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