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A&F has had a tough couple of weeks since its CEO’s crass comments resurfaced thanks to a Business Insider article. In case you forgot, Mike Jefferies said: “We go after the attractive all-American kid... A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary, absolutely.” Well, the jerk and his company finally apologized…ish.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one to suggest that bragging about ostracizing kids is kind of a dick move. One guy made a video calling for people to help readjust the brand by donating Abercrombie clothes to homeless people. Another started a petition on change.org to get the company to start making plus-size clothing. And, 17-year-old Cali Linstrom, coordinated a protest at an Abercrombie store in Chicago which was covered by 15 news crews including Good Morning America. Abercrombie and Fitch’s response was: "No comment regarding the protest."
Not satisfied, Linstrom started planning a major protest at their headquarters and this time over 20 media outlets agreed to cover it. Finally, Jeffries issued this gem of public relations spin on his Facebook:
"I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense. A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. We hire good people who share these values. We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics."
I happen to speak BS, so allow me to interpret: Too bad that it offends you, but we believe that everyone should want to be thin, popular, and “all American” and we enjoy reinforcing that, so we’re going to keep doing what we are doing, but if it will keep you from holding a protest then we’re opposed to discrimination, bullying blah blah blah.
Linstrom, still not satisfied, insisted on a meeting with A&F execs . They agreed and the protest was called off. To the meeting, she brought: Darryl Roberts, creator of films America the Beautiful and America the Beautiful 2; Bejamin O’Keefe, the 18-year-old eating disorder survivor who started the petition; and a representative from the National Eating Disorders Association(NEDA). After the meeting, A&F released this tribute to obfuscation:
"We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion. We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values."
We’ll have to see about those concrete steps, but would it kill them to actually apologize for their actions? Mike Jeffries is sorry that his “choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense.” A&F execs “regret and apologize for any offense caused.” How about if they stop being sorry that we’re offended and start being sorry that their CEO was an elitist bully in the national media and perpetuated the idea that people who don’t look like the “attractive all American” don’t belong and “can’t belong.” The problem isn’t that people were offended, the problem is that the actions were offensive.
A&F probably won’t ever properly apologize for their bullying and stigmatizing behavior but here’s hoping they will actually change it.