Abercrombie and Fitch found itself in the crosshairs of controversy this week when comments by its CEO, Mike Jeffries, made the rounds on the internet. Jeffries is caught explaining away his stores’ decision to only make women’s clothes up to size 10 by saying “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. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
In Jeffries’ own words, only women and girls who can fit into a size large at most are considered popular and attractive. Only those females who can fit a strict standard are deemed worthy of wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. As for the rest of the population? Tough luck—you’re obviously not popular enough, cute enough or worthy enough to don the A&F logo.
And therein lies the problem. While Jeffries owns up to the fact that the store is being exclusionary, this doesn’t make it right. With his comments, Jeffries has reduced people to their size. And if they’re not small enough? They don’t deserve to wear his clothes. And by the way he so flippantly put the size issue, it sounds like any woman over a size 10 doesn’t deserve his time or respect. This does nothing to further humanity or solve the massive problem that America has with size-ism and judgment. By Abercrombie and Fitch only allowing skinny, popular kids to wear its (albeit bland and overpriced) clothes, the store is giving people permission to judge a person based on one small dimension of said person’s spectrum of humanity.
What message is Abercrombie & Fitch sending to people when its CEO dismisses more than half of the population who are medically considered to be overweight or obese? That weight is the only thing that matters and if someone isn’t slim they’ll never be liked or become successful? And what message are pre-teen and teen girls—Abercrombie’s core market—hearing with these comments? At a time in their lives when they are already getting messages that they are not pretty enough or good enough or small enough, a thoughtless comment like Jeffries’ could be the push they need to start purging…or keep throwing up their meals.
Some may think that Mark Jeffries’ comments aren’t harmful or important. But this is a man who leads a company and has intentionally marketed clothing exclusively to people who he sees as worthy of the A&F brand. This is not a mistake; rather this is a calculated move made to make those who fit one tiny man’s ideal of attractive feel worthy and worthwhile. As for those who don’t fit that standard, they are meant to feel isolated and maybe even shamed because of their size. Reducing people to one minor part of their entire personality is a dangerous thing; it can lead to judgment, assumptions and actions that could isolate or hurt people. Shaming and judging people who don’t fit a strict societal standard of beauty is unacceptable. With Jeffries’ thoughtless remarks, his company has just given people permission to judge those who cannot fit into their brand of clothing. Given today’s staggering rate of bullying, incidents like this cannot and should not occur. People need to learn to raise each other up, not judge or tear each other down. Until society can progress to a time where people see beyond race, religion, sexual orientation and, yes, even weight, remarks like Jeffries still matter because of the messages they send. Will there be a time when flippant comments like his do not matter? Hopefully. But for now they do. And for now people should be pissed off and boycotting this store because of its exclusionary tactics and unnecessary shaming.