Cintra Wilson cannot possibly be this dense

12th August 2009

Cintra Wilson cannot possibly be this dense

Harriet Brown alerted me to this scathing piece by New York Times fashion writer Cintra Wilson on J.C. Penney’s new line of clothes, which includes plus-size and Big & Tall offerings.   Jezebel also called Wilson out on what is truly a mean-spirited, snark-filled critique on fat people.  Some gems from her piece:

It took me a long time to find a size 2 among the racks. There are, however, abundant size 10’s, 12’s and 16’s. I tried two fairly cute items…  Each was around $80; each fit nicely and looked good. I didn’t buy either because I can do better for $80, but if I were a size 18, I’d have rejoiced.

…To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of “Roseanne.”

…The petites section features a bounty of items for women nearly as wide as they are tall; the men’s Big & Tall section has shirts that could house two or three Shaquilles…

On her personal blog, Cintra Wilson simply can’t understand why fat –and thin– folks are up in arms about her oh, so hilariously funny sizeist snark.

I feel this article is in keeping with the generally irreverent spirit of Critical Shopper. It is a piece about the store itself and the clothes in it, and how they compare to other clothes in neurotic New York: what is the same/different about them, style-wise. J.C. Penney has had the foresight and genius to realize that plus-sizes are all but completely ignored in Manhattan, and because of this, they are going to make squillions of dollars.

It is actually a positive review, believe it or not.

She does go on to apologize, insisting that she didn’t MEAN to be an condescending snobby, self obsessed bitch (in so many words), but not before making it appear as if it is WE, the offended folk, who are just hyper-sensitive and overly literal:

My writing style is generally pretty scathing, even when I like something. Nothing is sacred in a Critical Shopper — and that’s why you read it.. But it’s not so fun, apparently, if you happen to take something irreverent I say about a mannequin or an inventory personally.”

In the piece, Wilson congratulates J.C. Penney for being so “remarkably smart” as to offer clothing to fit the general populous.  She writes:

This niche has been almost wholly neglected on our snobby, self-obsessed little island. New York boutiques tend to cater to the stress-thin, morbidly workaholic, Pilates-tortured Manhattan ectomorph.  But there are many more body types who vote with their hard-earned dollars…

Guess what? We also buy newspapers. I’ve always liked the Times‘ fashion coverage, but this piece has me considering “voting” with my “hard-earned dollars” on fashion coverage elsewhere.  Let’s all go enlighten Wilson on why it is her “positive review” is so very unprofessional, unclassy and uncalled for.

UPDATE: It looks like Cintra Wilson can dish it out, but she can’t take it.  She has now removed her “fauxpology” from her blog after receiving dozens of comments calling her out.  Instead, she thinks that this is all just “ridiculous” and that we should all just “remove the knot from [our] panties.”  Stay classy, Cintra.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Wilson has now posted what appears to be a sincere apology, which I, at least, accept although I doubt that it’s heartfelt. Of course, the true test of her sincerity will be when she edits the original piece to revise/remove the offending material.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 6:06 pm and is filed under Arts and Music, Body Snarking, Fashion, Fat Bias. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 34 responses to “Cintra Wilson cannot possibly be this dense”

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  1. 1 On August 12th, 2009, Maureen at IslandRoar said:

    Poor baby, she couldn’t find a size 2???
    And doesn’t get what she’s said??
    Methinks she is a bitch.
    Who could use a good meal.

  2. 2 On August 12th, 2009, rachel with a little "r" said:

    You know what this reminds me of? Really?

    “Well, they get to have a United Negro College Fund…why can’t we have a United White College Fund???”

    “Hey, women have women’s only colleges; why can’t we have men’s only colleges???”

    “Gay rights, gay rights…I’m tired of hearing about gay rights! Why don’t we straight people get some rights for a change!”

    Oh, yes…when the person of privilege is doing it, it is absolutely fine…but when the marginalized person does it…OH NO SHE DIDN’!

    Seriously, women of size of had the problem of not being able to find the cute fashions in their sizes, and frankly I find it hard to feel sorry for this little size 2 woman. For real…I’m sure she could wear a size a 4 and it would just hang a little looser around her.

  3. 3 On August 12th, 2009, rachel with a little "r" said:

    also, the photo is hilarious, it looks like a mugshot…

  4. 4 On August 12th, 2009, Anna said:

    Man, what a wanker. I’m glad that so many people told her where she can stick it.

  5. 5 On August 12th, 2009, Carrie said:


    I mean, heaven forbid people find clothing that actually fits them. I always found it more disturbing that the Penney’s near me has the “plus size” section on the basement floor, far away from the other women’s clothing, than that they had options to fit an array of shapes and sizes. The only reason I ever located it was because it’s next to the bathroom. To be fair, they have since moved it during a store redesign.

    It’s frustrating when you have a hard time finding clothes that fit, whatever your size. But it has as much to do with the style of some of these clothes (pants that require legs like toothpicks and a waist larger than an average hula hoop? Give me a break!) as the size itself. My mom has a nasty time trying to find good-fitting clothes because of her shape, although Wilson would probably solve her problem by having my mom walk around in a burlap sack.

  6. 6 On August 12th, 2009, Bilt4Cmfrt said:

    Well, we DO have some fat-hate issues, now don’t we?

    More importantly- This woman’s photo scares me. And I’m not a small guy.

    No, I mean, really. I’m getting these screeching flash-backs of the Wicked Witch of the West and Cruella DeVille. All she needs is the green skin or that black&white hairdo. . .


  7. 7 On August 12th, 2009, farfromgruntled said:

    i completely agree that Wilson is out of line in this article. when i read it i was shocked by the level of scorn and cruelty! however, i guess i am equally saddened by comments that say she should eat a good meal and just wear a size bigger. isn’t part of the point of FA that people shouldn’t judge our eating habits on what we look like? i don’t want people thinking all i do it eat cheeseburgers and i don’t assume thin people only eat spinach. all women deserve clothing that fits them. and we deserve respect. Wilson EPIC FAILED at giving that respect today, but i feel like we disrespect ourselves by telling thinny over there to eat a burger and just deal with pants that sag in the butt.

  8. 8 On August 12th, 2009, FatNSassy said:

    Most people who dish it can’t take it. This is going to sound really mean, but it is my honest observation. The most catty are the most insecure. Usually they have nothing outstanding about themselves. They are not the prettiest, smartest, talented, or most charismatic among us. They get their attention and 15 minutes of fame by pushing the norms of decency. Look at Coulter, Joan Rivers, MeMe Roth, even whatsherface Wintour from Vouge (?). Nothing really special there. When people find fault with us, we tend to spend so much time obsessing on our own flaws we don’t see theirs. We give them a power they don’t deserve. Once I realized this, I really started to look at my critics. And I realize their opinions really don’t count at all. We know that fat people don’t eat more than thin people. But if we did, my own enjoyment of a brownie counts a heck of alot more than gaining THEIR approval!

  9. 9 On August 12th, 2009, Meems said:

    If she wants to write a “scathing” review, she should be scathing of the store itself, not women who are larger than a size 8 (as indicated by the fact that she snarks that she can’t find clothing smaller than a 10).

    As I said on another blog, I do love how she manages to emphasize that 1. she’s a (perfect) size 2, and 2. the clothing at J.C. Penny is beneath her, but just fine for a plus sized woman.

    God, what a self important bitch.

  10. 10 On August 12th, 2009, D said:

    EWWWWW! Who IS this woman? What kind of name is Cintra anyway? She simply makes me blood boil.

  11. 11 On August 12th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @farfromgruntled: In her “fauxpology,” there were lots of commenters who identified as thin women. Keep in mind that this has been posted on several sites, some of which have nothing to do with fat acceptance.

