The Gap wants you to cover up your ugly legs

Gap window add reads Put some pants on! Because we can't all look good in shortsVia The Frisky comes this disgusting Gap window ad. I think Stephanie Marcus, who snapped this photo, is right on when she says about the ad, “Another day, another ad that tries to make people buy their products by making you feel bad about your body.”

Gap is explicitly using shame about having a body that does not conform to mainstream beauty standards to sell products. I’m disturbed the company would choose to do this, but I’m also bothered that it’s an idea for an ad that would work at all.

And yes, the company probably wants the controversy that comes with this ad. Doesn’t change the fact they’re saying certain legs are acceptable to be seen in public and others aren’t. You know what? It’s a really freaking hot summer. I hate that ideas of what legs should and should not look like keep some people from staying cool, and I think it’s an asshole move on Gap’s part to rub this in people’s faces.

I know I don’t want to buy my shorts or pants from a company that says only people who look a certain way should be able to wear their product. If you agree you can contact Gap by clicking here.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Emma

    This comment has been moderated because it violates our comment policy.

    • aLynn


    • Leila

      Emma, I’d be interested to hear why you believe some people “shouldn’t wear shorts in public”. I can’t imagine any reason other than the kind of arbitrary, culturally imposed body shaming/policing that is so troublesome in this ad.
      I have legs that would probably be considered inappropriate for public viewing. But hey, on a hot day, I’m going to rock some shorts no matter what! Surely whatever disturbance I cause viewers will never be equal to the discomfort of chafing in sweat-soaked jeans… :)

    • Erin

      “Some people shouldn’t wear shorts in public”?

      I would love for you to elaborate on who these people are that should be prevented from wearing something that is perfectly acceptable for others to wear. Are they people who are overweight? Maybe not everyone who is overweight, but just the really really overweight ones, right? And maybe even people who are a “normal” weight but still have (omg) cellulite? Maybe people with prosthetic limbs? Or hairy legs or skin that’s too dark/not tan enough/bruised/blemished/unacceptable in some other way?

      And who gets to make the completely arbitrary judgments of who should and shouldn’t wear shorts in public? You and The Gap, apparently.

    • xeginy

      “Though I’m not going to lie, some people shouldn’t wear shorts in public.”

      Really? What people? Is there anyone today that has offended you by not conforming to *your* beauty standard?

      Snarkiness aside, please don’t validate this awful advertising. As far as I know, there is no reason why any person shouldn’t wear shorts in public.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      From what axioms that are consistent with feminism do you derive the conclusion that “some people shouldn’t wear shorts in public”?

      Do you disagree with the assertion that everyone should be able to be proud of and comfortable in their body, and it should be up to them to decide what they wear?

    • mishakitty

      Um what? Could you please explain your comment further because I’m pretty sure that fat-shaming (or whatever kind of shaming you’re doing here) is not allowed according to the comments policy.

    • Matt

      If someone “shouldn’t” wear shorts, then it seems to follow that the person “shouldn’t” wear a swimsuit either (at least a two-piece, a one-piece, trunks, or a trunk/shorts + shirt/top combo). Even body-obsessed sorts are going to have a tough time telling someone that all of these options are off the table when the person goes to the pool/beach.

    • Bob?

      “Though I’m not going to lie, some people shouldn’t wear shorts in public.”

      Not that I can speak for Emma, or even know if this is what she was trying to hint at, but I somewhat agree.
      There is a girl at my school that wears shorts that are so small, I swear her belt has more material. Now she shouldn’t stop wearing this shorts because of her body (her legs are perfectly fine) but because her butt cheeks are falling out and when I go to school, it’s not to see that. But I would guess that “high school” public and “walking down the street/otherwise minding my own business” public are different.

      Going back to the article, this seems like a pretty bad marketing ploy at the least. Wouldn’t you want more people to buy your crappy quality overpriced shorts? Especially since a lot of people only wear shorts or leggings, what with the heat index going insane, why would they even consider pants?

      Gap, go back to the drawing board and try again. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200.

      • F. Rib

        The situation you have described is NOT a person who “shouldn’t wear shorts.” The problem you have is not that she’s wearing shorts, it’s that the clothing she’s wearing doesn’t fit properly and/or doesn’t provide enough coverage for the setting. If she were wearing tops with the neckline cut down to expose her nipples, would you say she “shouldn’t wear shirts”?

        By the way, “when I go to school, it’s not to see that” is also a bit problematic. Let me rephrase it for you, using an honest-to-God real-life example… My father once noticed a woman with a crew-cut and said that she should, and I quote, “be arrested” for that haircut. When I (bit through my tongue and) said that it looked to me like she was a chemo patient, he said, “Doesn’t matter. I don’t come here [the mall] to see that!” He has also expressed the opinion that women should not be allowed to have tattoos, because “What if they want to wear a sleeveless or backless gown to a formal event? No one wants to see that.” I respectfully submit that what one person “came here to see” does not necessarily constrain anyone else. (Dress codes for a school or work setting certainly have their place, but even they should not be based on what anyone “comes here to see.”)

