For reasons that defy explanation, retail giant Walmart listed at least some of its plus-size Halloween costumes under a section called "Fat Girl Costumes."
Jezebel first reported on the bizarre marketing blunder thanks to a tip from an eagle-eyed reader. They noted that the section carried many of the same costumes as the Plus Sized Adult Costume section and wondered if maybe "some Web developer created the section as a 'hilarious' joke and then neglected to change it."
Regardless of how it came about, what was verifiable was the backlash. Not surprisingly, people on social media were supremely unhappy with the categorization.
In an interesting twist, Walmart issued an apology.
"We first heard about it this morning," spokesman Ravi Jariwala told BuzzFeed on Monday. "Our teams immediately engaged, we're working to remove it as soon as possible and make sure it never happens again.
"This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We are working to remove it as soon as possible and ensure this never happens again."
As of Monday afternoon, Walmart had also removed the description from its site — the label now says "Women's Plus Size Halloween Costumes." (However, it still carries an unfortunately placed banner that reads, "Make it a monstrously big Halloween for less!")
Let's be clear here. This wasn't a subtle decision on the part of the superstore. They were targeting plus-sized customers, and they were doing it in a blatantly offensive way. "Fat Girl Costumes" can be construed one way only: as a high school-level categorization that carries with it an unmistakable mocking connotation.
This wasn't a case of a company making thinly veiled attempts at fat-shaming — this was a flagrant mistake by one of the country's biggest retailers. And, as Jezebel notes, Walmart markets some truly bizarre and offensive costumes, including "fat Tinkerbell" for men and a ridiculous Marie Antoinette getup.
Don't assume Walmart is suddenly the good guy. Although they issued an apology — and are responding to a number of customers personally via Twitter — their backpedaling is likely just a reaction to the public relations disaster they're now facing.
Take the following tweet, for instance. Sent Oct. 21, it came from a customer complaining about the description. It was then answered by Walmart itself:
Yet they still made no changes to their website, and it took until Monday for anything to actually happen — well after multiple media outlets picked up on the story.
The incident should never have happened in the first place. Even if the retailer's apology had included any semblance of sincerity, it still would have arrived too late — the description should never have been used at all. It's akin to a playground taunt, and it gives us nasty flashbacks to mean, teenage girls.
Showing your customers a degree of respect shouldn't be too much to ask, but unfortunately, it seems as if Walmart missed the memo.