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Target's "manatee gray" and the hunt for insults

April 05, 2013|By Karin Klein
  • Manatee gray: Maybe not a color to love, but an insult to heavy women?
Manatee gray: Maybe not a color to love, but an insult to heavy women? (Gary Coronado / Associated…)

Target has apparently stubbed its toe on a touchstone of obesity sensitivity with the color label for one of its plus-size dresses — manatee gray.

It’s an odd choice of a color name, for sure, one that’s also slapped on the discount retailer's towels, sheets and the like. It evokes images of mottled, darkish gray, not entirely lovely tones. And the manatee, though an engaging environmental symbol for its gentle ways and precarious future, isn’t exactly a sex symbol. But the backlash provoked by an extra-large-size dress tagged with the color prompted Target to sweep the dress off its racks and issue an apology.

Because of ... ?

Well, the manatee is also known as the sea cow, so someone who was obviously free-associating off the animal’s name took this to be a slap at heavier women. Oversensitive much?

The manatee’s nickname has nothing to do with its admittedly rounded girth. Unlike seals, for instance, manatees are largely placid creatures that graze on plants for hours a day. Gee, what animal does that bring to mind?

Truly, bullying and name-calling are unacceptable, and there are animal labels that could justifiably be seen as outright offensive — gray whale, for instance. But it doesn’t pay to go looking for insults. Hypersensitivity might not be much of an improvement over insensitivity.

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