“Fixing” the Urban Outfitters Thigh Gap Won’t Fix Body Negativity

So, the “thigh gap” is a thing now. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, and I’m honestly not sure if the presence of the thigh gap is due to another Friedan situation or another by-product of feminism that focuses on bodies rather than the politics behind it.

I’m on this strange, somewhat scary tangent because later in December, 2014, a UK Urban Outfitters site was forced to remove this image from its website:

The complaint against this ad revolved around the obvious fact that this model is really skinny. The officially released report stated that the person who complained that the model was “unhealthily thin” and challenged that the ad was “irresponsible and harmful.” The UK’s independent Advertising Standards Authority, or the ASA, upheld the complaintant’s issue, stating that the images breached the CAP Code, rule 1.3. This rule states “Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.” This is a vague way to say that companies have a responsibility to their consumer’s well-beings when they market their products to the greater beyond.

To be fair, this is the same company that thought “Eat Less” t-shirts and blood-stained Kent State sweatshirts were both top-notch ideas. Clearly, this isn’t Urban Outfitter’s first time screwing up where responsible marketing and consumer consideration is concerned. As a result, Urban Outfitters response to this particular complaint was lackluster and easily torn apart by the internet. The company argued that: 1, the model in question is from one of the best modeling agencies; and 2, her measurements are standard for an underwear model, though her waist size is significantly lower than the UK’s National Health Service’s standard for young women.

Despite Urban Outfitter’s blatantly shady past and present in dealing with observing customer consideration when marketing products, there are two major problems I have with the fallout of this issue. First, the discussion following the ASA’s regulation resulted in an outraged internet community talking about the perpetuation of negative body image whilst using a pair of a nameless models’ legs as their visual aid. There seems to be little or no interest in the model’s thoughts or views behind the politics concerning her body and the amount of the thigh gap she possesses.  Perhaps being a career model makes her publicly accessible in those ways, but that’s a point that really doesn’t matter here. The model’s thigh gap serves as representative of the larger problem, not simply her thigh gap. If we are to support body positivity, then awareness of the people using the body in question is required. If we focus only on the body, the discussion then defeats the purpose of body positivity.

Second, the regulation made by the ASA was meant to protect society’s greatest concern: the “youths” of today. However, some feel within the pro-body positive community that this concern then extends to young women, which then perpetuates the centuries-old idea that women and children are equally impressionable. If the focus resides on protecting women and children consumers in lieu of what the regulation actually says, my question is then would the same thing be done for young male consumers? Would male consumers be “protected” in the same way some perceive this law is attempting to protect young women and children? According to Urban Outfitters’ primary demographic, it makes sense to question the psychological impact of their products on both men and women.

What is this regulation protecting if all we learn from the experience is that it is perfectly acceptable to have an all-out war about the politics of body positivity using the image of someone’s pelvis without even bothering to learn his or her name? It’s not better to remove them “because they’re negative.” The thigh gap is not an “Eat Less” t-shirt. The thigh gap doesn’t glamorize an eating disorder or trivialize a traumatic event; it is a part of someone’s body. Yes, images can negatively affect a person’s perception of what a healthy body should be, but how much that perception shifts still remains undetermined and requires other psychological factors to be detected. That does not make glamorizing certain body types and demonizing others okay, but taking down the image without further clarification won’t solve our body negativity. If children are such a big concern surrounding this issue, we need to offer gender studies courses to students before college age so presumably “young” people can understand the history and social theory behind images such as the Urban Outfitters’ thigh gap. By removing the image without resolving the source problem, the social damage perpetuates and more thigh gaps surface.