    If Wilson had posted a sincere apology and then edited her column to remove or revise the offending remarks, I’d accept it and move on. However, she posted an “apology” in which she blames the victims and then proceeded to delete even that and post a snarky “Fuck you” kind of reply in turn. Keep in mind, these are READERS of the New York Times she is insulting here, some of whom may even be PAYING readers. Seriously. If I ever spoke to my readers like this, I’d be fired. No question about it.

  12. 12 On August 12th, 2009, Rachel said:

    FYI, folks: I agree that the photo isn’t exactly a flattering shot of Wilson (there are a number of equally unflattering photos of her on her website), but let’s keep our comments focused on her actions and not her looks lest we become just like her.

  13. 13 On August 12th, 2009, Bree said:

    I sent an email to the NYT about Ms. Wilson’s, ahem, “journalistic talent.”

    She may consider her articles sarcasm, but she is projecting some serious prejudice for fat people and poorer people who can’t afford to shop high-end stores. Mind you, I don’t consider JCPenney to be a bargain basement store. Sure, it’s no Saks Fifth Avenue or Barney’s, but at least they’re apparently trying to be something they aren’t. Cintra Wilson should get a clue.

  14. 14 On August 12th, 2009, Gillian said:

    What’s funny is Wilson could have just criticized JCPenny for moving to the chaotic swirl of Herald Square. In the 7 years I lived in New York, that was my least favorite part of town.

    As for the article itself, the casual fat hate isn’t surprising to me; nor is the attempt by NYT to showcase “edgy” writers. (That paper has been going downhill for the last decade.) Of course Ms. Wilson doesn’t get it. Privileged people don’t realize they’re privileged till someone who isn’t points it out to them.

    @Rachel, I agree that insulting Wilson’s looks is uncalled for and actually counterproductive for just the reason you state.

  15. 15 On August 12th, 2009, Meowser said:

    She’s used to being able to fat-bash without any pushback. She’s been doing it for a good 10 or 15 years — I remember her essays in Salon and her book A Massive Swelling. I think it probably shocks her that the “cows” she thought were too stupid to know how to spell, let alone craft an intelligent and passionate rebuttal, are actually giving her backtalk. That’s not supposed to happen. She’s the queen, and we’re supposed to know it by the cut of her True Religions.

    I know why the NYT published this; it’s because flamebait is the name of the game these days. Outrage enough people and it’s page-hit city. If she’s going to insult not just “the obese,” but average-sized women and people of all sizes with diabetes, Wilson can’t be that naive that she wouldn’t know that’s the kind of response she’d get. It’s exactly what they hired her for.

    (And incidentally, mannequins used to be closer to an average-sized woman’s figure. It’s only been in the last 20 years or so that everyone has gotten them used to being size 0 or 2.)

  16. 16 On August 12th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Someone on Jezebel says she has a screenshot of the now removed fauxpology, but in it Wilson claims that she is far from fattist since she just interviewed Beth Ditto and calls herself a “chubby chaser.” Yes, really. I wish you all had been able to read her pathetic excuse of an apology before she got all sensitive and deleted it. And there were far more cogent and rational comments on that post than there were people calling her an “anorexic cunt.” She deleted it because she couldn’t stand the heat, period.

  17. 17 On August 12th, 2009, Wendy said:

    I didn’t get to see her deleted blog entry, but I wonder if perhaps it wasn’t so much addressed to the READERS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES (on whose behalf you’ve decided to speak) than to the scores of people who’ve never read her column and yet were “alerted” to her piece and demanded retribution for all the things they decided to take personally. But it’s really a shame that she couldn’t deliver a more heartfelt apology to an online mob who took the perceived insults in her column as an excuse to pick apart everything about her–from her looks, to her size, to her name–isn’t it?

    That column wasn’t her finest hour by a long shot. She made some cheap shots and thoughtless choices, and as a fan of her work I was disappointed. But the vindictiveness with which she’s being discussed as a person seems a little much, too.

  18. 18 On August 12th, 2009, Oya said:

    “That column wasn’t her finest hour by a long shot. She made some cheap shots and thoughtless choices, and as a fan of her work I was disappointed. But the vindictiveness with which she’s being discussed as a person seems a little much, too.”

