The Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s “exclusionary” policies are perpetuating a culture that over-emphasizes the importance of thinness and acceptance, according to a group of approximately 20 protesters who took their message to Chicago’s Water Tower Place Monday afternoon.
“Abercrombie & Fitch represents what’s wrong with our society because they are emphasizing ‘you have to look this way or you can’t wear this; you have to have washboard abs’ and many people end up feeling inferior and bad about themselves,” said Dr. Maria Rago, a clinical psychologist and vice president of the Naperville-based National Association of Anorexia Nervosa (ANAD).
“Discriminatory” comments made in 2006 by Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced in a recent Business Insider article and, thanks to a social media campaign led by Rago, incited outrage and provoked Monday’s protest in Chicago.
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” Jeffries said in an interview with Salon. “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.”
Majority of the protesters were young women who held signs with messages such as “size doesn’t matter” and “all kids are cool.” Many of the participants passed out flyers encouraging Michigan Ave. shoppers to boycott the store.
“(Teenagers) can internalize those messages that they’re fat, or that they’re not accepted or that they’re not cool, and we don’t want to see that,” Rago said.
Abercrombie & Fitch does not offer women’s clothing in sizes bigger than large. The largest women’s pant size is 10. Men’s sizes range from small to double extra large.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average woman aged 20 years or more in 2012 weighs 166.2 pounds, with an average waist size of 37.5 inches — a size not listed on the Ohio-based retailer’s size chart.
“When I hear Mike Jeffries say ‘are we exclusionary? Absolutely’ what I hear is, ‘are we ignorant? Absolutely,” said Cali Linstrom, 17, a student from Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, who participated in the protest.
Linstrom, who battled anorexia last year and at one point was hospitalized for weighing 82 pounds, said there’s “no such thing as a wrong body.” She blamed retailers like Abercrombie for creating an environment that subjects women to challenging standards.
“If you look at the culture we live in, there’s so much pressure to be thin,” she said. “Looks can only get you so far in life, but good choices and good character can get you anywhere.”
According to the Abercrombie & Fitch Co.'s LinkedIn page, the retailer operates 278 Abercrombie & Fitch stores, 154 abercrombie kids stores, 486 Hollister Co. stores and 18 Gilly Hicks stores nationwide.
Selling casual apparel for men, women, and kids, the stores’ target demographic is seven to 22 year-olds, according to Bloomberg.
“Who is Mike Jeffries to discriminate and decide who’s cool and who’s not cool? Abercrombie and Fitch is telling girls who are average that they’re too fat,” said Tiffany Skrezyna, 25, a barista at Starbucks and participant in Monday’s protest.
Skrezyna suffered from an eating disorder for seven years. She said that, although she fits in the clothing, she is boycotting the store for imposing “unreachable standards” on teenagers.
“I don’t think that Jeffries himself is going to care, but if enough people see this and think twice before they shop at the company, then that’s getting the message across in another way, because he will certainly care about that,” she said.
A Change.org petition calls on Jeffries to "make clothes for teens of all sizes." Demanding an apology from Jeffries, the petition has received nearly 8,500 signatures.
Linstrom, who noted she could also fit in Abercrombie’s clothing, said she would also boycott the company.
“So many people feel dissatisfied with their bodies, it’s such a common problem for women,” Linstrom said. “This is just playing into that, telling so many women, so many men, that they’re not good enough because they can’t fit into the clothes.”
Here’s more from Linstrom: