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I’m Not Buying It–And Neither Should You

By Ness Fraser

Well, the time has come for hipsters to draw the line. Urban Outfitters, provider of stylish clothing, music, and apartment furnishings, have taken their quest for “irony” about ten steps too far.

On a simple grey t-shirt, the Urban Outfitters design team has embellished the words “Eat Less” — an attention-grabbing mantra targeted at teen girls who are, most likely, already struggling with body issues. Unsurprisingly, the model in the UO ad is, of course, already stick-thin.

The message the ad alone is sending is that no matter how thin you think you are, you can always be thinner — and by “thinner” they really mean “better”, since the media makes us all aware that to look anything unlike a model is to be bad and wrong.

The shirt is no longer for sale on the UO website, but that didn’t stop it from causing a (rightful) stir.  I’m unsure what world the UO designers are living in, but our culture promotes the idea enough without it having to be literally spelled out and worn all day long. I can’t help but wonder if the designers are at all aware that 3 out of 4 American women suffer from eating disorders, or that body image and self-esteem are, in this culture, pretty much interchangeable.

I also wonder if the designers understand the struggle so many women in our society have when it comes to their bodies. And even if a woman gets to the point where she really does look like a model, she’ll then be told by some magazine or TV show that she’s still not hot enough, and she should probably get implants so men will think she’s sexy.

Even more shocking is when this shirt was outed by HuffingtonPost.com, a poll also shows a nearly 50/50 split between “it’s just a t-shirt” and “this is promoting bad body image.” More evidence, really, of how engrained the idea of thin = good in our society.

But, of course, it doesn’t stop there. A look at the men’s clothing section will reveal what is perhaps an even more nauseating t-shirt: “Fathers it’s up to you to preserve your daughters virginity!” Urban Outfitters caters to the irony-loving hipster population, so many are coming to the defense of the company and saying the shirt is made to be ironic. Everyone knows it’s a silly idea to protect virginity, except that when you dig a little deeper, you realize that it’s probably not meant to be ironic at all.

Urban Outfitter’s President and Founder, Richard Hayne, is a die-hard Republican who has given around $13,000 to Republican Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum, if you don’t know, is vehemently anti-choice, even in cases of rape or incest. I’ve dealt with many people of his ilk, and it’s not a far stretch to assume he’s of the “women should take responsibility for having sex” camp.

Following that logic, it only seems reasonable that he would also believe that the menz (because they always know better) should be the protectors of virginity. I mean, if he thinks women don’t even have the right to control their own bodies, he probably doesn’t think they’re smart enough to make a decision about whether or not to have sex either.

Worse still, UO is now facing a lawsuit for printing a sexualized photo of a 15-year-old girl on t-shirts and marketing them to adult men. The image, which was taken during a professional photo shoot with the young model, was composed in such a way as to make it appear as if the teen’s crotch the centre of attention–blatantly turning her into a sexual object. The girl’s parents are suing UO and the photographer for printing the image without their permission. This photo, provocative even if it was of an adult, is causing a lot of questions surrounding the “rules” of child pornography.

At this point, Urban Outfitters have proven themselves to be a company that is unworthy of the wealth they have acquired. As someone who has, in the past, purchased some lovably stylish items from the company, I understand how hard it is to keep away from their hipster-fun panache. But if we continue to shop at stores whose ideologies very so differently from our own — far enough to warrant a lawsuit, even — we are, silently and with our money, giving them permission to continue making offensive t-shirts, donating money to anti-choice zealots, and selling sexualized photos of young girls.

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