It seems that the Skechers Shape-Ups for Girls petition that I started on Change.org has made its way through different channels of the blogosphere, and stirred up quite a bit of controversy. In the last few days, my petition has been featured on Yahoo!, the Daily Mail, HuffPost, and has since elicited a response from Leonard Armato, the president of the Skechers Fitness Group here on the Huffington Post. As the instigator of this mini media frenzy, I'd like to personally respond to his remarks.
Mr. Armato first makes the point that petition was not started by a parenting group, but "a student at Swarthmore College" on a website that "lets anybody start a petition on anything". And of course, all this is true. However, I do not think the fact that I am a student (technically a recent graduate) of Swarthmore College detracts at all from the aspects of this product and marketing campaign that are highly problematic, especially when a quick glance at the comments page of my petition show quite a few parents throwing their hat in the ring. In case this does somehow discredit me, allow me to take a moment to introduce myself to Mr. Armato's satisfaction.
My name is Augusta, and I'm a 21-year-old feminist blogger with a BA in Political Science from Swarthmore College. Perhaps more relevant, however, I am a former 7-year-old girl. A former horrifically awkward 7-year-old girl who, despite being witty and having gushing parents, had awful self-esteem and was susceptible to many marketing ploys that preyed on on my insecurities.
Coming at this issue from this perspective, I wholly disagree with Mr. Armato that my conflation with Shape-ups for Girls with the booming dieting industry of false promises and low self-esteem is in anyway unfair or inaccurate. Should there be NutriSystem for Young Girls ads on Nickelodeon? Or Zantrex 3- for 8-year-olds advertised on Cartoon Network?
Furthermore, Mr. Armato's attempts to equate the Shape-ups for Girls product with the First Lady's Let's Move campaign are both insulting and ill-fitting. Michelle Obama's predominant focus is on educating children about nutrition and promoting exercise, whereas the Skechers Shape-ups for Girls neither promote exercise, burn extra calories, or educate children on the necessity of proper nutrition. Even more disturbing is that Shape-ups for Girls are not marketed as Shape-ups for Children, but only for girls. The Let's Move campaign does not solely target girls. And unless Skechers has new information that suggests young boys are immune to obesity, this product and marketing campaign are simply the latest and youngest in an age-old technique of building an industry off of insecurity and exaggerated claims to endow the consumer with conventional beauty and acceptance. I have yet to see a statement from Mr. Armato or Skechers at large confronting why these shoes only exist for little girls, and not for little boys.
As for Skechers' message for girls to "get people moving, exercising, and getting fit", I am inclined to disagree. Take, for instance, the Kim Kardashian Shape-ups commercial that ran during the Super Bowl, in which Ms. Kardashian "breaks up" with her trainer, suggesting that just wearing these shoes are a legitimate substitute for an exercise regimen. Contrary to Mr. Armato's campaign, there is no evidence to suggest that Shape-ups or other toning sneakers actually work. The shoes are designed to affect the wearer's balance in a way that throws off the natural gait, and could be potentially dangerous to young wearers.
So let's quickly review. Skechers is marketing a "get thin quick" product that has no proven benefits to the health or fitness to girls as young at seven (pre-school age according to the now removed page on the Skechers website that sold the shoes), and not boys of the same age. That doesn't sound like the Let's Move campaign to me, Mr. Armato. Perhaps you should ask Mrs. Obama how she feels about your product, since you already know how I (and roughly 1,400 others) feel about it.
Augusta Christensen is a feminist blogger, musician, and columnist for Lawsonry Online Journal for Social Progress. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Swarthmore College, and runs the micro-blog STFU Sexists.