FIGS ad: Popular scrubs company generates backlash from women in medicine and DOs after insensitive video

FIGS, a scrubs start-up, apologized for the video and pledged to donate $100,000 to the American Osteopathic Association, an organization for DOs, after the video generated backlash among Twitter’s vibrant medical community.

In the now-deleted video, which was meant to show how one of its pairs of women’s scrub pants looked in action, a bespectacled model played a DO and pretended to scan through the book “Medical Terminology for Dummies,” which she held upside down.

On Twitter, a handful of women health care professionals and DOs quickly criticized the video’s contents and FIGS for producing it.

Brenna Hohl, a first-year medical student from North Carolina, told CNN she found the ad disrespectful, particularly as health care workers face the brunt of coronavirus exposure.

“In the midst of a pandemic, we should be supporting and building up our health care workers, not bringing them down like this,” she said.

She tweeted a response to the video, in which she said “the disrespect for female physicians and DOs exhibited in this ad … is unforgivable.

After addressing the video briefly in two now-deleted tweets, FIGS co-founders Heather Hasson and Trina Spear apologized for publishing the video, which they said was “offensive” and “particularly disparaging” to women in medicine and DOs.

“Our mission at FIGS has always been to empower medical professionals,” the co-founders said in a statement to CNN. “Beyond a lapse in judgment, the bottom line is — our processes at FIGS failed. We are fixing that now. It will never happen again.”

Some women in medicine say video was harmful

FIGS largely caters to young women in the medical profession (though it sells men’s scrubs, too) and is popular among medical students who often serve as brand ambassadors. The company touts its line as the comfortable and fashionable alternative to the “boxy, scratchy, uncomfortable” scrubs of yore.

But some women in health care said they are turned off by the brand after the video.

Dr. Agnieszka Solberg, a radiologist and internal medicine physician in Bismark, North Dakota, has called for a boycott of the brand for its depiction of women and DOs.

“The ‘silly and dumb, but sexy’ look in ads and other media contributes to harmful gender stereotypes,” she told CNN. “When girls see this, they start feeling like this is what is ‘cool,’ and start yearning to be like this.”

In a tweet, Solberg criticized the brand for portraying DOs as less competent than MDs, or doctors of medicine.
The American Osteopathic Association says there’s a harmful stigma toward DOs, who make up 11% of the physician workforce. Both DOs and MDs are trained physicians who are licensed by the same accrediting body. (The main difference is that DOs receive additional training in “whole-body” techniques, as holistic physicians.)

YouTube influencer and family physician Dr. Mike Varshavski encouraged medical students to stop wearing scrubs from the brand.

“They’re willing to put women down; they’re willing to put DOs down to make more money,” the DO said in a recent video. “If they truly cared, there would be checks and balances in place to prevent this.”

Some also came to the brand’s defense.

Dr. Michelle Nguyen Maneevese, a vascular and interventional radiologist and FIGS ambassador, called the video a “mistake” but encouraged her followers to hold FIGS accountable.

“If I was judged on a single mistake, then my career would have ended as a 3rd year medical student when labs weren’t updated before rounds and I didn’t have the newest creatinine,” she wrote in an impassioned Instagram post. “Watch [FIGS] closely, I promise you from this point forward they will ALWAYS have the updated creatinine.”⁣

FIGS vows to improve

News of the brand’s commitment to change softened critics slightly. In a statement to CNN, Dr. Kevin Klauer, a DO and CEO of the American Osteopathic Association, said that while he was “appalled” by the “ill-conceived” clip, he was working with FIGS to right its wrongs.

FIGS also will hire health care consultants to assist with future product shoots, according to Hasson and Spear.

Hohl called it a “step in the right direction” but said there’s more that could be done — namely, featuring “a wider range of health care practitioners,” rather than mainly doctors and nurses, in their ads.

In response to the brand’s apology, many doctors of osteopathic medicine and medical students who were openly critical of the brand later said they were glad to see the brand take responsibility.

Dr. Sunnie Kim, gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, called it a “great response” on Twitter, adding “hope we can all get to a better place with gender equality and continue to debunk outdated stereotypes.”

However, many said they won’t accept an apology without action — noting that they plan to monitor to see whether the company continues to improve.

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