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DON’T DISS PENNEY’S: Cintra Wilson didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she wrote a scathing column about J.C. Penney’s new Manhattan store in the Styles section of The New York Times on Thursday — and then herself came under intense criticism for it. At the beginning of the piece, she wrote: “Why would this dowdy Middle American entity waddle into Midtown in its big old shorts and flip-flops without even bothering to update its ancient Helvetica Light logo, which for anyone who grew up with the company is encrusted with decades of boring, even traumatically parental, associations?” Wilson went on to say it took a long time to find a size 2 among the racks. “There are, however, abundant size 10’s, 12’s and 16’s.” She added the store had the “most obese mannequins I have ever seen,” adding “they probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on.”

Wilson told WWD she hadn’t heard from anyone at Penney’s, but the outpouring of abusive comments and personal attacks from others have been “hair-raising.”

“I made some comments about an oversize mannequin that somewhat erased the fine line between humor and offensiveness — and I had to concede that my tone was too harsh when some very nice people wrote to tell me why they were hurt by these comments,” said Wilson. “This is what compelled me to apologize. It was a teachable moment, so I tried to take responsibility for the fact that I wasn’t sensitive enough to people’s feelings in that passage.” She added the “beat down” she received from the vast majority of commenters, though, has been hateful and threatening.

A business writer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saw the piece, and wrote, “We should invite her [Wilson] to the Wisconsin State Fair and force-feed her a cream puff!” Meanwhile, a blogger at the Houston Press responded with an article, “Times Writer Dumps on Texas’ J.C. Penney, Because We’re Just So Damn Fat Here.” Writer Richard Connelly said, “It’s difficult to take in just all the sneering aimed at us corpulent, tasteless slobs between the coasts, but we’ll try.”

“The Critical Shopper column has always had an edge and a point of view — it is supposed to review, after all,” said a spokeswoman for the Times. “Cintra Wilson felt, after the article went to press and after she received some complaints from people who felt offended by what she had written about ‘obese mannequins’ she saw at the store, that she had been less sensitive than she should have been to the feelings of readers who felt that the reference belittled them. She told her editor that she was going to say that on her personal blog. As far as the review itself goes, she stands behind it.”

“It is interesting — if a big frightening — how much rage this article generated,” Wilson added. “It did show me that weight issues in America are far more intensely painful for people than I ever previously realized. This hot button is so freakin’ hot, it is thermonuclear.”

As for whether Penney’s will continue to advertise in the Times — that remains an open question. Penney’s executives could not be reached for comment.

— A.W.

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