While companies like Dove and Elle are campaigning for women to drop unrealistic ideals around body image, there are always a few out there that push to keep the old stereotypes in place. Junior retailer Abercrombie & Fitch outed themselves as one of the latter this week, thanks to a report that explained the reason why you cannot find a size larger than a women's 10 in their dimly lit stores.
Retail analyst Robin Lewis, author of "The New Rules of Retail" and CEO of newsletter The Robin Report, claims that Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries won't carry larger sizes because he does not want a plus-sized customer to shop in his stores. In 2006, Jeffries was quoted in Salon addressing a similar topic.
“Candidly, we go after the cool kids, " Jeffries said. "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."
The Internet reaction to the company's position ranged from indignant boycotts of the store to a vast library of new memes, most poking fun at the fact that Jeffries does not fit his own standards of beauty and therefore should not be allowed to shop in his own stores. A petition has also been started on Change.org to encourage the brand to carry plus-sized clothing.
While the comments are certainly the type of thing that traditionally stirs controversy, there should be no surprise that they came from a company known for advertising nothing but picture-perfect women and men in their store windows. They've been in hot water before over discrimination issues. Even the brand's clothing lines suggest compliance with the norm, offering standard fare that you'd see on any college campus. The message the company sends is clear: be hot, be fit, fit in.
That message may be offensive to those who feel that it encourages exclusionary behavior, but it's certainly nothing new. Those sentiments existed long before Abercrombie & Fitch even existed, and they'll likely stick around long after the brand has come and gone. There are great perks to being a part of the "in crowd" -- built-in friends, admission to the best parties, and best of all, a pass from the damaging world of bullying.
What Abercrombie really sells, like other stores, is a fantasy, and we can opt not to subscribe to it. As their market share falls while they disdain the plus-size market in favor of retaining their image, some stores offer a variety of size options for shoppers that are every bit as glamorous as the smaller sizes. Just like college, the guy that posts "No fat chicks!" as his Facebook status is still around -- but you don't have to go on a date with him.