Oprah Winfrey’s story of discrimination has sparked much discussion about how racism plays into retail bias.
Oprah told Entertainment Tonight that she was visiting a high-end store in Zurich, Swizerland, and the sales assistant refused to show her a $38,000 handbag.
The Guardian’s economics editor Heidi Moore wrote a piece in response called, “Oprah faced not just fashion retail racism, but size bias too.”
“When people judge our status — how much we are able to spend, where we are in the social order — they look at our weight, especially for women,” Moore told Here & Now. “And black women who are of size tend to be seen as lower in socioeconomic status. And obviously all of these markers are unjust — they can be wrong.”
Moore says businesses are losing out by judging women based on their size.
“Businesses are really being ignorant about giving up the amount of business they could get from people — from women in particular — who are above a size 10, and who have that money to spend and are willing to spend it, but are often discouraged because they are told that they are not of the right image,” Moore said.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.
And you've by now heard of the $38,000 bag that Oprah Winfrey asked to see in that high-end boutique in Switzerland. One of the wealthiest women in the world, she's worth three billion, was told no, it's too expensive for you. NPR's Code Switch asked if other African-Americans have had an Oprah moment. One response: My mother was buying towels, the clerk told her they were too expensive. She left. Another wrote: At a hotel in South Dakota, a man stopped me in the hall and asked me to deliver more towels to his room. There's also a hashtag on Twitter: My Oprah moment.
But what if this was about more than race? Heidi Moore is the economic and business editor at The Guardian. She has written a fascinating column. And Heidi, you were saying that race has been cited and rightfully so, but you also point to another marker of socio-economic status: weight. How so?
HEIDI MOORE: Yeah, absolutely. There have been numerous studies that show that when people judge our status, how much we're able to spend, where we are in the social order, they look at our weight, especially for women. And black women who are of size tend to be seen as lower in socio-economic status. And obviously all of these status markers are unjust. They can be wrong, as we saw on Oprah's case. She's a billionaire who's struggled with her thyroid and could have bought not only that handbag but the entire shop.
MOORE: But for a shop assistant who didn't recognize her and who didn't correctly read, you know, Oprah's clothing - she was apparently wearing a cute Donna Karan dress - you know, it's very easy to look at somebody of size as well as somebody of color and say maybe you don't have the money that you need to spend here.
YOUNG: Well - and Oprah could buy and has her own chef so she can eat properly. As you said, she has a thyroid condition. And you say there are studies that linked a woman's size and her socio-economic status because people with low incomes tend to eat less - the food that's not as good for you and is higher in calories. But what else are you saying about this observation when it comes to business?
MOORE: Yeah. And actually, I'd like to talk about that in a minute. One of the reasons that women of lower socio-economic status tend to weigh more is that it's very difficult to get healthy food in many neighborhoods that aren't rich. And so there have been numerous studies about that as well.
MOORE: So my larger point is that businesses are really being ignorant about giving up, you know, the amount of business they could get from people who are, you know, from women particularly who are above a size 10 and who have that money to spend and are willing to spend it but are often discouraged because they are told that they are not of the right image.
YOUNG: Well, you...
MOORE: And you've seen this from other businesses.
YOUNG: Well, you quote the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, who recently justified not making plus-size clothing by saying our clothing is exclusionary. People, they don't belong in our clothing. So that is so insulting right there. You've had a ton of response to this, including from a Theodore Marlow(ph), who seems to agree with you in saying, you know, I'm white, I've been in a luxury good store in Switzerland. They didn't serve me either.
MOORE: Yeah, absolutely. You know, there were amazing stories that I heard from people on Twitter when I sent out my article. One of them said that her friend who was a size 16 and a partner in a law firm went into an upscale boutique and was immediately directed to the sale rack. You know, partners at law firms make up to a million dollars and more, so this was a woman with money to spend. But because the assistant looked at her size, she thought maybe you should be where no one can see you or where you can, you know, buy things that don't cost as much.
YOUNG: Well - and we want to be sure because apparently Rush Limbaugh is using your column today. You are not saying that it is not about race. You are saying it was also about race, but we have to look at some of these other factors as well, and weight may be one.
Heidi Moore, the economic and business editor at The Guardian and a regular contributor to HERE AND NOW. We would love to hear from people, their thoughts, and also we'll link you up with NPR's Code Switch to leave your Oprah moment there as well. Heidi, thanks so much.
MOORE: Thank you.
YOUNG: Back in a minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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