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Former Anorexic Says 'Eat Less' T-Shirt Is Shameless

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Maggie Baumann: What comes to mind when you read the words "Eat Less" on the front of this T-shirt?

Anorexic Tee

Well, judging by the appearance of the slight-looking model wearing the tee, you would certainly not want to encourage her to eat less.

This one T-shirt has caused a viral response over the Internet recently, especially on the website REVOLUTION OF REAL WOMEN (RRW) -- a global movement that advocates "the empowerment of females in reclaiming their freedom of individuality, self-esteem and unique beauty."

RRW stated that the "Eat Less" shirt sold by Urban Outfitters is crossing the line and promoting a "Pro-Ana" (pro-anorexia) viewpoint. The uproar over the tee's message has presumably led Urban Outfitters to remove the photo of the shirt from its website.

On Sunday, June 6, I checked Urban Outfitters' site to see if there was an explanation regarding the T-shirt; I found no information about the controversy on the company's blog or Twitter page. The T-shirt has simply disappeared off the website -- yet it hasn't disappeared from Urban Outfitters stores nationwide (according to a Saturday, June 5, post on RRW's Facebook wall).

Crowd Reaction

Response about the T-shirt has varied. Many are insulted by the words; they say "Eat Less" sends a dangerous message to girls and women and could promote eating disorders such as anorexia. Others have a "so what" outlook and say people are overreacting.

A big concern for those trying to prevent the spread of eating disorders is that the words "Eat Less" condone actions expressed on "Pro-Ana" and "Pro-Mia" (pro-bulimia) websites. These sites provide tips, support and advice on how to lose weight; they encourage people to accept that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice and say that "thin is in" -- no matter how thin.  

When I saw the T-shirt, I was shocked that any reputable clothing company would promote the words "Eat Less." To me, it implies, "Your body size is too big, so you better eat less in order to be acceptable within our culture's thinness standards." Having struggled with anorexia myself, I also fear that the words "Eat Less" make starving yourself OK. Anyway I look at it, I see the message as dangerous. I am in full support of the idea that Urban Outfitters should donate the T-shirts (in ripped pieces) to car washes nationwide to help wash and dry cars!

Rebecca Bass-Ching, LMFT, a San Diego therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders, says, "I love Urban Outfitters and have enjoyed their products over the years. Yet this T-shirt is another reminder that we still have a long way to go in educating our community -- individual and corporate -- on the serious nature of food and body issues. With the increased focus on obesity issues these days, many think that people just need to 'eat less' -- which perpetuates the misconceptions around these matters and minimizes how destructive and even deadly eating disorders [can be]. [Eating less] is not about the food; it is about the emotions, genetics, coping mechanisms, personality temperaments and much, much more. I hope Urban Outfitters reconsiders keeping this T-shirt on the market, so they are not glamorizing -- and therefore colluding with -- the life-robbing ability of these illnesses."

Exercise physiologist and body-image/eating-disorder expert Terri Graham, MS, of Orange County, has another take. "Aside from being stupid and pointless, the shirt is rude, arrogant and presumptuous," she says. "I am less concerned about it causing, encouraging or promoting eating disorders [than about it] inflicting hurtful self-blame and loathing on people who struggle with their weight. The shirt implies far more than its simple statement of 'Eat Less.' I doubt very highly that people who struggle with needing to lose a few pounds will wear this shirt. Instead, it will be worn by people who are normal-to-underweight already, which will imply that they are somehow better and more in control of themselves -- or, even worse, that weight management is something as simple as 'eating less.' I feel it pokes fun at people who are overweight, encourages bullying or picking on people who need to lose weight, and will perpetuate body dysmorphic disorder and low self-esteem in young girls and teenagers who might need to drop a few pounds. I can definitely see the shirt being used by 'mean girls' to taunt, bully and pick on their overweight peers in an almost passive-aggressive manner. Even if it isn't intentional, overweight girls may perceive that the shirt and its message is aimed directly at them."

One recovered-anorexic and mother of three girls, Patty DesLauriers of North Carolina, said, "Instead of promoting a negative body image with the words 'Eat Less,' why not change the words on the shirt to encourage girls and women of every size? How about the message, 'I am me. I am not my size'?"

Approaching this message from a different angle were two responders who posted messages on RRW's website. "Gadgetman" wrote, "Who gives a crap? The fact that this is even news is symptomatic of just how superficial our culture has become."

And someone called "Phredralf" added, "America is the fattest country in the world; suggesting to 'eat less' isn't out of line. In fact, I second that emotion."

So what are your thoughts on this T-shirt's message? Is it tasteful ... or tasteless?

next: Why I'm Not Inviting Your Kid Back on a Playdate
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