From the pages of Hermenaut ¥ Number 14 (P.O. Box 141, Allston, MA 02134; $6)
Excerpted From Anorexic Outfitters
By Pauline Wolstencroft
One day, in the fall of 1995, I decided it was time to do something about Urban Outfitters. I was sick of hearing my friends complain about getting paid slave wages in exchange for discounts on crappy clothes and the privilege of listening to indie rock at top volume all day. I was especially disgusted by their stories about the occasional overweight girl brave enough to pick through the techno-enhanced labyrinth of skinny-girl clothes in order to squeeze into something that made her look like an overgrown baby. So I designed a hate poster, printed up a few thousand of them, and proceeded to plaster them on the windows and walls of Urban Outfitters everywhere. I stood outside of the store handing out little postcards I’d made. The postcards depicted a slouching waif with a question mark bubble for a head, and read: “EXHIBIT A: HUNGRY WAIF,” with my name and P.O. box at the bottom.
I was really touched by the number of responses I received from strangers who had just seen my poster on the street and who took the time to make a note of my address and write me. The “conformity” part of my campaign seemed lost on most people: My new pen-pals wanted to congratulate me for drawing attention to U.O.’s exploitation of the self-conscious teen girl market. One Go-Girl-brand feminist named “batgrrrl” wrote “Good luck deconstructing whatever paradigm you’re working on!” Some of these folks, though, were looking for a sympathetic ear into which to pour their own personal anorexia sob stories. While this made me sad, having to respond to a stranger who obviously needed help made me extremely uncomfortable. Although I have an unwavering love for greasy, fattening foods, I am 5’8″/113 pounds. Maybe that’s why I got a lot of comments from people who saw me in action and questioned what a skinny girl like myself was doing making any comment about Urban Outfitters’ perpetuation of the waif aesthetic. I could only respond by saying that my point was that if weight is an issue for women in their awkward teenage years, they certainly don’t need additional pressure from some second-rate, overpriced, false mecca of “urban” style.
In an article written about me and my posters in the Boston Phoenix, the author talked to the manager of Urban Outfitters’ Boston location and to Sue Otto, the company’s creative director. Otto, who ended her response with “Working here has been my whole life,” took my posters a bit more personally. She volunteered her own physical dimensions, which happened to be 5’3″/165 pounds. Talk about loyalty!
I’m aware that a lot of the things that I have griped about with Urban Outfitters can be said of a million other companies. But in a perfect world, kids everywhere would realize that they are being duped by marketing masterminds. These kids would then burn down all the Urban Outfitters polluting our cities, finally freeing themselves from the shackles of their chain wallets and the confines of their baby-doll T-shirts.
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