Urban Outfitters Debacle – Shaming is Shaming, No Matter Who is Being Shamed

I came across this gem in my Facebook feed yesterday (thanks, trending box.) titled “Urban Outfitters Posts Scary-Skinny Thigh Gap Ad on Website, Is Ordered to Remove the Image

Urban Outfitters Skinny Shame ASA Removal

By posting this, it’s likely that I’ll offend some group of people, but I can’t really silence myself because I’m concerned about that. Let me be clear: I respect all body shapes and types, but I’m focusing on skinny shaming because it hits too close to home. I’ve mulled over writing something like this for a very long time but haven’t, because honestly I was afraid of the criticism it might bring, or even worse – of it just sitting here and not encouraging any conversation at all. A few years ago (probably 4 or so now) I posted something up that was pretty heated about “vanity sizing” and it stirred up quite a bit of feelings in people. Of those that read it, one third disagreed with me and said that vanity sizing wasn’t really a “thing”, another third agreed on how they’ve been sized out of clothes because smaller sizes (0s, 2s, and so on) were now tailored to be larger, despite the actual size on the tag. Then there was a whole other third of people who were pissed that I decided to write something that sounded so self righteous for thin women and offensive to everyone else. Don’t worry, I do start talking about the topic of the Urban Outfitters situation in a little bit.

Let me preface this post with a caveat and my personal reasons for writing this. I’m going to be a little bias because I’ve experienced the type of shaming that is going on here. And while I know that the whole “shaming” thing has been a buzz word and hot topic as of late, there really isn’t a better word to describe what’s going on here. First off, it’s not secret that I, along with probably millions of other girls, have a thigh gap. Apparently because we have thigh gaps, we’re unhealthy, only eat nuts and berries for meals, and obsess over our weight.

If you ever want to hear people’s thoughts on thigh gap, just drop into a thread or conversation online and read the offensive vile that comes out of people’s mouths.

Newflash: it’s hurtful, it’s bullying, and it’s not acceptable.

If there was a thread going on about a picture of someone’s thighs touching together and there were comments about that persons weight or any kind of “fat shaming”, you better believe that it would have gotten insane traction because of the discrimination, hurtfulness, offensiveness, and used as an example of how our society condemns those that may be overweight. But why doesn’t that happen when the situation is reversed; when skinny shaming is going on? Shaming is shaming, regardless of who is on the receiving end.

I’m glad that the comments for the above post on E’s Facebook page had a lot of people defending the idea of the “thigh gap”. (Ugh, I’m so sick of even saying that word. I’m going to refer to it from now on as the TG when I can.)

My whole life I’ve heard comments about my weight. It really doesn’t bother me anymore, but there was a period of time when it did. I’ve always eaten a lot. Hell, even when I ate a ton of food and sat around for months without going to the gym, I lost weight. And that isn’t a humblebrag – it’s a problem. Think it’s okay to tell someone to eat a cheeseburger?

WRONG.

Think it’s okay to say (or even insinuate) that someone is anorexic?

WRONG.

Think it’s okay to joke and associate the TG with actual disorders that others are suffering from, all in the name of making a comment about someone who is “skinny”?

WRONG. Do me a favor and do a Google image search for anorexia. Maybe then you’ll understand it’s nothing to throw around haphazardly.

Side Note: Why is it always a cheeseburger!? Why not pizzas or hotdogs?

Society’s Shaming Problem

There are two things wrong with the title of the article that I’m talking about. One is the use of the phrase “Scary-Skinny Thigh Gap” and the other is “Ordered to Remove the Image”

Let’s take a look at how society works.

  1. Something becomes a huge issue and topic of debate in society, like Weight.
  2. Those that have been the object of discrimination in the past start to join the conversation.
  3. Said groups rally and bring forward a new message.
  4. That new message, in the instance of weight, revolves around the thought that women who are a skinny are not “real women” because “real women have curves” and something must be wrong with women who have the TG because it’s apparently soooo unhealthy looking.
  5. Shaming is now reversed, and while “fat-shaming” (I hate that terminology, but it’s probably the most well known term right now) is something that is so horrific and discriminatory, skinny shaming becomes OK.
  6. We begin to censor things we don’t like because we feel that we shouldn’t expose our children to messages that we’ve now deemed to be unhealthy, having to do with photoshopping, how women are portrayed in magazines, the weight of models, etc.

skinny shaming rotten ecard

And the terrible part is, it’s occurring in all groups – groups who are supposed to be positive, and motivating and accepting of people’s differences. There are those in the fitness world who talk about how “healthy is the new skinny.” And while the message means well (it’s promoting staying healthy by being active – sometimes skinny isn’t always healthy, and above average weight isn’t always unhealthy) it’s awful to see female fitness models talk about how they don’t have the TG because they squat and are “healthy”.

