In recent months, the body image debate has reared its ugly head from the depths of society, ready to snare any unprepared fifteen-year-old with the niggling feeling that his/her body isn’t up to the job. And quite frankly, I’m fed up with it.
Urban Outfitters, a store myself and many of my friends frequent, has been selling a number of products which need to be brought to public attention. The first – a t-shirt with the words ‘eat less’ scrawled over the front. Eat less. Oh my god. This top could have said ‘eat well’ or ‘be healthy’, and would probably have done just as well, but that was too easy a solution. The words screamed out that to be thin is to be perfect, and that you are able to achieve this kind of perfection by skipping a meal or two. How ridiculous. And I’m sure that the majority of people reading this comment will be confident enough to block out the sound, but I expect that this message will be heard by the thousands of young women across the country who already have issues with the way they look.
More recently, the second design-flaw disaster is a black and white crop top with the word ‘Depression’ inked all over. Depression. I can tell you from second-hand experience that this word is certainly not something that should be lurking in a clothes store. Depression is a mental illness, one that will affect the majority of us in some way during our lifetime. It is, unfortunately, greatly underestimated, and many people believe that depression is more of a choice than an illness. I am sorry to say that I was once guilty of this. I believed that depression could be switched on and off, but this mental illness is utterly overwhelming and can destroy a person from the inside without anyone else noticing until it’s too late. Why would anyone want to see this word written on anything but a self-help leaflet?
It’s unfathomable to think that the designers had no prior knowledge of how their products could affect the target audience – predominantly teenage girls – and the worst part about this whole train-wreck is that I reckon they knew exactly what they were doing. The designers of these products were most likely trying to create the ‘edgy’ vibe that Urban Outfitters so desperately clings onto. This was all for the money. Edgy sells. That much is true. But edgy can hurt too.
If you have never been uncomfortable in your own skin, close your eyes, and try to imagine what it must be like. A lifetime full of second-guessing and only being able to relax once you walk through your own front door. A lifetime of avoiding mirrors when you’re out, because one look will open the floodgates and let your insecurities surge over you like a tidal wave. A lifetime of believing that life would be better if only you had the face and body of Beyonce.
This is what we have become. A society behind a mask. We live in a world where cosmetic surgery is the norm, a world where messages like ‘eat less = better body’ are drilled into our heads from a young age, and girls and boys grow up to be designers and teachers and parents themselves, translating this skewed body image onto their own children, usually without even knowing. It’s a cross-generational disease that the majority of us forget about until someone crosses the line.
Why should we be exposed to a media-imposed body image, reflecting some over-paid London designer’s ideas of perfection? We are falling into a man-made rabbit hole, and Alice is drinking the poison, forcing us to fit an unattainable ideal like some appalling game of Hole in the Wall.
The focus is on how we look, and not how we feel. But beauty comes from within, and surely if we all felt more comfortable with our own bodies first, then we would present ourselves in a more beautiful way. These tops, glamorising mental illness and urging young girls to jump on the weighing scales, are but a representation of how far we have to go, a quick reminder that our society cares more about money than mental illness. At a time, however, where it is too easy to stumble upon self-harm and hate sites on the internet, Urban Outfitters does itself and its customers absolutely no favours.
A student from Leeds has started a petition against Urban Outfitters and their products on Change.org. This was not entirely new information. The body image debate has been running backwards for a while now, and setbacks like these are all too common. (A size 12 model was called a pig recently because her thighs touched in the middle, don’t even get me started.) The best thing we can do is remember that mental illness is a reality for many people, and they need support not suppression.
One size does not fit all.