Too many flaws in Topshop’s campaign?

Image source: Daily Mail Article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3270381/Topshop-fire-selling-gold-scar-tattoos-glamorise-self-harm.html)

Over the past couple of weeks, a grotesque oversight by fashion giant Topshop has caused public outcry, due to their seemingly glamorisation of scars being fashioned as gold temporary tattoos. Whilst the fashion accessory, featuring the slogan ‘flaws worth fighting for’ have now been removed from sale, Topshop are yet to take full blame in acknowledging the wider implication of the offending item. Though the temporary tattoos came from a concessional brand sold through Topshop, priced at £8.50 per pack, there is no doubt that somebody would have had to have given this item the go ahead, for being sold to their main demographic of young, fashion conscious women. This is by no means the first time that Topshop has come under fire for their sales (here, here and here), and I doubt it will be their last. The issue here centres on the failure in acknowledging the wider culture around tattoos, women and mental health.

Through my own research which considers the ways that femininities are constructed and represented in tattooed women, there is a problematic discourse that focuses on the association of tattoos and poor mental health. Research tends to pathologise women with tattoos, citing links between tattoos and childhood adversity, alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity. In addition, it has been heavily debated within the media how tattoos are framed as self-mutilation of the body, and as a practice that sits outside of normal body modification. Framing tattoos in this regard leads to a failure in recognising the complexities in self-narratives and the ways that histories are marked on the body. Though Topshop may have felt as though the scar tattoos attempted to address the stigma associated with mental health, their misguided attempt has only added to damaging discourses.

Image source: Daily Mail Article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3145963/The-tattoo-designed-end-mental-health-taboo-thousands-support-social-media-trend-semicolon-inking.html)

In addition to the associations with mental health, an important factor that has been brought up through other media outlets is the tattoos as being temporary, not permanent. As writers have already noted, real scars are not a temporary fixture on the body. Neither are they pretty, trendy, or gold. From my own perspective, the issue of permanence is a key argument in tattoo literature, and especially so in relation to Topshop’s target demographic. Regret is often cited in tattoo removal research, in relation to the changes we experience in our identities as we age. For a temporary tattoo, regard for things such as employment, marriage and identity are not so much of a concern as is being a part of the latest trend. For those of us with visible, permanent tattoos, more concern for these factors is expressed, as justification are often needed in choosing to adorn the body in such a way. I personally don’t see temporary tattoos on the whole as an issue; they can be fun, and able momentary expressions of the self, but the issue comes from the content of these tattoos, and the negativity associated with the imagery.

Overall, whilst there are lessons to be learned by influential retailers in the ways that they chose to portray themselves and provide outlets of expression for their customers, what this ignorant act has served to do is further important discussions surrounding young women and mental health. To learn more about significant related projects, look into project semi-colon here. In addition, you can read more about the importance in understanding the experiences of tattooed women here.

Charlotte Dann — Lecturer of Psychology

To see what our students thought of the campaign click here

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