The thigh gap controversy: Latest Urban Outfitters incident changes conversation on body shaming
Critics of modern society’s obsession with thinness have long attributed the issue to biased marketing and media. Think back to the Target thigh gap Photoshop debacle of last year. While the retailer later came forward to apologize for the incident, this is nevertheless a clear example of how marketers cling to particular body images based on what they believe will sell. They try to reproduce that image at any cost, including the serious issue of body shaming through unhealthy or unrealistic standards.
Many of the concerns regarding the link between body shaming and marketing are not entirely unfounded. Certainly, a society that feels a need to Photoshop women to make them look more thin is not fostering the most accepting environment for women who do not fit these standards. The power of persuasion that marketing possesses in shaping public attitude plays a major part in further generating unhealthy body standards.
There is an unfortunate counter-effect that comes into play as critics condemn unrealistic body standards in the media. It’s one that’s rarely discussed, but that was highlighted in the latest thigh gap controversy to make headlines; this time, involving Urban Outfitters UK.
Late last month, the retailer got some heat when the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered it to take down an image of a model sporting mesh panties on the site amidst fears that it would generate unhealthy body standards for young women. The ASA deemed that the photo was unacceptable due to the model’s excessively thin physique, pointing specifically to the gap between the model’s thighs and the similar width of her thighs and knees.
Comparing the concerns of the ASA’s argument with those that have come before it in similar controversies, it seems that the decision came as a supposedly positive one; one that could prevent body shaming by preventing women from taking extreme measures to try to meet standards of beauty perpetuated by such images.
The issue here is that the image in question possesses a major difference compared with other images that have sparked similar controversies in the past: it didn’t involve Photoshop. While indeed the model in the image did have a significant gap between her thighs and was particularly thin, no modifications were made to her image to make her appear thinner than she actually is.
What the ASA’s decision has done here is engage in the exact behavior that it was intended to prevent: body shaming. The difference between this instance and others to come before it is that the women being shamed by the decision are those who are naturally thin and whose bodies naturally resemble that of the model in the Urban Outfitters image. The ASA has essentially defended some women’s bodies at the expense of others.
If we are to hope to amend society’s standards of beauty, we must replace exclusive ideals with standards that instead celebrate beauty in all sizes.
Do you think the ASA sent the wrong image by ruling that Urban Outfitters’ image must be taken off of the retailer’s website? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi