LOS ANGELES - Some Forever 21 customers were surprised and disappointed to open up packages containing their online orders only to see Atkins diet bars they didn't order sitting atop their new threads.
Many people who received the diet bars with their orders aired frustrations over Twitter, calling out the brand for perpetuating dangerous fat-shaming culture.
The company has since issued an apology and a statement about the mishap, dispelling concerns that the bars may have only been sent out to those who placed orders for plus-sized items.
"From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders," a Forever 21 representative said. "The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way."
Some customers were able to laugh the experience off, like user @jessemariselao and her mom, who she said was mildly offended by the bar, but shared their stories anyway in recognition of the damage such messaging could have.
"We both laughed it off but we understand that it does send a negative message about body image," Jesse said. "We don't support diet foods or fad dieting and know the negative health problems that come with them."
She said her mother then told her, "Regardless of their intent, Forever 21's marketing fat shamed the customers, the clients, me... and you know it's just one example you see on a daily basis of campaigns promoting dieting and being thin."
Many Twitter users were upset that the bars not only came across as fat-shaming, but had the potential to dangerously trigger people who are struggling with or recovering from eating disorders.
A woman named Katya, who goes by the handle @wisekatya on Twitter, wanted to bring attention to the matter because of the potential effect it could have specifically on young girls.
"It's so disheartening that a large brand like Forever 21 doesn't understand the harm this can cause young girls!" she wrote.
Another Twitter user shifted some of the blame onto the Atkins brand as well, arguing that they should not be trying to promote their diet products through a company that markets heavily to teen girls -- a demographic with some of the highest prevalence rates of eating disorders and resultant complications.
"Teenagers are being exposed to the unrealistically thin beauty ideal that is portrayed in the media," a study from the Canadian Pediatric Society on dieting in adolescence explained. "Unfortunately, this overemphasis on the importance of being thin is internalized by youth who equate thinness with beauty, success and health."
When teenagers who are struggling with body image are bombarded with information about different diet methods of achieving weight loss, the study said, it can be hard to determine healthy ways to regulate weight.
"The sources of information available on health and nutrition are often dubious and unreliable, motivated less by scientific evidence than by fad trends and financial incentives. The net result is that many teenagers feel the cultural pressure to be thinner than is required for good health, and may try to achieve this goal through poor and sometimes dangerous nutritional choices," the study explained.
"Most dieting in teenagers is not associated with negative consequences but we must consider the physical and psychological sequelae, including eating disorders, binge eating and low self-esteem."