Reasons to hate Topshop

I do not have real, human enemies. There are, however, institutions which I hate as deeply as though they had crapped in my shoe. In fact, what they do is a lot worse than crapping in any shoes.

Take, for example, Topshop. There are so, so many reasons to hate Topshop.

Firstly, I have an almost Pavlovian reflex to quickly utter the phrase “pay-your-tax” following the word Topshop. A quick history lesson for the uninitiated: Topshop is owned by a company called the Arcadia  Group. The Arcadia Group’s business is run entirely by one Sir Philip Green, who is also, coincidentally, a government advisor on which public services to cut. Despite Green’s active role in the company, Arcadia is registered in the name of Green’s wife, who happens to be a resident of Monaco. In Monaco, one does not have to pay tax on personal tax. By exploiting this loophole, Arcadia have avoided paying approximately £285 million of tax. In December, Topshop was targeted by activist group UK Uncut, who exist mostly to point out how thoroughly unnecessary any cuts to public services are, when one could just ensure that the super-rich paid all of the tax they are supposed to pay.

That Topshop do not pay their fair share–no more than anyone else, just the amount they are supposed to pay–is thoroughly unfair when vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by government policy. To put this into perspective, from £1.2 billion pounds, no tax was paid. The £285 million tax bill avoided would hardly make a difference to the Greens, and push the full dividend to slightly less than a billion pounds in one year. Despite this, they decided to grow richer. £285 million on its own is more than one could reasonably spend in a lifetime, yet it is equivalent to a year’s pay for 20, 000 NHS nurses. This money could mean the world to many.

In order to further maximise their profits and procure Philip Green yet another yacht, Topshop and the Arcadia Group use sweatshops for labour. This report suggests that workers who manufacture clothes sold by Arcadia are paid about 40p per hour. For comparison, the unpaid tax bill alone is worth more than £32, 500 per hour. This horrifying exploitation of people–human beings–in the name of allowing the already-rich to grow even richer is unjustifiably wrong.

Then there is this image, which until yesterday was featured prominently on Topshop’s website:

The model is so slim, it seems as though it has been photoshopped, like the classic botched airbrushing in which a Ralph Lauren model ended up with hips smaller than her head. I do not know whether the image has been doctored or if it is a photographic trick, or if, indeed, the model really is that thin. I am disinclined to believe the latter, as in all of the other photographs, the model does not look that unrealistically thin.

The article which managed to catch the screengrab before Topshop took it down calls for discussion over whether such images are a risk for eating disorder, but such a discussion is not necessary: science has cleared up the matter [article sadly paywalled]. A large number of studies have been conducted to understand whether exposure to “thin-ideal” pictures in the media is linked to eating disorders. Some have found that it is, while others found that it is not. In order to work out what the “true” effect is, the authors in the study above took all of the available data and put it together in the same spreadsheet. This is called a meta-analysis, and basically means turning a lot of small studies into one huge study. The authors found that exposure to images in the media like the image Topshop thought appropriate to use was linked to body dissatisfaction, internalising the thin-ideal, and effects on eating behaviours and beliefs about food. In other words, these images are dangerous. While they may not be sufficient to trigger an eating disorder on their own, they are certainly a contributing factor. For Topshop to run such a picture is therefore highly irresponsible.

Not only could this picture possibly facilitate eating disorders, it also represents some fairly tired gender stereotypes, selling women the ability to look “ladylike”. “Ladylike” is one of those unpleasant words used to regulate women’s behaviour. Being ladylike is submission, being ladylike is to accept the role prescribed for you, and, apparently, being ladylike requires buying Topshop’s products. Make sure you stay polished, ladies! That the words were run next to that picture speaks volumes: to be ladylike is to be feeble, frail, fragile. It is not enough to capitulate to docile femininity. You have to buy your own oppression. It is, frankly, fraudulent.

But perhaps you don’t care about how Topshop is a case study in the interplay between the foul side of capitalism and murky misogyny, with just a splash of dangerous body policing. Maybe you don’t care because this sort of thing doesn’t bother you much. Perhaps you don’t care because it is not like Topshop is the only company doing this. Let’s face it, they’re all at it. We just have the numbers and brazen evidence for Topshop. Even if you don’t care, there is still reason enough to hate Topshop.

