“Alluringly Anorexic” T-Shirts Send Deadly Message to Women Struggling With Body Image

Photo by Mary Lock.

Photo by Mary Lock.

Usually when people lose weight, they’re thrilled. When I lost 70 pounds I was definitely happy about it, but the feeling was fleeting. For me, losing the weight was fairly easy. The paralyzing fear of gaining it back–even five pounds of it–was not.

The thought of returning to the era of rude comments, personal insecurities and difficulty climbing stairs terrified me, and it was that fear that made me subject myself to intense body scrutiny and eventually adopt extremely restrictive eating habits. While I never crossed the line into a full-blown eating disorder, I teetered dangerously close to destroying my body.

That’s why when I recently came across some t-shirts on Spreadshirt.com bearing phrases such as “Alluringly Anorexic” and “Beautifully Bulimic,” my mouth hung open in shock. Seriously? Some twisted mind not only came up with the idea in the first place, but actually entertained it long enough to bring the concept to fruition?! Do they even care what it’s like to constantly count calories, to compulsively weigh yourself, to never feel “alluring” no matter how thin you get?

Would anyone wear these shirts? I pray not. Just knowing they exist upsets me, as does the idea that someone might step out and display their sick messages. It’s unacceptable to me, and it should be to everyone, even if they’ve never struggled with weight or body image issues. Those shirts, and the warped ideas they represent, reinforce the damning message that there’s only one acceptable body type for women, and worse, that going to unhealthy extremes to attain it is something to be proud of. Proud enough to advertise it on a shirt.

  • Shirts Are Hurtful Reminders of Days I’d Rather Forget

I know just how powerful such messaging can be. I took an undeniable pride in my ability to control food intake, exhibiting displays of restraint in front of a dozen donuts, or even a piece of chewing gum, where others could not. I found a twisted, yet addictive, sense of achievement in going through the ritual, several times a day, of bone-touching: the need to feel my protruding collar or hipbone offered immediate comfort and a quick jolt of joy, like a hit. Having less of me made me feel strangely larger than life. Before you know it, you can end up in a hospital with a body that’s in ketosis, essentially starving itself to the point of having to “eat” its own muscles for fuel.thinspo shirts

If, like me, you can get back on track thanks to supportive family members, nutritionists and a therapist, then you’re one of the lucky ones. But seeing those shirts, like the one with a skeleton on the front with the words, “does this shirt make me look fat?” are reminders of that dark time in my life, a dangerous world that I know is way too easy to fall into. Seeing clothing that endorses such behaviors by finding beauty in self-destruction is a throwback to times I’d like to put behind me.

  • Love Your Body (But Only If It’s Skinny)

To me, these shirts are on par with websites and companies that promote the underfed ideal. Our weight-obsessed society makes it hard for me–for anyone–to   maintain a healthy relationship with food, despite the "body-positive" talk that's so trendy now. Calvin Klein, for example, recently came under fire  for having a very toned, tall and svelte size 10 model represent their plus-size category. There’s tons of thinspo and pro-ana web sites providing detailed tips on how to whittle your flesh away. And the department store Dillard’s raised eyebrows with a sign found in one of their girl’s sections that read, “Dear Santa, this year please give me a big fat bank account and a slim body. Please don’t mix those two up like you did last year."o-DEAR-SANTA-facebook

Seeing these messages, I’m suddenly thrust back into a place I’d rather not be, reminded of my damaging behaviors all in the name of what society considers beautiful, as the shirts and the web sites and the Dear Santa sign imply. The shirt with the skeleton messes with my head the most. While seeing the skeleton is a little creepy, I admit to feeling somewhat angry that I’ve let myself go; in other words, I can’t feel my hip bones as easily as I could in years past. Ah, I suppose the body issues never fully go away.

Then I look in the mirror and snap out of it, thankful for the site change.org and their effort to petition the clothing on Spreadshirt.com. I’m also happy about other sites that understand that body image and weight issues are not a joke.   Cafepress.com, for example, has some wonderful shirts that have hopeful, rather than demeaning, messages about eating disorder recovery, awareness and surviving.

After all, hope is what every body’s journey is all about.

Jennifer Lilley is a health/wellness and relationship writer who enjoys having her camera and the company of kind-hearted people close at hand. She blogs on her own weight loss and health site, Flabby Road. Find her on Facebook, and on Twitter: @JenSunshine.