This month, accusations of shaming hit two major clothing brands: Abercrombie & Fitch for deeming women over a size 10 “uncool,” and Candie’s for reducing young mothers to fear-based abject lessons. This week, both companies have responded to criticism, but it still isn’t enough.
Abercrombie & Fitch
When exclusionary comments made by A&F CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced in a recent article, many recognized his words as bullying. Jeffries explained that his company aims to attract and cater solely to “cool kids”—defined by A&F as smaller than a size 10 for women, and a slightly larger range of up to XXL for men, but only as an exception for those cool, beefy athletes.
Some “uncool” kids, including Ellen DeGeneres, spoke out against Jeffries’s elitism in some very cool ways to call A&F on its tactics. After perhaps realizing that a Facebook apology wasn’t going to cut it, A&F decided to make amends by offering college scholarships to students who have been victimized by people like Jeffries and A&F shoppers throughout high school.
It’s nice that A&F recognizes the correlation between its business model and bullying, but a scholarship isn’t exactly what A&F’s critics had in mind when urging the company to make a change. Benjamin O’Keefe, who launched the Change.org petition against A&F, hoped the retailer would do something about its own bullying by making clothes for all sizes. Finding A&F’s new-found activism insincere, O’Keefe said,
It doesn’t make sense that a company that is still bullying itself is now working on an anti-bullying campaign.
Heather Arnet, who boycotted A&F in 2005 for its sexist beauty standards, is pleased that A&F is willing to do something about bullying. However, she feels that A&F’s anti-bullying efforts could be more effective if they promoted inclusive beauty with its image.
A&F’s scholarship shows that it doesn’t really understand bullying. It specifically calls for victimized students who have also been able to find the strength to “persevere” academically in spite of everything, which leaves out a substantial portion of victims. As it turns out, constant harassment really interferes with one’s ability to do well in school.
A&F’s scholarship can only help out select individuals, which does nothing for altering perspectives on bullying in the long-run. Instead, A&F just perpetuates an unrealistic, simplified bullying narrative that casts victims as underdogs who are down on their luck.
However, the retailer has also promised to support a series of anti-bullying conferences for high schoolers, which could be a positive step forward. But we can’t help but feel that campaigning against bullying while you’re still distributing exclusionary, sizeist fashion is just a little bit hypocritical. If the A&F brand eventually reflects that all bodies can be cool—not just thin, white ones—then maybe we’ll see their anti-bullying initiatives as laudable.
The Candie’s Foundation
For National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the Candie’s Foundation released its celebrity-endorsed campaign, #NoTeenPreg. Instead of providing educational resources about contraceptives or how to talk about sex, Candie’s spreads faux-empowering slogans like “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers.” The campaign manages to condense many complex issues such as teen pregnancy, poverty, sex education and reproductive health into neatly packaged videos and images that make one thing clear: Motherhood sucks.
In opposition to the campaign’s reductive portrait of teen moms, many Twitter users protested Candie’s under the tag #NoTeenShame. In conjunction, a young mother named Natasha Vianna launched a petition against the foundation. Vianna’s petition requests to meet with Candie’s founder Neil Cole. She wrote,
We’d like to discuss the impact of the Candie’s shaming campaign on young parents like us, and offer ways the Candie’s Foundation can shift its approaches to include: increasing comprehensive sexual education, putting a halt on shaming tactics and using messaging that supports and empowers all young people to make the best decisions for themselves.
Other than a solitary defensive tweet, Candie’s has remained unresponsive about Vianna’s and others’ criticisms until recently. Last Tuesday, Neil Cole issued a statement with Huffington Post arguing that his company’s campaign doesn’t shame, but rather educates and sparks discussion. Said Cole:
The goal of The Candie’s Foundation is to educate teenagers about the consequences of teen pregnancy. We are calling attention to the facts.
Cole also lists partners of the foundation, some of which do offer information about sexual health and contraceptives. However, the only resource provided by the Candie’s campaign itself is a diary of teen moms, whose words actually reveal the urgent need for comprehensive sex education. From one mother’s entry:
My boyfriend and I did not use protection because we thought the ‘pull out’ method was safe enough. I had stopped birth control because I was told it made you gain weigh … I am not sure why I was so naive.
We’ll give Cole one thing: We definitely need more discussion about teens and sex. The fact that Candie’s has created such a stir holds great potential to develop more progressive methods of talking about sex with young people, but it has to be handled with sensitivity. So far, Candie’s has failed in that arena.
Maybe if Cole and his foundation take Vianna up on her request for productive discussion, we’ll believe that Candie’s cares about teens. But for now, telling us that Candie’s isn’t shaming young moms isn’t enough. If young mothers feel shamed by your campaign, your campaign is shaming young mothers. It’s that simple.