        Anyway, I’ve given this a lot of thought in the 40+ minutes it’s taken me to register and log in (…. ugh), and here is a list of people who “should not wear shorts:”

        1. People with open wounds on the backs of their legs who will be sitting on unsanitized surfaces with no barrier to prevent bacteria from entering their wound(s)
        2. People who will be walking through a field of, e.g., stinging nettles, wading through a pond filled with, e.g., leeches, carrying buckets of, e.g., molten lava, or beekeeping
        3. People who are at risk of having a dermatological reaction to sunlight*
        4. People who are going to be honored at a public ceremony featuring a world leader (although this may depend upon the honor, the ceremony, and the leader)
        5. People with exceptionally fragile skin who anticipate being in a poky and/or scratchy environment**
        6. People who do not want to wear shorts

        *This line-item also presupposes that the person (a) is wearing shorts outside and (b) during sunny weather or (c) during daylight hours.

        **Belatedly I realize that items 1, 2, 3, and 5 could all be combined under “people who need to have the skin on their legs protected from exposure to their environment” but I worked too hard on #2 to get rid of it now.

    • Anna

      Thank you to everyone who replied to this. I apologize for not noticing this in time. It’s ridiculous that only January Jones-type bodies should be able to wear shorts. Like Jos’ said, it’s FREAKING HOT! Arghh!!

      – Community Moderator

  • sex-toy-james

    Then again, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably always look better in cargo shorts. Pants are for poor people who don’t have so many things in their pockets.

    Seriously though, pants are dependency forming, like illegal drugs. The more you wear them and the less your legs see the light of the sun the more pasty your legs become. People need to tough out that pasty phase in order to break out of their pant addictions, not backslide like The Gap is encouraging them to do.

  • aLynn

    Blech…another reason to dislike Gap. You know, aside from their crap-quality-at-a-way-too-high-price-wait-I-could-have-gotten-almost-this-exact-item-for-$20-less-at-Old-Navy-ness.

    • Elizabeth

      For me, it is a reason to stop supporting ALL subsets of the Gap, Co. Sorry, Old Navy but your parent company uses body shame to try and sell pants. I am not shopping there any more. I cannot and will not support any brand where I know it is in cahoots with someone that is trying to shame people into wearing pants.

      • aLynn

        Oh, I totally agree with you. I was just trying to point out that BEFORE I saw this, I already would have preferred the less expensive arm of their company.

      • jiujitsubuddah

        I think Banana Republic is also in their circle.

  • dena

    I find this very troubling. I mean, just because someone shouldn’t wear shorts in public (what does that really mean anyway?) it doesn’t mean that people should be shamed into not wearing such clothing. I agree, it is an asshole move that Gap is doing. And think of the messaging it’s sending to young girls, young boys, women and men about their bodies. What are they seeing and feeling when they see advertising such as this. This is a disgusting shame.

  • Miranda

    When I read the first half of the sign I assumed it was some sort of anti-tights-as-pants advertising strategy. I’m a firm believer that tights and leggings are NOT acceptable substitutes for pants. But then I read the bottom part of the sign. You know what, Gap? You may not think I look good in shorts but it’s freaking hot outside and I only own so many skirts. I’ll take wearing shorts over being drenched in sweat any day.

  • Nicole

    Reading through the comments, I have got to say I agree w/the others about questioning the whole “some people shouldn’t wear shorts in public statement.”

    To me, this is just another example of how people internalize normative behaviors and/or beauty standards. Like, only “some” (read—“thin” and “beautiful”) women (and we know this is surely directed at their female shoppers) are deemed culturally-worthy enough to bear their legs. Thinking a little further, when places like the Gap (where shorts cost what, $30 or more?!?!?) say who should and shouldn’t be doing something it is almost always classed as well.

    I am constantly looking for cultural references like this (i.e.–not as obvious as “only skinny, rich, pretty, white heterosexual women should shop here”) to show my students (I teach freshman level sociology and women’s studies courses), because it often ends the same way: “well, I hate to say it but…..”

    Thanks, Jos for pointing out thinly veiled oppressive ads like this one!

  • Miriam Heddy

    The Gap–which claims to offer clothing for the whole family–doesn’t actually carry my size in pants (or shorts, for that matter). So I tend to think that, however awful their ad campaign is, it’s coming as part of a pre-existing policy that defines my body as Other.

  • Ruth

    I used to be fat, during my childhood and teenage years. I was made to feel ashamed of my body by most people around me. Parents, brother, friends, teachers, everyone thought I should either lose weight or cover myself because showing fat is just not appropriate. The looks my mom gave me when I dared wear a tank top in the summer. I think she felt ashamed of me and afraid of the repercussions my behavior would have on her (“how can she let her daughter wear this or that”). As a result, I hated my body and accordingly hid myself from everyone. Not just clothingwise. I hid in every way imaginable. I developed different eating disorders that continued well into my mid twenties. I lost a lot of weight, starved myself, gained back the weight, starved again. I binge ate. I hated that every single second of my existence revolved around my body and food. I hated that so many pleasures (the pleasure of liking the image of yourself in the mirror, the pleasure of eating, the pleasure of buying clothes that you like) had been taken away because of the way I looked. I hated skinny people who had done nothing to me. I hated clothing store people who would laugh at me just because I dared to look around their stores. “There’s nothing for you here”, they said. That was life in a nutshell for me: a place where there was nothing for me.

