When I first saw the resurrected news of Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries’ 2006 comments about “cool kids” and why they are the only ones who should wear his brand, I thought it was an article from The Onion.
The Onion is a satirical site with mostly fake news, and no other entity, I thought, except those in the vein of “Saturday Night Live,” would seriously let their frontman tell the press that they don’t sell to fat or uncool kids.
I was wrong.
Let’s review: In 2006, Jeffries told a reporter from Salon.com that Abercrombie and Fitch does not make any clothing beyond a size 10 or large for women because, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, 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 A&F], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. … [C]ompanies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Abercrombie and Fitch does, however, make XL and XXL for men because, presumably, athletic and sexy men need larger clothing to accommodate their muscles.
Putting aside the fact that the average American woman wears a size 12-14 (just how small — no pun intended — of a market is Abercrombie targeting, anyway?) and all that labeling a dress with “Size 0” says metaphorically (Do I really want to be a zero? Does that mean invisible? Does that mean having no substance?), Jeffries’ comments add fuel to the growing fire of bullying and violence in our schools. While teachers and guidance counselors work tirelessly to promote acceptance, compassion and the fact that beauty really is on the inside, Abercrombie and Fitch pushes against them by basically telling a large portion of the teenage population, “You don’t belong. You’re not cool. You are fat.”
For many reasons, I don’t belong in Abercrombie and Fitch either. First of all, by their standards, I’m old. I can hardly read my iPhone without holding it in front of my face, so I certainly couldn’t read the tags on clothes inside the dimly lit Abercrombie and Fitch stores. Also, the music gives me a headache, and I feel uncomfortable being waited on, as is the case at the New York City A&F, by shirtless men (well, unless it’s my shirtless man). But even if I wasn’t old, or if I had good vision and less sensitive ears, I couldn’t shop at Jeffries’ stores because I don’t fit into the clothes. I’m one of those women who need something bigger than a size 10.
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, when I was four months pregnant with my first child, I did wear Abercrombie and Fitch. I’m sure pregnant women are not on Jeffries’ list of coveted customers, but if he’s basing everything on outward appearances, well then, on paper I belonged.
I weighed 113 pounds. I was 22 years old. I had long blond hair, tan skin and zero wrinkles. I wore a size 2.
Yet, as we all know (or should know by now), everything that we are — the entirety of our worth — does not show up on paper, and it certainly does not show up on a scale. I wasn’t “cool” back then. I was awkward and self-conscious. (I mean, why else does a pregnant woman wear tight Abercrombie and Fitch pants except to be something she’s not?) I shopped at certain stores in order to have a certain look. I wanted to fit in.
I’m probably not “cool” now, either. Not according to Jeffries, at least. But I don’t need a brand or a weight to make me feel important anymore. I’m comfortable in my own skin, and I wish Jeffries, and others like him, would move out of the way and help today’s teenage girls get to this point of confidence quicker than my generation did in the past.
Look, what is Jeffries, in his 60s, known for except making ignorant comments to the press and selling clothes? Does anyone take him seriously? I doubt it. So let’s instead listen to one of his peers who has been successful for something other than being “cool”:
“You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance — as opposed to her ideas or actions — isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman’s looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage in high-level thinking. You may think she’s ugly, but everyone else thinks you’re an idiot.” — Hillary Clinton
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.