Last week, a small petition popped up on Change.org regarding a set of T-shirts for sale on Spreadshirt.com, a small "creative apparel" company. The simple, crew-neck tees, designed by artist Ioana Urma, are unremarkable save for the messages printed across them: "Alluringly Anorexic," "Beautifully Bulimic," "Breathtakingly Bony," and more casual references that appear to glamorize eating disorders.
"Not only are these slogans not clever, they are appalling and inconsiderate," writes petition organizer Matan Uziel. And, at first glance, it's hard to argue with him. Reminiscent of Urban Outfitter's disastrous gaff with the Kent State sweatshirt, these tees appear almost laughably offensive and wrongheaded.
However, the petition had less than a hundred signatures before Spreadshirt CEO, Philip Rooke, jumped in to clarify. "The specific shirts mentioned are part of an artist’s work challenging people to consider body types and the impossibility of conforming to being a supermodel," says Rooke. "The point of the artwork and shirts was to raise awareness of the issues."
Urma's website does indeed outline a larger project the artist undertook last year, called My Model Body. "The idea was born out of a serious concern with the publicized woman's body..." she writes in an artist's statement. "Our social obsession with thin ideals that fall nowhere close to average."
However, the real issue isn't Urma's artistic intention. It's that Spreadshirt isn't selling her shirts with any of that context. The website simply says, "this flowy, lightweight tee is a great casual addition to any gal's wardrobe." Uh.
Perhaps both the designer and the vendor have good intentions in selling these tees, but given the incredible lack of contextual description, they look like nothing so much as a joke — in really poor taste. "Trivializing serious illnesses and glamorizing eating disorders is a total disgrace," Uziel concludes.
Furthermore, these shirts don't look that different from the other pro-ana clothing and accessories we've seen popping up online in the past few years. Given the large and vocal online presence of that community, we can't imagine these shirts will go unnoticed — even if they are meant to make a different statement. Artwork is necessarily open to interpretation. But, if Urma and Spreadshirt are trying to say something body-positive and inspirational, then the message has clearly been lost in (a lack) of translation.