The Urban Outfitters Model Situation

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released a statement about the situation.

This is what they said:

“We considered that the model was very thin, and noted, in particular, that there was a significant gap between the model’s thighs, and that her thighs and knees were a similar width. We understood that Urban Outfitters’ target market was young people and considered that using a noticeably underweight model was likely to impress upon that audience that the image was representative of the people who might wear Urban Outfitters’ clothing, and as being something to aspire to. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible.”

What if this said, Noticeably Overweight Model, and all the nomenclature was reversed?

Shit would hit the fan. See how that works?

We don’t know for sure whether the photos were digitally altered. Suppose the girl in the photo – who was probably very excited about modeling for UO – is suddenly noticing that she’s the subject of posts using her as an example of “scary-skinny.” She’s probably horrified. What about others who have a similar body structures reading that the images were pulled because of the above reasoning? Think about the impact this has on them, knowing that anonymous and not-so-anonymous complaints have caused the ASA to actually compel force Urban Outfitters to remove the image. What about how they view their self worth and body image now? 

Let me let you in on a little secret. I mother effing squat like my life depends on it, and I still have the TG. Everyone’s bodies are built differently. Part of the reason I really got into fitness is because while I couldn’t gain weight easily through simply eating a ton of food – even after taking the issue to doctors – I could encourage my body to become leaner and more muscular by working out. This helped me bulk up a little and not appear to be as skinny.

And I’ll let you in on another secret. The media and magazine models shouldn’t be blamed for how your child grows up viewing themselves and their self worth in society. Your job as a parent, and our job as individuals, is to help the younger generation be able to navigate the world and decipher negative messages from positive ones. If you instill a sense of self-worth and confidence in children, you shouldn’t have to worry about them trying to fit in and be like the women that they see in magazines or ads. There are a lot of campaigns out there that are promoting models who are photographed and gracing the magazine pages naturally – sans photoshop. That’s great. But to say that magazines and retailers need to completely overhaul their models so they’re not “too skinny” and more “real”- to the point of having them pull photos down – is ridiculous.

By allowing a third party to force a brand to pull its model, it’s basically putting a label on the situation and saying that skinny is not OK. But honestly, what wasn’t OK with it? Do you think the majority of people looking at what the model is wearing is going to say “Oh. She has a thigh gap. What am I doing with my life?”

No. But things are made into issues by those with loud barks.

Typical people will probably look at the product, and they’re probably going to go out and buy the product if they like it. Regardless of what we want to think, the fashion world is all about presentation. Are we going to keep altering the types of models used, the types of clothes designed, the types of images used in magazines, to keep up with the whims and issues that society has? Or are we going to have a healthy discussion so that our children understand that there’s no need to be comparing themselves to the women being used in these ads?

We seem to think that we can fix an issue by making it go away. I know it’s hard to believe, but educating people on a topic is just as powerful – if not, more powerful – than simply making something go away. People are still going to buy clothes from Urban Outfitters. And if they really have an issue with it, then it’s simple – don’t support the business. But to think that we should band together into a shaming lynch mob is not the solution.

We’re trying to shun being obsessed with self-image, but we’re really just perpetuating the problem by trying to control everything. Yes, we’re trying to help the perception of our bodies by using models of all shapes and sizes, however, in doing so, we’re still seeing other people’s ideals in magazines. Shifting to “normal” models isn’t altering how we perceive our own bodies, it’s just letting others feed a new idea of normal to us. My ideal is different than your ideal, and the danger comes from us relying on others to show us what’s “normal.” Society is never, ever going to agree on what normal is.

How about this. Let’s work on educating our children, and let’s spend time promoting self confidence and self worth in the younger generation that isn’t directly tied to art, fashion, or clothing. Let’s teach them how to disseminate information and situations so they can come to their own healthy conclusion, and learn who to talk to for support. All of that comes from inside.

Let’s stop alienating body shapes and sizes that aren’t unhealthy but different and focus on helping those who are suffering from anorexia and other terrible disorders. Let’s work on stopping this ridiculous shaming.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

 

Comments

  1. Talisa says

    Selena, there’s this thing… Accepting fat people is easier nowadays because they’re the majority. Literally, the majority of population in most countries are overweight, and a lot of overweight people are absolutely bitter about being overweight. So what mediocre people do when they feel bad? They put others down.

