Labeling an entire subgroup is a mistake

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Susan Turner; Guest Column

A few weeks ago, the buzz on some news outlets and online was about Michael Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch. It wasn’t really news, but rather statements Jeffries made to Salon magazine in 2006 in reference to the clothing brand not including women’s sizes bigger than large.

The resurrected quotes included gems such as, “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 our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Someone with the mindset Abercrombie represents probably would say this entire column is just because I’m a fat girl whose feelings were hurt. It’s not. I couldn’t care less what some CEO says about anything — and he’s had his fair share of backlash over his own appearance, so I’m sure his feelings have been far more affected than mine. Actually, I’m a grown woman who thinks it’s pitiful that companies make so much money marketing prejudice and the idea that who you are is based on clothing size.

It makes no difference to me if you don’t think I’m pretty, fun, outgoing and deserving of your label. And I’m sure at my ripe old age of 26, I’ve been past the prime Abercrombie & Fitch age range for a decade. It makes no difference what audiences you choose to target, but labeling an entire subgroup of people as “uncool” or “unpopular” or implying that larger women can’t have good attitudes or lots of friends might have been a mistake.

Clearly, Mr. Jeffries wasn’t listening when Queen explained that “fat-bottomed girls make the rockin’ world go round.”

Companies target specific groups of people. Knowing what parts of society you should cater to and finding groups who need your services is part of running a successful business. The issue at hand is not marketing. It’s tact.

Lane Bryant caters to larger women. Its advertising doesn’t include, “Calling all big beautiful women, buy our pants … then buy your skinny, less fabulous friends a sandwich.”

In the days since the interview went viral online, Jeffries has issued a statement labeled as an apology, emphasizing that the company doesn’t support any kind of discrimination or bullying. He added, however, that the policy isn’t changing.

While I find it hard to respect a false apology spoken as damage control to quell public protest, I can respect that celebrities, including Kirstie Alley and Ellen DeGeneres, haven’t stayed quiet about Jeffries’ opinion and I more than respect everyday people willing to voice their opinions and spread positive messages. An Internet blogger from Tuscon, Ariz., had herself photographed with a chiseled male model and in Abercrombie shirts and labeled the set “Attractive & Fat.” One young man passed out Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts to the homeless in Los Angeles.

I digress.

Let’s get back to disrespectful.

If you think the entire issue is moot and that it doesn’t matter if Jeffries wants fat girls in his clothes, I respectfully disagree and argue that the company’s prejudicial and unsavory roots run deeper than large pants.
In 2001, the Abercrombie & Fitch summer catalog raised eyebrows for its sexualization of practically naked, barely legal models.

In 2002, the company faced backlash for selling thongs in childrens sizes.
In 2004, the company was involved in a class-action lawsuit because black, Hispanic and Asian employees claimed they were forced to work in the backs of Abercrombie & Fitch stores.

In 2009, a woman with a prosthetic arm sued Abercrombie claiming that as an employee, she was forced to work in the stock room because of the flawed, “candid” image policy the brand seems to support.

On May 20, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister were found guilty of discriminating against disabled shoppers because store entrances in several states are consistently not wheelchair friendly.

I am in no way the kind of person who judges anyone by the labels on their jeans, and I can’t tell anyone else how to spend their money.

What I can tell you is that I can’t boycott a company that doesn’t sell clothes in my size, but when I get back to being a size 10, no label that perpetuates such hate and shallow ideals will grace my backside.

Susan Turner is an employee of The Kentucky Standard.