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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fat scandal at Abercrombie and Fitch

A recent Yahoo article described how people are objecting to the fact that Abercrombie & Fitch only offers women's clothes up to size 10.

CEO Mike Jeffries started the controversy by being too honest in a 2006 interview:

“[Sex appeal is] almost everything. 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....A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

Jeffries is simply marketing his particular brand of snob appeal, not unlike a host of other retailers who want people to think that they are joining some sort of exclusive club by wearing their clothing, or their watches, or by driving their cars. It's an age old technique, and hardly unique to Abercrombie.

Nonetheless, is now circulating a petition urging consumers to boycott Abercrombie products until they offer larger clothing sizes. 

I'm not quite sure I understand the logic here. Who exactly would get behind this boycott? For the most part, plus-sized people. But they weren't able to shop there anyway because Abercrombie wouldn't sell to them in the first place. Does anyone seriously expect skinny people -- for whom wearing Abercrombie clothes is an affirmation of their attractiveness -- to boycott the company in solidarity with their fat brethren?

Good luck with that.

It would make as much sense to organize a boycott of Ferraris on the grounds that they discriminate against poor people. That'll show 'em -- no more poor people will be buying their cars!

In the CBS telecast embedded in the article linked above, an attractive newscaster stands in front of an Abercrombie store and asks three women what kind of message the CEO is sending to young women.

An obese woman answers, "It tells them that they need to be a certain size in order to appreciate their body, and that's not true."

Technically, what the woman says is correct: you can enjoy your own body no matter what your size: you can have all the pleasure that derives from masturbating and eating bonbons all day and lolling around in the sun and waddling down the street and belly flopping into a pool. But the odds are that others won't appreciate your body as much if you're fat.

A slightly overweight woman responds, "The average woman isn't like a size ten, or a six, you know, there's full-figured women out there, and they shouldn't have to, you know, be judged by this man."

This woman should realize that she is judged by every single person she meets. Most people probably don't think harsh thoughts or castigate her for being overweight. They probably don't even notice her. Other women don't perceive her as a threat because she wouldn't attract their husbands. (I suppose you could consider that a positive judgment.) And guys probably don't give her a second look, which, like it or not, is itself a harsh judgment. If she doesn't like it, she can always lose weight.

Jeffries merely gave voice to what everybody thinks.

Although it would be nice if people were equally attracted to fatties, most simply aren't: that's human nature. And if we accept the premise that gay people can't help but be attracted to whom they're attracted to, then neither should we blame anyone else for whom they're attracted -- or not attracted -- to.

It's particularly galling to hear CBS criticize Abercrombie on these grounds. CBS, which hires not only actresses but even newscasters based on their looks. CBS, which broadcasts commercials for all sorts of products -- including clothes -- featuring beautiful slender models. CBS, which airs motion pictures featuring chiseled movie stars. (What kind of message does all that send?)

I'm not even sure that not offering plus sizes is a wise business decision. It means forfeiting a potentially lucrative market.

Then again, Abercrombie's market capitalization is now 4.2 billion, and the stock (ANF) is trading at its yearly high. So maybe aiming at a niche market is good business.

Of course, CBS, with a market cap of 30.4 billion, is also trading at its yearly high. Evidently the hypocrisy business can be quite profitable too. 


Anonymous said...

Not necessarily defending CBS, but they do air a sitcom ("Mike and Molly"?), which stars a couple of big, fat pigs. I don't suppose the report gave "equal time" to the issue, by investigating complaints from svelte midgets about the lack of suitable merchadise at "Big & Tall" stores.
You mention Ferrari on a different note, but I believe they, and other high-end car makers, should screen their customers to protect their brand and image. About 10 years ago, Cadillac almost ruined theirs, when they were close to marketing a "Snoop Deville", with every stupid stereotypical pimp feature built-in. People had always laughingly associated that car with "those people", but if they'd gone through with those plans.... forgetaboutit.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Ha! Good point about Big & Tall stores.

At first I wasn't sure whether you were speaking in jest about the Snoop DeVille, so I Googled it, and sure enough, there were several pictures of tricked out Caddies. But then I looked it up on the Urban Dictionary, which basically says it's a pimped out 1965 Coupe Deville with wire wheels and custom pin striping used by 50 Cent in a rap video. had me going there, but I can't imagine that idea ever getting past management at GM.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't pulling your leg. I only recently found out about the Snoopmobile from Adam Carolla's podcast. He reounted a story about when Jimmy Kimmel was negotiating his Late Night contract, back then. He advised Jimmy to insist ABC give him a Cadillac, which used to be a symbol of finally making it to the top.
Carolla later visited Snoop Dog, and told him about it: "I told Jimmy he should make them give him a CADILLAC!"
Snoop replied, "FUCK Cadillac. They cancelled my Snoop Deville. Well, fuck those guys. I'm taking my idea to GM".

John Craig said...

Anon --
Sorry, wasn't suggesting YOU were pulling my leg, merely that the story had sprung up as some kind of urban legend. Now it sounds as if Snoop Dogg himself might have been misled, possibly mistaking his special order for some kind of new product line. Especially if he had no conception of the company structure at GM. Given all the stereotypes you mentioned above, I can't imagine GM management ever even considering such a potentially controversial project.

Anonymous said...

A fat pig is now posting her pictures and getting air time on the Today Show.

She shouldn't be proud of herself. she's disgusting.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Is that the woman who wrote that "open letter" to Jeffries?

I"ve never gotten the Janeane Garofolo I'm-fat-so-live-with-it-it's-your-problem attitude. It's not anyone else's problem; it's her problem.

Being fat is not like being blind, or crippled: it's something you have control over. Obviously no one should have to look a certain way to make others happy. But if they don't want to make the effort, the idea that others should have to pretend that fat people are equally attractive is also ludicrous.