    Thankfully, those days are mostly past. I am on the heavy side of appropriate BMI, and my weight has been stable for the past 3 or 4 years. However, I still have a hard time showing my body and enjoying it. This is the first summer ever that I’ve worn above knee long dresses, and even though I love them and I feel good in them, it’s been an incredible ordeal. It’s hard to shake the fear of what others might think when they look at me. I still have a harder time going to the beach, which I don’t like that much anyway, but it feels, for me, like a fashion show where I trip and people laugh at me, even if that’s not actually the case.

    All of this because when I was younger people felt I deserved to be shamed for my appearance. I think this campaign is incredibly hurtful, and although I am not blaming Gap for eating and body image disorders, I think its owners should be more aware of the negative influence their campaigns can have on people. To think that they would do this on purpose, to hurt people, is just too awful to even imagine. I am sure they feel good that instead of saying “we have nothing for you” they are offering me pants, but that’s not acceptance, that’s feeding off of my insecurities in an extremely cruel way.

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  • jiujitsubuddah

    Here’s what Gap had to say to me about it: “Thank you for your email about our current store window marketing campaign. We are sorry to hear that you are unhappy with our new “Pants” campaign. We appreciate knowing how our advertising is being received and comments from loyal customers like you are valuable. We have several different campaigns a year and each is designed to target various segments of our consumer base. We regularly evaluate our ads for effectiveness and reach to ensure our advertising is appropriate for our customers and our brand. We have forwarded your valuable comments to the marketing manager responsible for these decisions.” …Real fancy way of saying, “screw you, fattie!”

    • Ruth

      I got the exact same response, of course.

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  • Sisou

    Wouldn’t it be great if fashion stores would take time out of their busy “shaming” schedule to supply clothes that fit all bodies.

    I was just telling a friend why I don’t really wear short. Because they rarely come in Apple Bottom size. In other words , I can never find shorts that are made for thin women with Big butts. they are always too loose or end up showing my butt cheeks. Esp clothes made for ppl in their 20s which as usually the shortest short possible.

    So my theory is that is easier to shame women then to sale Better clothes.

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  • Elaine Benes

    I see a lot of anger here, and there’s nothing wrong with that — the window treatment does push buttons, and most definitely we should all respond when companies come out with stuff like this. However, if I take a step back and consider, I don’t actually see malice in the words on the poster — to me, even as a conscious feminist, it reads as unthinking/reflexive dumbassery, rather than intent to cause harm. Someone at an ad agency thought they were being clever, in that annoying faux-rueful “we’re all in this together — it’s hard out there for a gal!” way, and in all likelihood, it didn’t occur to them that it would be hurtful. That doesn’t mean it’s OK — this sort of thing just becomes part of the trash in the atmosphere if we don’t nip it in the bud. It does mean that the company should be made aware of its offensiveness, so that they can be more mindful in the future; believe me, they DO read those emails, even if you get a form letter in response — a company that is 70% female and whose business is selling clothes to women (and the women who buy for their families) would never deliberately alienate a part of their target market.

  • Lora

    What bothers me most is in addition to this Put Some Pants On campaign, they are also running the ultimate skinny jean/denim leggings campaign.
    So, I should trade my shorts for what are basically opaque pantyhose?
    No thanks.

  • Alison

    I think what is most upsetting is that a lot of passers by would not see anything wrong with this ad campaign. On the surface it is harmless, conversational, but it is tapping into that part of some women’s sub conscious that doesn’t believe the exact body they have is fine as it is and doesn’t need to be hidden away, like a dirty secret.

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  • rebecca wildsmith

    I just thought I’d let you know that I emailed Gap a couple of days ago with the following:


    Inexcusable in this day & age… below the belt… stop making people
    feel bad about their bodies… your ‘big corporation’ seriously needs

    Another gross technique of selling your products… shame on you…

    and received the following back this morning:

    Thank you for your email about our recent Black Pants store signage. We
    were so sorry to learn that you were offended by the signage. Please
    know that this was not our intention and the signage is no longer in

    We take this kind of feedback very seriously and always appreciate
    knowing how our advertising is being received. We regularly evaluate our
    marketing to ensure our advertising is appropriate for our customers. We
    have forwarded your comments to the marketing team responsible for this
    signage to take into consideration when making future decisions.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact us and we hope you will
    shop with us again in the near future.

    So it does help to complain…

    P.S. As this is my first comment on your site & you state it will be withheld, I thought your readers might like to know so, maybe you can advise them somewhere else on your site that the posters have been taken down… They had better keep their word!

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