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HBC's Pro-Anorexia T-Shirt Reminds Me of My Own Eating Disorder

06/26/2014 08:31 EDT | Updated 08/26/2014 05:59 EDT
Hudson's Bay

Does that pro-anorexia T-shirt come in a size triple zero?

As a body image advocate who specializes in issues related to kids, the question I get the most from parents is, "Why are so many kids feeling so much pressure to be skinny?" Sadly, the message that our kids are being bombarded with on a daily basis is that our worth as human beings goes up as our clothing size goes down.

This week is no exception, as The Hudson's Bay Company in Toronto threw its hat into the "Let's try to be clever by making fun of eating disorders" ring, by selling a T-shirt with the words "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" emblazoned on the front of it.

I am pleased to find out that HBC has removed the offensive T-shirts from their shelves, but am disappointed they were ever there to begin with.

Not only is the slogan not clever, it's not even original. Back in 2009, model Kate Moss, famous for the heroin-chic look that made her a superstar, offered those words of encouragement when asked by a fashion website to share a lifestyle tip.

Soon after, clothing retailer Zazzle, started selling T-shirts with this motto to girls as young as 10 years old. Even Kate's advice wasn't terribly original as these were the exact same words I repeated to myself over and over at the beginning of my very long and destructive battle with an eating disorder back in 1987, when I was 17 years old. Eating disorders aren't new, but the way some companies are trying to profit off of them has recently become a very dangerous trend. Eventually, due to an onslaught of criticism, Zazzle removed the slogan from its T-shirts. Why HBC thought it would be a good idea to bring them back, is beyond me. How could anybody think this could be anything less than dangerous and offensive?

This particular shirt promotes the idea that there is absolutely nothing we can eat that will make us feel as good as it feels to be skinny. Why is this such a big deal? Well, in case you haven't heard, kids these days are literally DYING to be thin. They are starving, purging, diet pill ingesting and over exercising themselves to death and do not need any more encouragement from HBC, thank you very much. I do, however, realize that HBC is not an anomaly and that more and more retailers are cashing in on our society's intense fear of fat and exaltation of emaciation, which has become clear with the introduction of clothing sizes that drop below a size one. I would love just a few minutes alone with the person who came up with the concept of sizes with the word ZERO in them, so I could properly express my disdain for this concept and why I find it sexist and repulsive.

I bought a pair of jeans at American Eagle last week and for the first time in my life, was told by the sales person that I needed a size ZERO. Truth be told, if this were a few years ago when I was in the throes of my eating disorder, fitting into a size zero would have felt amazing and would have been just the kind of validation I needed to stay on the deadly track of self-destruction I was on. But this time, I actually got pissed off. I feel a little sorry for the salesgirl that had to listen to my rant about how absolutely ridiculous it is that size zeros even exist and that how by selling me a size nothing, they are actually telling me that I am nothing, and I am NOT nothing! Even more absurd than size zeros are the double zeros and now triple zeros that stores are using to entice their female consumers. Yup, just the female ones. I dare you to find some of these sub-sizes in men's clothing stores. It ain't gonna happen.

Pant sizing for men is determined by measuring waist size and length. That makes perfect sense. But when was the last time you saw a woman walking around a waist measuring double zero? The saddest part about this, is that while no woman can ever actually measure zero, there are plenty who wish they could and will do whatever it takes to get as close to it as possible. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by the mother of a second grader who told me that her daughter was having a rough time at school because a group of girls in her grade had formed something called The Size One Club. Only girls whose clothing labels proved that they were a size one could join the club. Being skinny has become a status symbol for kids barely out of pre-school and it's only getting worse.

Having sizes that dip below actual numbers is another way in which society is telling women that they need to be as small as possible to be worth anything at all. The tinier we are, the less space we take up, the better life is for everybody. Do I think retailers hate women? Nope. I think they love money. Studies show that women feel better about themselves when they fit into smaller sizes than they were expecting and as a result will keep shopping and spending more money. Because all manufacturers don't use the same standards of labelling, sizes can be pretty random, and women are more likely to shop at stores where they can walk away with the smallest sizes possible, even if they're not accurate.

Whenever I write an article about body image, there are always people ready and waiting to school me on the fact that we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic and that anything that encourages people to get healthier is a good thing. But this has nothing to do with health. Anyone who believes that T-shirts with pro-anorexia slogans and clothing sold in non-existent sizes have anything at all to do with health have been drinking too much of the diet, sugar-free, fat free Kool-Aid the fashion industry's been serving us for years.

Being skinny and being healthy are not always synonymous. The sad truth is that there are way too many people willing to put their health at risk to be skinny. I will never forget the email I got from a ninth grader who told me that she'd rather be sick and skinny, than healthy and fat. There is something seriously wrong with that.

The fashion and beauty industries make their living off of our low self-esteem. The worse we feel about ourselves, the richer they get and they are more than rich enough. It's time they kept their callous, fat shaming tactics off of our bodies and started designing clothes for women's bodies instead of against them.

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