Vivienne Westwood: a punk icon or just out of touch?

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Late last year, Dame Vivienne Westwood declared that people who can’t afford to buy organic food should “eat less” and stop getting fat. The comment was made during a BBC Radio 5 Live interview. While I appreciate her attempts at promoting a “green economy and a green world” (as she put it), placing the onus on one of society’s least influential groups to do so seems utterly ridiculous. A prolific figure within the fashion industry, and indeed pop culture generally, Westwood’s word is taken as gospel by many fashionistas. This was one instance where I had thought that her comments would be met by others with as much distain as I felt on reading them, but of course, I was very much wrong. Reports of the story on the website garnered numerous comments, most of which actually seemed to be in support of Westwood’s claim that poor people should “eat less”. I was aghast reading the responses. One woman asserted: “If you can’t afford food, buy potatoes, rice and black beans; they will you up and it will cost you less than a dollar a day!” I’m sure the 900,000 people in the UK who visited food banks this year will find this advice very helpful – on their next visit they can ask for black beans instead of the Heinz Baked variety. If only they had known. Like this one, many of the other comments on the report were dripping with the sort of privilege that comes from being very wealthy and a complete lack of understanding that, for some, the contents of their meals is far less important than where those meals are actually coming from. For many people, what they eat isn’t really a choice and ensuring that it is organic is definitely not a priority. Described as a “punk pioneer”, Westwood has since also commented that both food and clothing should be more expensive. To be honest, I am baffled by the fact that someone could be regarded a punk icon when both their world view and own products only cater to a wealthy elite. Within the fashion industry, even the concept of oppression is now too upmarket to be accessible to the oppressed. The Vivienne Westwood online shop is currently selling a “Builders Coat” for $1,667.50 (down from $3,335.00 though, bargain); a perfect example of the way the industry takes influence from the working class and then sell it back to them at a price they cannot afford. While a world where organic food was the most inexpensive and practical option would be ideal, the fact is that it isn’t. Those that can’t afford to plunge themselves into the world of organic cuisine are not the ones at fault. Perhaps Westwood, known for her opinionated nature, should make sure she is a little better informed before she next speaks out.

Ellie Vowles

Deeply unfashionable and chronically unable to take things seriously. A lover of travel, music, food and anyone who will listen to me talk about things.

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