Their products are really awful quality and terrible value for money. They are not built to last. They are horribly overpriced for what you get. I should know. Before I declared Topshop my nemesis, I bought clothes from there. It was always dimly disappointing.

I cannot go in there any more. I have participated in UK Uncut actions in Topshop, I have tweeted vitriol about them with my name and my face, and the last time I tried to enter a Topshop I was told politely by security to leave. By Topshop security’s standards, I understand that this was fairly lenient treatment.

I do not feel a sense of loss. I do not feel like I am missing out on their sub-par clothing, or their Stone Age attitude towards women or the opportunity to donate to Philip Green’s yacht fund.

If anything, I am relieved. I do not have to waste my energy on a boycott.

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23 responses to “Reasons to hate Topshop

  • Simon Hayward

    Good article. Hideous photo. Do you remember how Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell used to be portrayed in Spitting Image? Yes, like that.

  • Het

    I totally agree with this! Great article. On the subject of their promotion of unhealthy levels of thinness and low self esteem, I think their use of images is borne out with their instore sizing policy: they only go up to a 16 yet the go down as low as a 4, when the rest of the highstreet is tending towards catering for larger sizes as well now, certainly as far as a 20, and you rarely see a 4 elsewhere. I may be biased as I am an 18, but it rankles that I’m considered normal enough to buy clothes in other high street shops but not there. Also (I wouldn’t know since I can’t wear their clothes) I’ve heard their sizes come up small. It’s horrific to think of even size 4 women being made to feel fat by their misleading sizes.

    • Gwendolyn, A different angry woman

      I am a size 4. There is nothing wrong with being a size 4. Size 4 and 6 girls get so demonised by people who forget there are a lot of people who are naturally small and slim. I have never dieted or over exercised, i am just healthy, being my size and shape is what is healthiest for my body yet bloody Gok Wan, the media and other women tell me and all the other women my size and shape that we’re not ‘real women’.
      I’m just going to move to Japan, at least i won’t be demonised over there. East Asian women, Indian and Bangladeshi women are nearly all this small.
      I wish people would think before slagging off women for being this size. Why should i feel like i’m doing wrong just because i’m not a size 12?

      Think about just how few places do cater for size 4 and 6, next to none, where am i to shop? In a childrens clothes shop? Don’t you think that is damaging to our self esteem.

      I’m a size 4 with naural 28D breasts and an ok sized bum (though i do feel pressured to have a bigger JLo bum in order to be what Gok Wan and an army of twattish folllowers call a ‘real woman’), and i’m exactly as nature intended.

      Green should pay his taxbill. Topshop is hideously overpriced.

      • Mish

        Who’s slagging you off? Who’s demonising you? Good for you for being happy with your size. But notwithstanding your “I”-strewn response, this article and this issue is *not all about you*.

      • zrose

        More folk slag us off than you’d think – but it’s socially acceptable, because we’re thin, and we’re not allowed to fight back, because they’re fat.

        I’d rather a world where the word ‘fat’ took it’s rightful place as descriptive, not pejorative. But until then – and until the day we can buy size 6 clothes in normal stores (and no, Mish, no we can’t) – then it certainly is about us.

      • burnyourbones

        I don’t know if you guys were replying to my comment or the article. If the former, then I just wanted to clarify and apologise if I have offended anyone. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a size 4. I never said that I did think that. I just think it is unfair to stock small sizes and not big ones — surely shops should offer as full a range as possible? And I also think it is irresponsible to offer clothes labelled at a size they are not. Shops should offer small and big sizes with the most size-accurate fittings they can. But this is not just Topshop’s problem — indeed it would be impossible for this to be the case. But the fact remains that there is no reliable standard of fit across shops, which is confusing and frustrating and has body-image ramifications for all customers, of whatever size.

        Zrose, when you say “we’re not allowed to fight back, because they’re fat”, are you saying anyone who criticises thin people is automatically fat? Surely the two states are not a binary but rather a sliding scale? I’m not sure that a them and us model is terrible helpful. Presumably what would be best for thin and fat people, and people in between, would be the responsible use of advertising images and of standardises sizing. I can’t see how anyone loses in that scenario.

