The shirt is being sold at online retailer Marek + Richard. According to their website, the brand was founded in May 2011 by Neil Marek and Robbie Richard, two guys who met while pursuing fashion degrees at The University of North Texas. M+R is a causal knitwear line based in Dallas, Texas. It offers a wide range of clothing gear (everything from jockstraps to sweatpants) in collections inspired by street fashion, youth trends and pop-culture.
M + R sell a number of t-shirts with gay/pop slang emblazoned across them such as ‘BTTM’, YAAAAS’ and ‘THOT”. However it’s the ‘No Fat, No Fems’ shirt that is causing an uproar on social media.
I will say this at the outset, that if you are one of the people genuinely upset or offended by this shirt, you are perfectly entitled to your feelings and thoughts. I’m not in any way trying to diminish or downplay them. I’m simply exploring other ways of responding to the shirt.
Context and intention
There is a degree of contextualisation that can help see this shirt for what it is. It’s been designed by a brand that is clearly youth orientated, tongue-in-cheek and interested in pushing buttons. You can see this across their entire line of clothing. There is a degree of sassiness and empowerment in shirts like ‘Pizza & Anal’ and ‘Dic Pix Pls.’ Are they to everyone’s taste? No. Some people won’t like them or buy them. And again, that’s fine. Everyone’s entitled to having their own response.
Given the context of the company, the ‘No Fats, No Fems’ shirt can be viewed as continuing that legacy of cheeky word play, designed to shock, surprise and generally, illicit a response one way or the other. I don’t think the company released the shirt with the sole intention of seriously upsetting anyone. It simply appears to be continuing a legacy of sarcastic, witty and boundary pushing social commentary.
Maybe it just went a little bit too far for some people. The tough thing for M + R is that any reaction to its clothing can only be gaged after it’s been released. By then, given the lightning speed social media can spread content around the world, it can be too late.
The M + R reaction
The tricky thing about context and intention is that they aren’t tangible or visible qualities. They are subtle and nuanced and require a degree of knowledge about the company, its philosophy and its history.
From what I can gather, M + R’s response (on social media) has been clear. The shirt is designed to be sarcastic. This is the company’s response across all of their social media platforms. Unfortunately, scrolling through many of the comments, it doesn’t seem like this response is being heard or is appeasing anyone.
UPDATE – Several days after the controversy erupted, Marek + Richard released the following statement across all their social media channels.
From my own personal observations of their social channels, the brand seems to be pretty inclusive. They use a diverse range of models of various shapes and sizes. So my own personal opinion at this stage is to believe M + R when they say they their intent was to be sarcastic.
Let’s have a real conversation
The controversy surrounding the shirt is bringing up a very real issue – the level of discrimination in our gay community for guys who are overweight or present femininely. Let’s use this controversy as an opportunity to have a real conversation about these issues, and not just get stuck in outrage mode.
I would love to hear from people within our community about how these appearance issues impact them. I’d love to question why we have and hold onto these strong, rigid and incredibly narrow body ideals. And why is femininity, or anything associated with being feminine (like bottoming for instance) still seen as a negative thing?
The shirt may be new, but these issues we’re facing aren’t. Let’s tackle them head on, and maybe we might make some headway in reducing them. And hey, maybe that was one of the points of the shirt? To get people thinking and talking about these issues.
It’s just that it’s hard to talk when everyone is venting their outrage on social media. Why not share our own thoughts and feelings, and then – and this is the important bit – listen with compassion and respect to as many different voices as possible?
Slay like Kim Chi
My favourite response to this controversy has been by Chicago drag queen, Kim Chi. She’s released her own shirt in response. The t-shirt reads ‘Yas Fats, Yas Fems, Yas Azns.’
Kim wrote in the accompanying Instagram post that the shirt is “all about loving yourself.” A portion of proceeds from the shirt will go to the The Los Angeles LGBT Center, Proud2Share and Shape Up America. Now that’s a constructive use of outrage, right?
UPDATE – Founder of the Pash app, Andrew Baietta has also just released a ‘No Douches’ line of shirts and tops in response. Half of the proceeds of sales will go to Beyond Blue, which is an amazing Australian organisation helping people with anxiety and depression.
FINAL WORD – I know it’s such a a wanky and overused term, but this whole controversy about four words on a shirt can be used as a teachable moment. Let’s actually have a real conversation and begin to move more people towards being accepting and loving of everyone in our community – no matter how they look or how they present. So that hopefully one day, shirts reclaiming negative words, stereotypes or associations about us won’t even be needed.