UPDATED POST: In an effort towards reaching solutions and opening a dialogue, Abercrombie & Fitch executives have agreed to meet next week with Lynn Grefe, President and CEO of NEDA, eating disorder experts Dr. Michael Levine and Dr. Sarah Murnen, Darryl Roberts, Director of America the Beautiful, and teen activists, Benjamin O'Keefe and Cali Linstron, who have recently voiced their concerns.
We will keep you posted on our progress with Abercrombie & Fitch, but in good faith, NEDA has decided to cancel the protest in front of their New Albany, OH headquarters, which was originally scheduled for Monday, May 20th at 1:00 PM.
ORIGINAL POST: Dozens of teens from various states are traveling to Columbus, OH to converge on fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) to express their displeasure over the “hurtful and discriminatory” comments of the company’s CEO … and to demand a public apology.
The protest is planned in front of the company’s corporate headquarters, 6301 Fitch Path, New Albany, OH, on Monday, May 20 at 1 p.m. Lynn Grefe, President and CEO of NEDA, will speak at the rally. A second protest will be held later that afternoon in front of an A&F retail store at South Easton Mall, 160 Easton Town Center, Columbus, OH.
According to recent comments by A&F CEO Michael Jeffries, the retailer does not offer clothing in larger sizes to purposely keep what he considers to be plus-sized women and men out of its stores. The furor began after he revealed that the brand markets strictly to “thin and beautiful” consumers.
Across the country, outraged consumers have written letters to A&F, packed up clothing in their closets to mail back to the chain’s corporate headquarters and protested at local storefronts in their hometowns. High-profile print and broadcast media outlets from coast to coast have joined the fray and online campaigns have been waged calling for a boycott of the brand. Yahoo! called the comments “a big fat mistake.” The Los Angeles Times referred to the outlook as “pitiful.” And a financial analyst speculated, “The brand is probably ruined. Buh-bye.”
However, it’s not the first time that the CEO has made inflammatory comments. In a 2006 interview, Jeffries described the brand’s target audience: “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 … 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. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. 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.”
Said 17-year-old Cali Linstron, an organizer of the Columbus protest who has already staged protests in front of A&F stores in her hometown of Chicago, “I’m absolutely appalled. Mr. Jeffries clearly has a warped view of what’s beautiful. No body shape is uncool and we are each beautiful and unique at every size. Even though many of us are a size that his company caters to, we will never wear Abercrombie & Fitch clothes again because the brand represents intolerance and that is what’s not cool.”
Commented Grefe, “Mr. Jeffries’ statement not only fosters bullying and discrimination, but the sexual images that Abercrombie & Fitch uses to sell their clothes also contribute to some kids developing low self-esteem and body image issues. We would all like to see the company issue an apology for this egregious statement and change course in its attitudes and policies towards people of all shapes and sizes. Hopefully, A&F can begin to see the beauty in all of us.
“And please let this be a wake-up call to the parents who are paying for these clothes. Do you really want your kids to learn discrimination? I have faith that parents will encourage their kids to respect all people, of any size, shape, color, religion, appearance, etc. A&F may have nice clothing, but clearly not nice values. Let’s educate our kids to respect one another. That is what this really is about. Anti-bullying and ‘anti-crombie,’ until they change their ways.”
Studies have shown that the unrealistic, ideal body images portrayed by the fashion industry, in the media and in advertising contribute, to poor self-esteem and are triggers among those who are already vulnerable for developing eating disorders. In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Anorexia nervosa has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness.
Added Claire Mysko, who oversees NEDA’s youth website Proud2Bme, “Jeffries’ comments send a dangerous message to a very vulnerable audience. In a recent Proud2Bme poll, 70 percent of our members told us that they constantly feel pressure to be ‘perfect.’ That pressure can lead to low self-esteem, poor body image and even disordered eating. Jeffries’ comments echo the critical inner voice that so many young people struggle with—the voice that tells them, ‘You’re not good enough.’”
Proud2Bme has just published a personal essay from Benjamin O’Keefe, 18, who started a petition to A&F (proud2bme.org/af). “As a young adult who suffered from an eating disorder through much of middle and high school, I remember looking at the ads for Abercrombie & Fitch and combing the racks and not seeing anything that fit me,” writes O’Keefe. “As silly as it seems, it made me feel worthless to not be able to wear the ‘it’ styling that everyone else was wearing.”
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