  • Matt Moran

    It has long been the way though that women’s apparel has been used as a tool of control. Can you run in stilettoes & a pencil skirt? How about breathe in a Victorian corset? How about fitness too – you’re constantly told to use teeny-tiny weights so you get toned without getting strong. Women have the capability to get seriously fucking strong if they reject that crappy “weaker sex” lie. I say lie, because a few years ago I was in the pub with my mate Ed, who’s a powerlifter. One of our drinking buddies was an ex European Ladies Disabled Powerlifting champion, & she could easily lift more than him. She didn’t look like the incredible hulk, & never did steroids, but she could shift twice her weight without breaking a sweat. Check out Marianne Kane’s fitness videos on myomytv.com – she lifts more than I can easily & looks utterly fantastic.

    • quirksthemagpie

      The dark irony on Matt’s point regarding women and “weight” training is that high-repetition, low-resistance training models actually have more of an impact on muscle size than the reverse. If women actually wanted to optimise for strength whilst worrying about growing “too bulky”, they’d actually benefit more from the training protocols that Ed follows, rather than what they currently use…

      Whilst there is a difference in strength potential (primarily in the upper body) between men and women with all other things being equal, this gender difference is far smaller than a training difference. A trained woman is consistently stronger than an untrained man.

  • Zoe Rose

    Two personal curses: 1, a size six body, 2, an incredibly good sense of smell.

    Size six is a curse because stores don’t stock my size. In Cambridge, the stores I can go to are Reiss, the Gap, Next, H&M, Ted Baker, and TopShop. The first two are under boycott for trying to downgrade me to a size four (bastards).

    So I would shop in topshop if I could. Desperation is as good a reason as any. But, dear God, the smell…

    Cheap, ill-fixed dyes, flame retardants, random additives… it’s a chemical swamp in there. I’m choking inside a minute.

    I know (well, I found out) that other people can’t pick it up as easily, but if my nose is anything to go by, there’s nothing in that store that you want in contact with your skin without being washed – thoroughly – first. There are some nasty, nasty chemicals in that shop. God help the workers who have to make it all.

    • Gwendolyn, A different angry woman

      I’m a 4-6, it’s practically impossible to find clothes to fit anywhere except arcadia shops. I can’t by any stretch afford Reiss or Ted Baker. Asda do small enough clothes but they aren’t nice materials or designs.

      It’s really hard being small. Hardly any shops make small clothes and then we get made to feel as though we are doing wrong for just being small because according to the media and Gok Wan and other women, we’re not ‘real women’, apparently you can only be a real women if you need a girdle and have cellulite.

      It’s thinness that is the problem, not size labels. I’m going to move to East Asia where my size is commonplace.

      • stavvers

        Of course that’s body policing the other way.

        However, Topshop are using images to promote a shape which is unattainable for the majority of women, just as the “hourglass” figure is unattainable. It is usually a case of genetics.

        The point still stands, though. Topshop ran an image which evidence suggests is highly conducive to eating disorders. That is wildly irresponsible.

      • burnyourbones

        It’s hard being A WOMAN. Of whatever size. If you’re thin, as you say, you have those problems to contend with, of inconveniences of finding clothes that fit you, or being excluded from some bogus definition of “real” femininity. But it’s not as if bigger (both fat and also those who are not particularly thin) women don’t have to face different but equally important problems.
        At least if you look in a magazine you can see people who look like you. At least you’re not being encouraged to have dangerous and unnecessary surgery.
        But it’s not a competition. Capitalism benefits from women fighting each other instead of it.

        My point is, the fact of the matter is all femininity is an unreal construct. It seems to me that the issues you are describing that affect you are part of the same problem faced by bigger women: the problem of society feeling it owns all women’s bodies and has the right to control them and to make money from that control. The fact that you can say that you are made to feel that people think you are not a “real” woman, and that I as a fat woman can say the same surely proves that we are in the same boat: that of the impossible and self-contradictory demands made upon women’s bodies that aren’t meant to make sense but rather to procure money from our discontent and divide our gender in arguing about who has it worse.

  • Zoe Rose

    High five, Gwendolyn. I’m clocking a 30D to 28E over this side, too, and I eat two hot meals a day (we have a really good canteen at work).

