Hidden amongst the vintage gems there’s a lot of harmful content on Depop – but who’s really responsible?
My relationship with fashion can be summed up with these two facts: 1) I only buy second-hand, and 2) while I adore clothes, I really, really hate the physical act of shopping. There is no joy to be found in the strip lighting and wraparound mirrors of a clothes shop changing room. I also need to try on any potential purchases with any and all shoe/jacket/accessory combos I can conjure before I commit. So, naturally, I am a self-confessed online shopping enthusiast. I love the ease of click-buying from the comfort of my sofa and the little thrill of mystery packages arriving in the post.
When I first began my foray into the world of internet vintage-hunting, eBay was really my only option. While eBay and I had a pretty serious relationship during my uni days, in more recent years, our collective eco-conscience has driven the concept of ‘slow fashion’ forward, resulting in a myriad of ways to buy vintage, second-hand, and ‘pre-loved’ items online. Eventually, I all but ghosted eBay for a shiny, new partner-in-crime.
Depop takes the ‘selling my old cr*p’ notion of eBay and dresses it up like Instagram (for the uninitiated: anyone over the age of thirteen can set up a Depop shop and is very similar to an Instagram profile, both in its grid-like feed of photos and in the fact that you can ‘follow’ other users). The result is a massive, and fast-growing, online thrift store occupied exclusively by fashion-savvy young people with a keen eye for trends and the know-how to navigate social platforms to their advantage.
We’re all so familiar with Insta that Depop seemed seamless; it is aesthetically identical with the added bonus that you can buy everything you see with just a couple of quick thumbprints. At this point, all – and I mean all – my clothes shopping is done on Depop, and I’ve found everything from amazing vintage one-offs from the 1960s to second-hand Prada and Moschino, and brand-name trainers- still with tags on- for a tenner.
Sadly, however, among all the treasures and the bargains Depop has to offer, I have also found some rather triggering content. At the less harmful – and sadly predictable – end of the scale, I’ve discovered images rife with blatant photoshopping, and unnecessary and oddly out of place, overly ‘sexy’ pics. More worryingly, I frequently come across passive-aggressive body-shaming – “It’s a size 6 so I’m selling it because it’s obviously waaaaaay too big for me” is an almost verbatim quote from one seller – and images of severely underweight models, clothes hanging awkwardly from their frames.
As someone who suffers with body dysmorphia, the first time I noticed this kind of content, it really threw me off balance – I was just trying to find some nice second-hand shoes and suddenly I’m indirectly being made to feel fat by a stranger on the internet.
When I first started writing this essay, I had my flaming torch aloft, ready to lambast Depop for letting this kind of content fly seemingly unmonitored. I was worried I’d found the last safe-haven of the internet pro-ana community; a culture of competitive thinness and unattainable ‘beauty’ ideals. Both Instagram and Tumblr (pro-ana favourites and internet home of angsty girls worldwide) have cottoned on to this kind of content with hashtag bans and pop-ups offering support and helpline numbers. But, why hasn’t Depop applied similar measures to protect its users?
The rub is: they’re pretty much doing all they can. Their user agreement states: “We don’t allow the promotion of self-harm [or] eating disorders. If you’re seeking help, please get in touch with someone from the Support Team at Depop”. This might sound a bit feeble but let’s remember Tumblr only steps in if you, the user, are actively searching for problematic or dangerous terms or tags. And given that, on Depop, you’re not going to be searching ‘ana mia’ or ‘self-harm’ as much as you’re going to be searching ‘urban outfitters skirt green’, there’s no way of searching out the accounts that are posting pictures others may find triggering.
I could, of course, report the accounts – but I’m not sure ‘naming and shaming’ is necessarily the solution. When I heard recently about proposed legislation to essentially do just that, I rose my fist in triumph, until I realised that really only serves to shame those responsible – and to a certain degree, continue the culture of pitting women against women.
Whether it’s a high profile celeb who, after years of very public media and cyber-bullying about their looks, is compelled to photoshop themself to be near unrecognisable, or a person who feels the need to pose ‘sexily’ or weigh a certain amount just to sell their old jeans online – they are as much victims of the culture as those who are triggered by such images. Calling them out on their content doesn’t help anyone.
Besides, Depop’s user agreement also states: “there’s no place for bullying, harassment [or] body-shaming […] on the app. We take a zero-tolerance approach to any of this kind of behaviour” and lest we forget: that’s a good thing.
Depop is an inclusive place – the fact everyone is invited to start a business from their bedroom means I see real clothes modelled by real people and, perhaps ironically, that’s something I really like about it. Their ‘explore’ page – the feed of stores and sellers handpicked by Depop for the homepage – is always wonderfully diverse. But that’s the thing: when you open the welcoming arms of inclusivity, you gotta walk the walk. You can’t celebrate some bodies and police others. Branding some bodies a ‘trigger warning’ sets a dangerous precedent; and as evidenced by this Reddit thread, you’ll likely face backlash if you try.
Like it or not, the platform, by definition of its purpose, provides the opportunity for its users become ‘models’. As Depop boasts some ‘influencer’ alumni, it’s clear that there’s a lot more at stake for some sellers than just cashing in on a wardrobe clear-out. I could, of course, just stop using Depop – but I reeeeeeally don’t want to.
It’s just disheartening that, not only does this culture persist but that it pops up in the most innocuous of places. You’re just not expecting to have to be on high alert for body-image triggers simply whilst browsing second-hand goodies on a mobile app. But I guess it’s still preferable to a clothes shop changing room *shudders*.