    I agree with you that the vindictiveness was over the top and unwarranted, but what was even more unfortunate is that she seemed to be motivated to apologize more by these emotional comments/tweets than by the very thoughtful criticism she got at first (and took down from the site) from people of all sizes. In ALL of the apologies, she focused on people’s “wounded feelings” rather than taking responsibility for the classicism and stereotyping that she tried to pass off as wit.

    I’m a regular reader of the NYTimes and am unhappily accustomed to their elite tunnel vision, but to allow a writer to rain sh*t on people because they can’t afford/can’t wear high fashion while bragging that she wears a size 2 is unconscionable, particularly in this economy. She drew a target on her back and was surprised when folks took aim.

  19. 19 On August 12th, 2009, Jae said:

    I couldn’t get over the fact that this was supposed to be considered a review of the store, when really, it was more like a review of its customer base. If she wanted to snark on J.C. Penney for not offering a better quality/wider range of styles/whatever, I think this piece could have been damn near heroic, at least in fashion journalism terms. She could have used her sarcasm muscles to fight for the little guy. Instead, she used them to poke fun at the little guy for being little.

    @ Carrie: Thatt’s just wear the plus size section is in our nearest J.C. Penney too!

    @ Wendy: The thing about insults is that they aren’t something that is “perceived.” People are either insulted by something or they are not. Whether or not she intended to insult anyone isn’t really relevant, though obviously it would have gone onto a whole other level if she had written it with the intention of insulting people. When you act like a jerk you have two choices, look at your behavior and apologize or look at your behavior and decide there’s nothing to apologize for. If she felt she had nothing to apologize for, than I hope she wouldn’t apologize. But just because she thought it was funny and she thought we all should have known she didn’t mean any harm, doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to call her out on it. Though you are right, attacks on her person are over the line, even though her own articles show that she doesn’t exactly feel that way.

    Oh, and anyone who wants to voice their opinion on the matter may. That is, in fact, one of the raison d’être for public newspapers.

  20. 20 On August 12th, 2009, Sniper said:

    But the vindictiveness with which she’s being discussed as a person seems a little much, too.

    I won’t defend criticizing any woman for her looks, but it is ridiculous for Ms. Wilson to spew fat hatred (a habit of hers) without expecting some fat people to hate her right back.

  21. 21 On August 12th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @Wendy: I agree that calling someone an “anorexic cunt” and criticizing the way Wilson looks is unnecessary and over-the-top, but as I said, most of the comments in her orginal fauxpology were on-target and clearly articulated why so many felt offended by her remarks. And I fail to see how I am, in any way, claiming to be speaking on behalf of “READERS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES.” Some of those who commented at her site may not be Times’ readers, but Wilson was still acting as a representative of the paper, for whom she was contracted to write the piece at-hand. I speak only for myself and as a longtime Times subscriber, I was absolutely shocked at the callous way Wilson represented herself –and, by proxy, the paper– with her insensitive “apology” and subsequent “Fuck you” follow-up post. I am a reporter and had I treated my readers the way she treated hers, I’d be in the unemployment line. My employer even requires employees to report any personal blogs they maintain for the simple fact that you don’t stop acting as a representative of the paper when the workday is done. Journalists make mistakes and when they do, the appropriate thing is to own up to it and apologize, which as you might remember, is something I try to do in those cases when I, too, am wrong. Wilson has since posted what appears to be a sincere apology, which I accept. It’s just a shame that she didn’t post this kind of apology to begin with, for she might have avoided much of the backlash she’s received.

  22. 22 On August 12th, 2009, Sniper said:

    yet were “alerted” to her piece and demanded retribution for all the things they decided to take personally

    Interesting, also, how you shifted the blame to the people who “decided” to take Cintra’s fat hatred personally. I suppose it would be okay if it were thin people (the ones whose opinions count) who were offended on behalf of fat people.

