As of yesterday, Jun. 11, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is once again calling for a boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch after their CEO’s stigmatizing remarks were not followed by the change to company policy that NEDA was hoping for. In response CEO Mike Jeffries’ comments that he didn’t want fat people wearing his brand, A&F certainly had some damage control to do.
They decided to respond therefore with an anti-bullying campaign and a scholarship for children who had faced bullying. “We are fully committed to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion – one in which no young person should ever feel intimidated, especially at school, whether for the clothes they wear, or because someone perceives them as different,” Jeffries said in a statement.
Although this action is a marked divergence from Jeffries’ earlier position (though one wonders whether he actually believes it), it still is not the answer that NEDA was looking for. When NEDA advocates met with A&F executives in May, they made a number of suggestions, including that A&F “reconsider its position on size limitations (including elimination of size zero, which is meaningless and offer sizes larger than 10); expand its clothing line to be more inclusive of teen body types; reduce the blatant sexualization of its ads and expand its choice of models; consider diversity training for employees; and support educational programs for teens in ways to ultimately be a corporate leader on anti-bullying and diversity.
Therefore, A&F’s announcement yesterday regarding their anti-bullying campaign and scholarship ignored four of the primary objectives and changes that NEDA suggested. Because of this action (or rather, inaction) NEDA is calling for a boycott of the brand by all those who truly support size diversity and social equality without stigma.
NEDA CEO & President Lynn Grefe commented, “While we most certainly would support a national anti-bullying campaign and scholarships for young people who have been bullied, it makes no sense for such a campaign to be led by a company that apparently will continue to discriminate against young people of diverse sizes. That is certainly its own form of bullying and goes back to how this story all got started. Young people come in all shapes and sizes and being ‘cool’ is about accepting who you are. Making young people feel excluded is not smart marketing. An anti-bullying campaign by A&F is an oxymoron. We are disappointed.”
Hopefully one day A&F and companies like it will get the message that stigmatizing potential customers is both morally wrong and a poor marketing strategy. Until then, we as customers will have to use our purchasing power to advance our message and counteract brands that profit from preying on our insecurities.