Callie Gorgol was browsing through Old Navy's website for back-to-school clothes for her two young children on Tuesday when she noticed something odd.
Gorgol, a 26-year-old mom who lives in Frederick, Maryland, typically shops in bulk at Old Navy for her six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son in the fall and the summer without any problem.
As she slid her cursor from the toddler to the girls section on the site, she noticed that two categories dropped down — slim and plus.
She clicked on "plus" out of curiosity to discover that Old Navy makes plus sizes available to girls over size 8 while "husky" sizes are available for kids over size 10.
Gorgol, who also has a niece who is overweight due to medication she must take, was livid. She said it is "ridiculous" and unacceptable that "anyone would think it's ok to put 'plus' and 'husky' names to kids' clothing."
"I would never want them to think, 'Oh well, since I have to go in the plus section, I must be bigger I must be different than someone who is not shopping in plus,'" she said. "I want my children to grow up thinking they love their body. Everybody's body is different. That’s the way its supposed to be."
Gap Inc., which owns the Old Navy brand, did not respond to a request for comment.
There's plenty of debtate among plus-size models, and other critics of "plus size" like Amy Schumer, about whether the term is appropriate to describe adult bodies. But very little of the conversation has centered around the use of these labels for children.
"Children who are overweight or obese are more vulnerable to body image and body esteem issues as well as psychological concerns," Vinita Menon, clinical psychologist and psychology instructor at Northern Illinois University, told BuzzFeed News. "Labeling of clothing that may be perceived as judgmental or pejorative has the potential to contribute to these concerns. The long-term focus should be multi-faceted — a focus on health and well-being along with supportive emotional coping strategies."
A recent study published in the Journal of Eating & Weight Disorders was the latest research to highlight the fragility of children's mental health when it comes to early discussions about weight and size.
The study, which surveyed over 500 young women, found that even well-intended comments from parents about their daughter’s weight may lead to a negative body image and unhealthy dieting behaviors in the long-term.
Egypt "Ify" Ufele, an 11-year-old fashion designer and anti-bullying activist, told BuzzFeed News she started ChubiiLine in 2015 after being bullied over her weight "to help other children to feel better about themselves."
She prefers to describe herself as a "curvy girl" and believes that "plus size" is not harmful to use in children's clothing.
"It doesn’t really bother me," said Ufele, whose line carries sizes 2T through 20. "'Curvy' is when you're comfortable with yourself. When people say you’re more chubbier than average then that’s what makes you feel uncomfortable about yourself."
Ufele said she accepted her weight after her doctors advised her that her asthma medication, which contains steroids, would lead to weight gain.
She had a hard time finding clothes so she began making her own. She believes that a "plus size" section for kids would broaden options for kids who wear larger sizes.
"It can make them feel bad about themselves because then we have a small section for them," she added. "But it can also make them feel good at the same time because then we have clothes other kids don't have."
"For children to have to lead a movement to fight weight stigma is a tough battle for them to take on," said Bryn Austin, a professor of social and behavioral science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "I would rather just not expose them to that stigma and for them to be treated fairly and all children to know they're loved and valued at any size."
The reason that people are reclaiming the plus size label is to take back power and control over a name that has been used to denote a lower status in the social hierarchy, she said.
"What would be better is if we didn’t employ these methods of discrimination and shaming that create higher and lower statuses in community," she told BuzzFeed News. "How about we just have children be treated equal?"
Rasika Boice, a 34-year-old mother of an 11-month old girl in Jersey City, New Jersey, told BuzzFeed News that she thinks that this is "too young to be labeling kids plus size and can be potentially harmful."
Boice was also shocked to see that Old Navy categorized girls' clothing in "slim" and "plus" size while browsing through their site over the summer.
"In essence you’re saying girls who are plus and slim are irregular which just didn't seem right and seemed to have a lot of potential to hurt someone's self-esteem," she said. "When you’re a kid and being targeted as different, it could be scary."
She suggested kids sizes be labeled by number, rather than "plus" or "slim," because it's not as subjective.
"I don't think plus is a bad word," she said. "I don't think it’s the best term. We can do better than that term. I think it’s great that women are taking that term and embracing it and defining it for themselves and showcasing that beauty can come in many different shapes and sizes, but I still think it should be called something different."
Meanwhile Gorgol now says she can't "morally go to Gap" anymore. She wants the company's stores to remove the "plus" and "husky" labels from its children's sizes.
"When you have children and they grow up and they see these celebrities, they‘re put in their mind they should look like Kim Kardashian or they should look like America’s next top model," she said. "They are so beaten up about what their bodies should look like. I think that’s just another additive to all the other things that are going on as far as body image as children."
Leticia Miranda is a retail reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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