    One of these days, I’m gonna snap. One of these days, some lady is going to say those stupid little words – ‘you’re so lucky to be so skinny!’ – and I’m going to snap.

    And then I’m going to tell her that it must be awesome being so fat.

    • stavvers

      The answer to body policing is not MORE BODY POLICING. Just say that it’s not a particularly appropriate comment to make. Loudly. Shoutily. They won’t do it again.

      I have done this before.

  • Zoe Rose

    Disagree. Last time I tried that, the girl just asked me ‘no, seriously, is it yoga?’

    I don’t think that is ‘body policing’, and I really hate the idea that our collective responsibility is to euphemise, dodge, and deny each other’s body shapes – but only if they’re fat body shapes. Is ‘fat’ such a terrible thing to be that we can’t even say it?

    I say that, but I also know that, at the moment, fat is a poison word and no, we’re not allowed to say it (thereby denying a basic physical feature of a lot of women, which is *not* a great outcome). But it’s unfair when the dial tips the other way. So I hold: If I’m dealing with someone who isn’t afraid of using negatively connoted words like ‘skinny’ on me, then I should be allowed to do the same. What’s good for the goose and so on.

    I don’t want to complain about all the women who feel entitled to comment on my body – I want them to understand what they’re doing.

    I won’t do it – yet – but I can dream…

    • stavvers

      Two wrongs don’t make a right. There’s no need to attack their bodies, no matter how much they attack yours. Focus on teaching and explaining. Then attack them for being too dim to learn :)

  • ChuckChuck

    Noting the tax bill concern, I’m not sure where I stand on this…

    Indeed, people should pay their fair share.

    However, as a sole trader myself, I damn well try to avoid paying as much tax as I can. Legally I may add. In fact, I’m considering employing an accountant, to make sure I’m doing everything possible legally to hand over as little money as I can to maximise my income.

    As an average earner, I have never had anyone tell me I shouldn’t. In fact, talking to acquaintances and friends (in my trade and others, including hard-working tradesmen) people encourage me to squeeze out as much money as I can for my hard work in a trade that may or may not lead to bigger bucks depending on what I wish to do.

    And I know many people who do the same. All of this is legal and includes various methods, including putting assets in other family member’s names, etc.

    So, if Joe Bloggs is going to encourage me to do it, where is the line between me and Sir Philip Green? I appreciate the money he makes is crazy, but who chooses where the line is that says I should do it but he shouldn’t?

    • stavvers

      You’re always going to have a hard time keeping up with folk like Green, and the balance is tipped against you, too. You’ll never be able to afford the Monaco address, or the REALLY good accountants who make it possible.

  • Mary Ord

    It is wholly unacceptable that Green is allowed to dodge his tax bill. He lives a life of luxury paying no tax.
    I pay my tax and live a hand to mouth existance.
    If i could afford to shop at Topshop i wouldn’t.
    The model in the picture looks thoroughly miserable. Maybe she’s too skint to eat too.

  • A few quick notes on body policing « Another angry woman

    [...] quick notes on body policing By stavvers A small row broke out in the comments under the post on Topshop and its use of a photograph of a model who was unrealistically, unattainably thin. The row was [...]

  • Bill Miller

    You appear to misunderstand the taxation issues. Arcadia does not have any reduced tax liability because its shareholder lives overseas.

    Most large UK companies have some overseas shareholders, similarly many overseas companies are owned by people in the UK.

    Taxation depends on detailed tax laws in each country and, where funds flow across borders, on agreements between the two countries involved. But generally the principles are that companies pay tax to the country in which they operate, employees to the country they work in and investors to the country they live.

    This is not a “loophole”, it is a highly developed deliberate structure.

    • stavvers

      Arcadia are not doing the reduced tax liability trick. They are using a personal income dodge instead–from the 1.2bn dividend, all personal tax was avoided as Christina Green is a Monaco resident.

      The overseas system system is a bloody swizz, though. As Shaxon points out in Treasure Islands, it doesn’t even play by the rules of how a free market should work. Agree that it’s thoroughly deliberate.

  • Cynthia

    Top Shop has terrible customer service and management and should be banned from selling In the USA.
    The tax insights have further solidified this stores nasty attitude.

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