Abercrombie and Fitch: Cool Kids and Corporate Bullies

AF8Remember that guy in high school who took gym class a little too seriously? The one who picked on anybody not wearing a letterman jacket and taped Larry Lester’s buns together? Okay, for many of us this guy might only exist in countless teen movies, but his less-than-kind treatment of people who aren’t like him is reflective of the very real bullies who regularly indulge in shaming others. One such bully owns a highly popular clothing line designed specifically for the “in”-crowd—and for no one else.

A self-proclaimed fan of cool-kid elitism, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries uses his business to keep bullying alive outside of the high school setting. He shared his exclusionary business ideology with Salon in 2006, saying,

…we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.

Jeffries makes it clear that A&F is committed to preserving conventional beauty standards (you know, because these standards are so endangered). But now, seven years after his Salon interview, Jeffries’s words have come back to bite him in the butt of his $80 jeans.

Business Insider recently reopened discussion on A&F’s policies, their article highlighting some of the company’s eyebrow-raising practices, including:

  • Offering sizes up to XXL for men, but hitting a maximum of size 10 for women.
  • Hiring only “good-looking” (thin) people for its stores in order to attract other “good-looking” (thin) people to shop there.
  • Marketing exclusively to “cool kids” (who are thin).
  • Taking pride in alienating and excluding “not-so-cool kids” (defined, apparently, by women larger than a size 10).

Fashion is known for being exclusionary, prizing ultra-thin (mostly white) bodies over any other. Mainstream advertising has rejected fat bodies for a long time. But Jeffries’s obsession with conventional attractiveness, especially for female consumers, calls particular attention to the retail world’s hand in fatphobic body-shaming—and people don’t like it. Even after Jeffries’s issued a flimsy apology on Facebook, people remained unimpressed with the sizeist CEO.

As it turns out, the “not-so-cool” kids know a bully when they see one, and they’re ready to take a stand against Jeffries and his hateful business model. It should be noted that some demonstrations have been misguided. For example: The guy giving out A&F clothes to the homeless is kind of just using unconsenting homeless people as objects to protest A&F’s body-objectification (whoops). On the whole, however, many are displaying really “cool” ways of advocating body-acceptance.

Here are some highlights:

Attractive & Fat

Blogger Jes Baker of The Militant Baker (pictured above) wrote an open letter to Jeffries that included a collection of black-and-white A&F-style photographs of herself and a topless male model. In her letter, she explains that, although Jeffries’s controversial remarks are not surprising, they are important because they can inspire social change against conventional beauty. The photos, says Baker, are part of that inspiration. She writes,

[Jeffries has] reinforce[d] the original concept that fat women are social failures, valueless and undesirable … [Jeffries] also accidentally created an opportunity to challenge our current social construct. My hope is that the combination of these contrasting bodies will someday be as ubiquitous as the socially accepted ideal [that fat isn't attractive].

Since the letter, Baker’s photos have blown up. Over three days, her blog reached more than two million hits, and her story has been receiving media attention.

Dear Mike

Writer Amy Taylor also wrote an open letter to Jeffries, underlining the problem of bullying and its effects on girls and women, including herself. She urges Jeffries and her readers to realize that one’s body, as well as their perceived imperfections, have nothing to do with one’s worth. “I don’t wear a size 4,” Taylor explains, “but I’m a good person.”

Fitch, Please

Ellen DeGeneres addressed the A&F controversy on her talk show. In her “Fitch, Please” segment, DeGeneres pokes fun at the company’s peculiar sizing regulations and issues with women’s sizes in general, and shares body-positive sentiments. She tells her audience that beauty “isn’t a number at all” and “what’s important is that you’re healthy and happy.”

 

Change.org Petition

Eighteen-year-old activist Benjamin O’Keefe launched a petition on Change.org against Jeffries. On the campaign’s website, O’Keefe shares his own struggles with an eating disorder and how he has been affected by A&F’s ads. The petition demands an apology from Jeffries and larger A&F sizes for men and women.

