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Stop Using ‘Forgiving’ to Describe Clothes

Because really, what does my body have to apologize for?

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This story originally appeared in Racked’s daily newsletter. Want more news from Racked? Sign up for our newsletter here.

Part of my job at Racked is to copy-edit our text across all platforms and maintain our style guide. Might sound a little stiff, sure, but it yields a quiet power: The style guide includes a list of banned words that writers and editors can’t include in articles. Many of the words listed are there to remind us not to get lazy in our writing or rely on empty clichéd phrases. “Drool-worthy” is on there, as is “strands.” (Just say “hair,” people.)

We don’t want to use the same dumb, pandering phrases that traditional “lady mags” and the fashion industry uses, because we know our mostly female audience is smarter (and deserves better) than that. So along those same lines, I’d like to propose that we stop using the word “forgiving” to describe articles of clothing. Because really, what does my body have to apologize for?

This came to me as I combed through my emails last night, opened up the newsletter of an editorial website with a target audience similar to Racked’s, and paused on the subtitle of an “editor’s pick” dress that described it as “forgiving.” (My reaction was so visceral that, to use an empty clichéd phrase, I immediately took to Twitter to call for the word’s demise.) It instantly recalled Lux Alptraum’s story we had just run, “What If Clothes Were Made to Fit Bodies?” I can’t sum up the passage that stuck with me all day better than she wrote it:

“Outlets that serve men at the larger end of the market don’t seem to be quite as concerned about boosting their customers’ self-esteem… because men don’t constantly get the message that their worth is directly connected to the size and shape of their bodies. And that difference points to one of the most frustrating aspects of femme fashion and the way women are taught to think of our bodies.”

That clothing is marketed to women as “forgiving” by an editorial publication geared toward women just feeds into the culture of body shame that the fashion industry and its limited sizing helped form in the first place. And while it’s an industry without which that publication (nor this one) would exist, if the root of journalism is to put a critical lens on what’s happening around us, then sites like ours shouldn’t simultaneously send bold messages about inclusivity and subtle ones about hiding our “flaws” through passive-aggressive wording so ingrained that it’s second-nature. Clichéd, even. Lazy.

One of my favorite pieces we’ve ever run was Gray Chapman’s meditation on the word “flattering” last fall. In fact, the “editor’s pick” that got me on this rant in the first place used both “flattering” and “forgiving” in that subtitle. (This dress must be able to hide some really unforgivable shit, like murder or manspreading.) But I’m not here to rag on this otherwise good site, because Racked’s guilty of doing stuff like this, too. I’ve definitely seen “flattering” and words like it come up in the stories I’ve copy-edited and done nothing about it. And I want us to do better.

Are there any words like this that you’re trying to eradicate from your own vocabulary? (I’ve tried to stop saying “guys” when talking to mixed company with moderate success, for example.) Let me know: We might just kick ’em off Racked, too.