Photo Credit: Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
A few weeks ago there was a tsunami of news about Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries’ comments from a 2006 Salon article saying, in part:
“That's why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that. 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. A lot of people don't belong, and they can't belong."
A groundswell of indignation followed, culminating in A&F executives taking a meeting with a group who were planning a massive protest at their headquarters. The protest was cancelled and the meeting scheduled with a group including filmmaker Darryl Roberts whose upcoming documentary takes on the sexualization of children and who provided the information for this piece, 17-year-old activist Cali Linstrom who helped plan the protest, 18-year-old activist Ben O’Keefe who got 75,000 signatures on a petition asking A&F to sell plus sizes, Michael Levine (professor emeritus of psychology at Kenyon College,) Sarah Murnen (junior professor of psychology at Kenyon College) and National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) president Lynn Gref.
Some real progress came out of the June 11 meeting. In response to Sarah Murnen’s research showing that Abercrombie & Fitch are responsible for 72 percent of the sexualized ads reaching young children, A&F decided to seriously toned down the sex on their website, to the tune of what Darryl reports is a 65 percent reduction in highly sexualized images.
In a statement the next day, CEO Mike Jeffries said, “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.”
To this end they’ve agreed to create an anti-bullying campaign of which Cali Linstrom will on the advisory board. Lindstrom has been asked to raise any future issues in-house before going to the media. She is also charged with instituting diversity training in their stores.
What Abercrombie is not doing is expanding their sizes. They are “committed to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion” as long as they don’t have to dress fat people, and while they definitely don’t want fat kids to wear their brand, they hope that they aren’t bullied for whatever less cool clothes they end up wearing. While O'Keefe and NEDA felt strongly that A&F should commit to creating clothing for people of diverse sizes, Roberts and Lindstrom did not. Their theory: “Where does it end? Do we protest Lane Bryant for not carrying clothes for skinny people?”
The answer to that is, of course, “no.” Lane Bryant exists not to exclude thin people, but because almost every other clothing store is created only for thin people. I’m not suggesting that A&F should be required by law to sell plus sizes here, I’m suggesting that if they aren’t making clothing to fit an estimated 60 percent of people then it’s not so much a matter of supply and demand but more a serious lacking in “a culture of diversity and inclusion.”
I appreciate the efforts of the activists involved and congratulate them on their work, these things often come in excruciating increments and they’ve made real progress. Now it’s up to us to keep the pressure on, decide if we want to continue to boycott until their clothes actually reflect diversity and inclusion, hold them to their commitments and keep the progress moving forward.