O’Keefe’s petition has garnered more than 73,000 signatures and gained the attention of A&F, who met with him to hear his criticism. Though Jeffries was not present at the meeting, A&F representatives apologized for the CEO’s remarks and agreed to work against its discriminatory practices.

Using a bully’s hurtful words to create social change is pretty cool, if you ask us.

Photograph from The Militant Baker

 

Comments

  1. Madelyn B Pesci says:

    I think the very best treatment of A & F is for the under size 10 females and all males to object to this bigotry by just plain boycotting, that is NOT shopping there and let them know why. Their products aren’t even that original.

  2. Desiree says:

    A technicality, larger sizes doesn’t necessarily mean “fat”. It can mean things like more muscular or larger frame size. I can get to unhealthy (low) levels of body fat and I’ll remain a size 12 pants and at least a size 14 in tops due to my muscle pattern and body frame. I had a major eating disorder caused in large part by my Mom thinking a “healthy” female couldn’t be bigger than a size 8 that was only stopped because of doctors who pointed out what my body fat had dropped to and what my skeleton was like – that literally I was incapable of being what my Mom thought I “should” be on the basis it was the “healthy” size for “all” women.

    Fat shaming can be subtle too, not just overt. I’m surprised to see it here, even if only in the form of the above.

  3. I’m not surprised. I am never shocked, when fat hating is either co-opted to refer to “Oh bullying is bad and every one gets it the same”, or making it as a side issue to racism or sexism. W. Charise Goodman mentioned this in her book “The Invisible Woman”, how the once presumed female anti virtues have all been simply bundled and dropped onto to fat women. She said, tolerance isn’t expanding, it is switching targets…and it has. More so now than ever before this fat hatred has lazer like precision and put fat people in the cross hairs of social debate both public and private. You’d have thought it couldn’t get worse, but it did and it continues to. The once casual, common knowledge variety of bigotry against fat people has become a “health care science for profit” backed, multi layered “Profound Social Issue” that has many people, the average lay person, as well as the semi educated and professional groups, sure that fat and fat people are to blame for all the ills of both the political ie health care costs, plane seat cost increases, statistical health (mortality) number shifts as well as the personal, “They are just soooo ugly, Good God what is wrong with them?!” Be afraid be very afraid, when people stop to think about what they hate and why and come out hating it more you get very bad things happening; policy changes, well meant social condemnation on an increasingly large and more hostile scale, rampant attempts at control of individuals and groups of people, an absolute demonizing of persons not part of the “acceptable group” and harsher and more Draconian measures for dealing with them…

  4. Shadonna says:

    First of all, Abercrombie and Fitch clothes are not that cute. And by the way, this is the same company that had thongs for little girls. Gross! Apparently, Mike Jeffries suffers from low self-esteem because why was he so fixated on selling their clothes to a thinner population. I bet he wishes he were one of the “cool” kids in school and now he is trying to make up for it, loser. And for the record, being thin does not make you “cool”. I am so happy I stop shopping there years ago and I love being a size 10/12.

  5. The CEO and marketing managers really are disgusting for all their talk about cool kids and all american and this and that. A smart marketer would have simply said that are cloths are designed to fit and look best in this size range and there fore those are the sizes we make and that would be that. Instead they made it out as if fat kids can’t be cool- i was a fat kid and plenty aren’t cool, plenty have social issues like myself and i was never ever a victim of bullying i was just overweight, shy and didn’t and still dont’ like most sports but u know what lots of over wieght kids are plenty cool and have lots of friends and are the center of social circles including the asshole ones that ambercrombie is targeting. It is horrible to me that they took a simple thing like what size they think their cloths look best in and made it about who is and who isn’t cool based on their size and for that matter- even with regard to what i already said in this post- who the heck decided that being the villian in “mean girls” “karate kid” or any other teen movie or tv show is what it takes to be cool

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