunless burgers and special low-carb menus at chain restaurants. Recently, Atkins has been marketing itself as a less strict, but just-as-effective version as 2019's diet du jour, Keto.

With actor Rob Lowe as its current spokesman, Atkins presents itself as a healthy lifestyle, but is explicit that the main perk of its diet, a mixture of its low carb, high protein products and recipes, is weight loss.

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Forever 21 has long been lauded for selling a considerable range of clothing options for plus-size women. But some women who had been fans of the store for exactly that reason said they would begin shopping elsewhere after the diet bar sample was included in their order.

"I’ve praised forever 21 in the past for being one of the few major retailers to have an expansive plus size line AND NOW I TAKE ALL THAT BACK," YouTuber and podcast host Sierra Schultzzie wrote on Twitter. "SCREW YOU AND YOUR BODY SHAMING, DIET CULTURE MARKETTING. I will not be shopping there anymore or doing videos about you."

Other Twitter users said the stunt could trigger eating disorders.

"What the hell, @Forever21?? Not only is this incredibly fatphobic, but sending diet bars unsolicited is down right harmful to the customers & could negatively impact anyone with a ED. This is beyond disgusting. Stop forcing diet culture down peoples throats," one woman wrote.

A statement from Forever 21 said that "from time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders," and the bars were included in all orders "across all sizes and categories." The promotion has since been stopped.

"This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way," the statement said.

An Atkins statement said that the company has been through a "brand evolution ... highlighting health benefits of eating a low carb/low sugar Atkins lifestyle."

"Today’s Atkins focused on a lifestyle nutritional approach where everyone can benefit from overall health and wellbeing," the statement said. "The intention of sampling Atkins products is to share snacks that taste great with optimal nutritional benefit."

Earlier this week, Macy's also faced criticism for selling a line of glasses and dishes with portion control lines. On one plate, the smallest portion said "skinny jeans," the next size up said "favorite jeans," and the largest portion line said "mom jeans." On a wine glass, the message at the halfway mark read "on the lips," while a line closer to the brim cautions "on the hips."

After podcast host Alie Ward chastised Macy's for selling the dishware, Macy's said it had pulled the line from its shelves, adding "we missed the mark on this product."

A statement from the maker of the pulled products, Pourtions, said the line "is intended to support healthy eating and drinking."

"As the creators of Pourtions, we feel badly if, what was meant to be a lighthearted take on the important issue of portion control, was hurtful to anyone," the statement said.