    I advocate for body acceptance and body positivism for everyone. If you are fat, thin, skinny, medium, raw or cooked – I don’t care, you should feel good about yourself. But the ones who shame people are in no right of being proud of themselves simply because they are horrible people. When you feel good about who you are, you don’t need to bully, tease or shame other people different from you.

    Body-shamers are trash, whatever is their weight, whoever is their target.

    • Selena says

      Talis,

      It’s true that acceptance of being overweight (or weighing more than the average) is becoming more and more common because the US is doing a shitty job of making sure children are getting the proper amounts of stimulation and encouragement for physical activities. Most are wasting their time sitting behind a computer or TV screen… and while there is definitely value in kids learning the ropes of computers and the Internet (I’m a huge advocate for that) I still think there needs to be balance with health and physical activity.

      Body positivism is great. As long as you’re HEALTHY, then that’s all that matters. If you’re not healthy, then that’s something to be aware of and fix, whether that makes gaining weight (like I have to force my body to do via weight lifting and fitness) or losing weight.

      I also agree that when you feel good about who you are, there isn’t a need to bully or tease. Confidence is a huge thing we need to continue to instill in others, because ultimately that’s what will lead to a kinder place.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Wilma C says

    Skinny shaming is like reverse racism. The fact of the matter is 1) fat shaming is a much bigger problem than skinny shaming, 2) thin privilege is a thing, and 3) women aspire to be thin and are pushed by society to be thin (not healthy)… just thin.

    It’s not a double standard because being skinny is still praised and sought after and enforced by the media. It’s not “right” to shame anyone’s body. But it’s also not “the same” as fat shaming, which has become so engrained in society that it’s disproportionately tied to discrimination in the workplace, self harm (cutting/bulimia etc), depression, and suicide. It happens at a much greater extant than skinny shaming. So while I agree with your article (skinny shaming = bad), don’t be so naive as to think it has the same ramifications and context as fat shaming. It doesn’t.

    Sincerely,

    A super skinny girl that wouldn’t trade ALL of the shaming I’ve endured for one day of what my fat friends go through.

    • Selena says

      Wilma,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! I really appreciate it. I agree with some of your points, and fat shaming, to a degree, can be perceived as a bigger problem… HOWEVER, I think we do have to agree to disagree in some areas. I wouldn’t say that it’s not a double standard. Just because being skinny is often praised by the media, it doesn’t give thin people less of a right to feel hurt and angry about it. People have a tendency to at least think twice before making a comment about someone that they may think is overweight, whereas they think it’s OK to say a hurtful comment to someone who is skinny because it’s “praised and sought after.”

      It’s a double standard because while someone would probably get torn to shreds for mocking someone who is overweight, that wouldn’t happen in the reverse situation. Racism in the reverse sense isn’t any lesser of a problem than what we might consider traditional racism. [For clarification – I’m saying both are problems, and neither one nor the other is right. I have no desire to turn this into a debate about that topic].

      Again, I’m not trying to completely disagree, just wanted clarify on some points that I saw differently on. We can both agree that skinny shaming is bad, and we need to be more careful and considerate about body image in general!

      Thank you again for reading!

      • Wilma C says

        “Racism in the reverse sense isn’t any lesser of a problem than what we might consider traditional racism.”

        Yes. It is. Of all the things you’ve said here, this is the most problematic and it’s not even about this topic. But it explains why you fail to truly grasp the difference between the two forms of shaming. This is not a double standard (and neither is “reverse racism” for that matter). Nothing I say here will allow you to see this beyond the realm of your own privilege, but I sincerely hope you are able to eventually understand that these two things are not equivalents. People don’t think twice before fat shaming, that’s for sure. Ask some fat women before making statements about something that you admittedly don’t experience. I agree with you’re assessment that you’re likely biased on the topic. But much of what you said is very short sighted. I applaud you for keeping the dialogue going.

        • Selena says

          A double standard is applying two different sets of principles towards an extremely similar situation. When you bring the situation down to the nuts and bolts, it’s body shaming.

          As for the reverse racism comment – I think you’re not looking too far into what I said. I said it isn’t any lesser of a problem. A problem is a problem, period. Racism is wrong, period.

          Saying that someone won’t be allowed to see past their own “privilege” is very short sighted in its own right. People can grow and understand different sides of a situation through discussion and debate. What I’m saying here is my opinion and of course it will be bias to what I’ve experienced, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard the other side of the coin from friends and loved ones who may have experienced the opposite side of the spectrum that I’m talking about. I’m open to learning more about how other people feel and what they’ve experienced. I just think it’s improper to use absolutes about each other when we’ve only had a few exchanges.

Leave a Reply