Does Target have a problem with fat people? I never noticed a problem with that before, but then, I don’t look at everything in the store. When my wife came home from shopping at a Target store, angry enough to write a feedback letter to Target, I began to rethink that possibility. My wife said that the way the store was set up made her feel horrible, worse than she had ever felt in her life during a shopping experience.
Naturally I wanted to find out what happened. Here’s the story, with pictures.
If you’ve ever looked at pictures of me, or know me in person, you know I am a big guy. I shop in the plus-size departments of clothing stores, and my wife does as well. She came home from shopping at Target for clothing, very upset, and told me that their displays were set up in ways that made it hard for overweight people to shop. I decided to look into it myself, and if it looked as she described, to write about it.
Guess what? It was just like she said, and it maybe even worse than she said – possibly a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
My wife’s observation was that the display racks in the plus-size area were packed in tightly enough that overweight people, the very customers that department exists to serve, will have a hard time shopping in it. Her additional observation was that the displays for thin women were much roomier, giving the impression that Target stores are set up to make it easy for thin people to shop, and hard for overweight or obese people to do the same. Armed with my cell phone camera and a tape measure I investigated.
I walked in and it took me a minute to find the plus-size women’s department. Here’s what the aisle looked like:
And here is a close-up with me measuring the gap between garments.
Note that there is only a gap of 24 inches between the garments on the left and those on the right. Also note that you can see the XXL size tag – this is plainly the area for plus-sized women. Now, compare that to the view of the bikini aisle, only about 50 feet away, in the same store. The gap was so large between garments that I had to enlist the aid of two passing women, one to hold an end of the tape measure, and the other to stand back and snap the picture.
See how spacious that is? And this is for the skinny women. Take a look at those tiny bathing suits. This is absolutely not part of the plus-size area. Here’s a close-up of the end of the tape measure to show you just how much wider the gap is between racks of clothing for skinny women.
That’s 54 inches across (four feet, six inches) – a full 30 inches wider than the gap from the plus-size women’s area. You could literally fit more than two of the plus-size area gaps into this one, with room to spare.
Now, if you’re a skinny woman you probably never noticed this during your own shopping trips. Try, though, to imagine your horror if you were a bigger woman and had to walk past that area, which as you can see from the pictures is right at the store entrance, and see how spacious and comfortable shopping is for skinny women. Then, 50 feet further down the row, you find that cramped shopping area where clothing that fits you may (or may not) be found.
I can’t imagine the anguish and shame such a situation could create for women, who are socialized to believe that their worth resides in the size of their bodies.
What’s even more surprising about it, though, is that stick-thin women are not the norm in this country. One would think that from a business perspective that catering to the needs of bigger people would be a very profitable way to run a store since the average size of Americans is trending upward. Setting up the displays so that thin women can shop comfortably while overweight people cannot fit between the display racks is not just insulting and cruel – it’s bad business.
I spoke with a store employee who I will not name. I asked what steps Target takes to make the shopping experience “handicapped accessible.” I was told that the displays are set up so that not only can people reach the goods easily, but that two people can pass side-by-side in each row.
As a practical matter I guess the employee should have added two caveats:
- Unless you’re fat
- Unless you’re handicapped
See, on top of all that unpleasantness suffered by overweight female shoppers, the store also fails to live up to what I was told are its handicapped accessibility “features.” Here’s a picture of me measuring one of the motorized carts used by those with mobility issues:
That’s a side-to-side measure of a cart from one bumper wheel to the other on the opposite side. Here is the close-up so you can read the numbers on the tape measure more clearly.
The carts are 30 inches across. That means a person using such a cart cannot fit between the racks in the plus-size area at all. It also means (surprisingly) that even the wide gap between racks in that bikini area will not permit two such carts from passing each other side-by-side.
I am not an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it seems to me that someone should look into that. If the employee was right that Target mandates all aisles should be able to fit two customers passing each other in opposite directions then neither of those displays meets that standard. If that is not Target’s official stance why are employees saying that it is? Why is it that the displays for the plus-size area are not even spaced appropriately to let a single motorized cart pass through them?
It seems to me that Target needs to address these issues – both the insult to women who are not runway-model thin, and the challenges posed to handicapped shoppers who might need Target’s own motorized carts – right away.
Post your thoughts on this in the comments below – and if you have pictures of similar problems at Target stores near you, e-mail me the pictures, along with the store location and your story, to firstname.lastname@example.org (or just click the little white e-mail icon at the top-right of this page underneath where it says “Follow Me.” And if you think making shopping unpleasant or difficult for plus-sized women or handicapped people is a big problem, click the share icons and spread the word.
Photo of Target Storefront via Fickr.
The rest of the photos were taken by Andrew Riggio.