    Cintra Wilson made it personal by writing insulting crap like this, the final paragraph of her essay:

    No matter how many Grand Slam breakfasts you’ve knocked out of the park, Penney’s has a size for you. Ladies will find kicky little numbers that fit no matter how bountiful the good Lord made them; in the men’s Big & Tall section, even Voltron could find office casuals.

    If that’s her idea of cute, I see no reason to take her seriously, extend her any respect, buy her books or read her columns in Salon and the NYT.

  23. 23 On August 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @Sniper: Yeah, I detected a whiff of blame-the-victim in Wendy’s comments that were similar to those in Wilson’s original apology. It’s as if Wendy is suggesting that anyone who felt offended by the piece –and they are many– are simply an “online mob” looking for blood to atone for their own personal insecurities. Wilson writes for one of the oldest, most reputable and widely read papers across the globe. I think Times‘ readers have every right to take her and the paper to task for printing such insensitive and offensive comments. Wilson’s byline gives her ownership of the piece and if she can’t take reader feedback on it (and again, the rational replies far outnumber the superficial slams she’s received), she’s in the wrong business.

  24. 24 On August 13th, 2009, Wendy said:

    But she’s a different kind of journalist than you are. She crossed the line from irreverent to disrespectful, but if you read her other pieces it’s clear that the NYT sought her out specifically for the kind of tone she’s taken throughout her books and her whole career. Has anyone even noticed how EVERYONE in her columns is grotesque? How she describes even rich and thin people as “lumpy” and “emaciated” and “horrifying”? You’re welcome to hate it, but clearly this stuff hasn’t bothered the New York Times for the past two years she’s been doing these columns, and I doubt they have any problem with her doing more of the same on her own personal blog. Like it or not, she was hired for her completely insane worldview, not for her customer service skills.

    And I don’t know NYT policy, but I think the only time a journalist corrects a published piece is when a factual error or some other reporting mistake is involved, not an unfortunate turn of phrase or an unpopular opinion. I doubt the NYT allows things to be deleted from the record just because the writer regrets them later. But I’m not a journalist so I wouldn’t know for sure.

  25. 25 On August 13th, 2009, Wendy said:

    And since you’re a journalist, perhaps you should be glad that the NYT allows Cintra Wilson to be as willfully obstinate as she wants on her own blog.

  26. 26 On August 13th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @Wendy: I am not a regular Wilson reader, but I did read over quite a few of her Critical Shopper archives before I wrote this post so as to get a feel for her style of writing and to see if this is a common occurrence. I didn’t see any body-snarking in any of the 20 or so pieces I found via a search on the Times’ website and/or linked to from Wilson’s site. Body-snarking is deplorable regardless of whom it’s directed at, but this column went beyond a disparaging adjective or two. Instead Wilson went on at length in insulting fat bodies. The fact that her supposed goal was to objectively assess J.C. Penney’s line of clothing and she instead turned the piece into a diatribe on J.C. Penney’s fat customers makes her criticism all the more suspect for its sizeism.

    A newspaper can generally print a retraction whenever it feels necessary and certainly policy differs by paper. A retraction may be an excessive call here, but certainly an apology was in order, especially considering the Times’ statement of values, which calls for the “highest journalistic integrity” and respect and fairness in reporting. It’s one thing to have a guest editor insult more than 60 percent of the population; it’s quite another when a staff member on your payroll does it.

    As for journalists and personal blogs, I accepted that I would become a public figure when I accepted a position as a reporter, which is one of the reasons why I use my full name here on the site. It goes with the job. I try never to write anything on here or my personal blog that I would not be hesitant to let my readers or employer read. This is not to say that I refrain from offering personal opinion, but that I do not stoop to basing my commentary on nothing more than offensive and superficial body-snarking.

  27. 27 On August 13th, 2009, Bree said:

    The fact that her supposed goal was to objectively assess J.C. Penney’s line of clothing and she instead turned the piece into a diatribe on J.C. Penney’s fat customers makes her criticism all the more suspect for its sizeism.

