Edmonton Addition Elle employee fired for using the word 'fat'

Connie Levitsky just wants to conquer the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time. But after posting this message on Facebook, she lost her job with a popular plus-size women's retailer on Tuesday.

Plus-size clothing retailer now says firing was a mistake

Plus-size clothing retailer Addition Elle offered Connie Levitsky her job back, but she refused 3:20

Connie Levitsky didn't think using the F-word would mean losing her job.

The third-year MacEwan University student describes herself as fat, has no problem referring to herself that way, and is proud of her body.

So as a sales associate at Edmonton plus-size women's retailer Addition Elle, she described her job title on Facebook as, "Conquering the world, one well-dressed fat lady at a time." 

She removed the post last week, at her manager's request.

When she arrived at work on Tuesday, she was told she no longer had a job.

"It was explained to me that the company simply just does not want to be associated with the word 'fat' because of the negative connotation attached to it, and they prefer to use the words 'curvy or shapely' or other euphemisms," Levitsky said.

"I remember feeling just incredibly shocked."

It was explained to me that the company simply just does not want to be associated with the word 'fat' because of the negative connotation attached to it.– Connie Levitsky

Levitsky took to Facebook on Tuesday night with a post explaining why she's comfortable with calling herself fat.

She's always been fat, she explained, something that used to cause her anger, shame and anxiety. 

She said body-positivity movements helped her accept using the word fat to describe her figure.

She said she's upset that Addition Elle, a company she admired for the way it advocates for acceptance of all women's bodies, can't accept a word many women use without worry to describe themselves.

Her original post was shared more than a thousand times.

Fat-shaming rejected

"I don't see fat as being a negative thing anymore," Levitsky said. "I realize that when I take offence to a word that is used to hurt me, I'm essentially reinforcing this perpetuation that fat people should be and are ashamed of themselves, that there's something wrong with being fat."

Addition Elle responded to Levitsky's post with a statement on its Facebook page. The company said firing Levitsky was a mistake and that it "took the word 'fat' out of its context," worried it might offend customers and employees.

"We believe that anyone should use whatever words they are comfortable with when describing themselves and whatever makes them feel empowered," the statement said.

When CBC News reached out to Addition Elle on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the retailer said it has contacted Levitsky and is "working with her to move forward."

Fat enmeshed in stigma

Ximena Ramos Sales, a PhD student at the University of Alberta's School of Public Health, studies weight bias. She's also managing director of the Canadian Obesity Network, and says the negative connotation surrounding the word fat is a cultural construction.

Fat is a part of our body that we need to survive, yet as a culture, we have changed the meaning of the word because of weight bias and the stigma of obesity in society, Ramos Sales said.

The word has become associated with poor health, less discipline, or less willingness to take care of yourself, all perceptions she said aren't necessarily based on evidence.
Levitsky says she won't accept her job back if the company offers it. (Connie Levitsky)

The fat acceptance movement is a group of people trying to change the stigma around the word by starting a conversation on why we talk about fat the way we do, or why some shy away completely from using the word, she said.

It's a movement retailers should be mindful of, Ramos Sales said.

"I can see how some retailers might not want to be associated with that word. But … there is a movement that promotes body diversity, that promotes respect and dignified treatment for people of all sizes," she said.

"So if you want to be in this retail market and this market where you are trying to provide clothing for a growing group of the population that identifies itself as fat, then you probably need to consider that this is a word that they identify themselves with and you might need to reconsider your policies around that."

Doesn't want job back

Levitsky said she didn't want to attract negative publicity to her former employer, but simply wanted to start a conversation on how we refer to different body types.

She hasn't spoken to her manager, but if she's offered her job back, she said, she won't be taking it.

"I feel it would be a disservice to the women I was trying to empower if I continue to work for a company that has said ... that they still don't condone the use of this word," Levitsky said.

"I don't feel what I was trying to say has truly gotten across to them."

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