    Exactly—and more and more writers are doing this as the media and medical community continue to fan the flames of the so-called obesity epidemic. They are insulting fat people whenever they can in their articles, even if the topic has nothing to do with fat. They forget that fat people do subscribe to and read newspapers, and sometimes, those readers are tired of the fat-shaming and body-mocking and call them out on their prejudice. Then those same writers can’t imagine why people are so angry…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you are constantly told you are not good enough and don’t deserve to be treated with respect simply because your body is larger than everyone else’s, there comes a breaking point and you have to speak up.

  28. 28 On August 13th, 2009, SteveD said:

    shirts that could house two or three Shaquilles…

    Gee that would have to be called a Tent.

    What a mean person. The Photographer who took her picture just lined her up against the wall and click and it’s done. I bet She don’t know how to smile.

    Of course I doubt she’s size 2 anyway. Her clothes are too tight and that’s why she looks like she’s Pissed Off.


  29. 29 On August 13th, 2009, Bilt4Cmfrt said:

    FYI, folks: I agree that the photo isn’t exactly a flattering shot of Wilson (there are a number of equally unflattering photos of her on her website), but let’s keep our comments focused on her actions and not her looks lest we become just like her.

    True. Agreed. Apology tendered.

    Snapping back can be a reflex often regretted. As can snark that totally misses it’s target. What’s really sad is when the regret at having said the wrong thing totally overshadows the desire to make amends. It usually ends up making an apology more about you being uncomfortable when called out, than about trying to salve an offense. It really is to bad Ms Wilson doesn’t seem to get this. Well, every day spent awake and breathing is an opportunity to learn something new. Hopefully the Clue Delivery Truck won’t pass her by unnoticed.

  30. 30 On August 14th, 2009, Crimson Wife said:

    I can sympathize with being petite and feeling frustrated that the smallest size stocked at a mass merchant is way too big. I’ve got a BMI of nearly 20 so it’s not like I’m underweight. If you look at me, you wouldn’t think I’m skeletal, just petite. There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about being a size 2 in this age of rampant vanity sizing (I’ve got an old pair of jeans I wear for painting labeled 6P that are the exact same size now sold as a 2P).

    While it *IS* a valid criticism of J.C. Penney that they don’t offer enough selection in smaller sizes, the way this woman phrased it was horrible. She doesn’t need to be nasty in pointing out that the retailer ought to stock a wider variety of sizes.

  31. 31 On August 25th, 2009, Jen said:

    Crimson Wife, I can understand you would be upset that that it is hard to find clothes for someone like yourself who is naturally petite. I guess a lot of people take it for granted that if you are a size 2 you must be starving, but in fact some people just have very petite bodies naturally, eating healthy and all. I just get annoyed by companieds (like Eddie Bauer) that charge extra money for Plus Size clothing. I am very tall and have to order longer pants obviously, and it is just hurtful that some companies charge you more money if your body just happens to be larger! I don’t think the Gap does that, but for some stupid reason E. Bauer does.

  32. 32 On September 30th, 2009, Tamara said:

    I didn’t know who Cintra Wilson is so I checked out some Google images. I’ve concluded that “she” is a tranny. Am I right?

    I might be overweight, but nobody mistakes me for a man. :)

  33. 33 On January 31st, 2010, jds said:

    FYI: As of January 31, 2010, Wilson has removed all of the non-apologies, sort-of apologies, and apologies-with-sarcastic-titles from her website. A link to the original NYT piece, however, remains.

  34. 34 On March 18th, 2010, T. Mann said:

    I though it was funny as hell, and I am a large individual. Heavyset, I don’t mind saying. Don’t want apologies for fresh descriptions of what’s normally euphemised out of consciousness altogether — I DON’T run from my own size or try to hide from the very idea behind meaningless cotton wool blather-words like “big and tall” or “plus size.”

    I like this runty little woman, if she’d put on a few pounds I might even let her sit on one of my laps and call me Lots ‘a Poppa; though Lots ‘a Poppa’s not my name.

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