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My Big Fat Abercrombie & Fitch

The A&F debate lays bare this society's present course of action when it comes to size: avoid causing offense at all costs, regardless of the damage to our health.

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When questioned recently as to why Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) refuse to stock women's clothes in sizes XL and XXL (the equivalent of UK sizes 16 and 18), CEO Mike Jeffries replied, "In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids [...] we go after the cool kids [...] A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. [sic]"

Although Jeffries' middle-aged attempt to satisfy his inner-teenager and finally be accepted as one of the "cool and popular kids" is almost laughable, I find myself wading into somewhat controversial waters by suggesting that he makes a valid point. Namely, is it really so wrong to be exclusionary of larger sizes? Leading eating disorder expert Dr. Dee Lawson has argued that, 'Size zeros on the racks [...] normalise this idea of being ultra-thin'; why then should plus-sizes on the racks be any different in normalising the 'ultra-big'?

Evans caters exclusively to the 'plus-sized' market - stocking clothes only in sizes 14-32 - but has yet to face similar criticism for 'excluding' customers of smaller sizes. So why then are A&F facing such outcry for simply catering to a specific demographic? Moreover, given that the vast majority of women with a healthy BMI fit comfortably within A&F's size range of 4-14, one has to question whether the former is not doing far more in promoting a healthy body image than Evans.

So why the seeming hypocrisy?

It's all part of what Dr. Ellie Cannon calls the 'body acceptance movement', exemplified in the growing trend for using 'real' women as models. Whilst this may initially seem a welcome departure from the industry's fascination with size zero, Cannon argues it is a far from healthy approach. In response to Marks & Spencer's recent 'real women' advertising campaign (featuring models in sizes 8-16), Cannon admitted, "As a doctor I have to tell you that two, if not three [of the models], are overweight, while the biggest girl is obese."

I'm inclined to share Cannon's apprehensions, because while being a size 16 and overweight has become 'the norm', it is nonetheless unhealthy. Furthermore, I fear that in attempts to ensure no-one feel alienated by the fashion industry, obesity is being promoted.

One blogger recently heralded plus-size retailer Marisota for catering to, "normal-sized women" by fulfilling the "need for stylish clothes in practical sizes", specifically sizes 12-32. I fail to see how a size 32 could ever be considered 'practical' or 'normal'. Perhaps then, increased inclusion of larger sizes serves to delude overweight women that they are 'normal-sized'. A worrying development to say the least, for if you already believe yourself to be 'normal-sized', where lies the incentive towards a healthier lifestyle?

The A&F debate lays bare this society's present course of action when it comes to size: avoid causing offense at all costs, regardless of the damage to our health.

But how long can the obesity epidemic continue and how much of a financial burden can we allow it to exert on the NHS before, like Jeffries, we are brave enough to confront the big, fat elephant in the room?

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26 Comments

Soph Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

'Size zeros on the racks [...] normalise this idea of being ultra-thin'; why then should plus-sizes on the racks be any different in normalising the 'ultra-big'?

Because, hey, guess what: both of those things are "normal", not neither, as you seem to think. Some people are fat. Some people are thin. All are "normal". Trying to create this horrible false paradigm of size-morality as if one size inherently makes you a better person than all of the others is harmful and hurtful and wrong.

A&F's attempt to dehumanise people who happen to be a certain body shape by accident of genes, mental health, education, financial situation or (heaven forbid) FREE CHOICE is absolutely disgusting. Fat-phobia or body-shaming of absolutely any kind has no place at my university.

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Ridiculous Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Having a size of clothing on a rack doesn't 'normalise' being a certain size, it's showing that a shop understands that people come in all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, it is surely more unhealthy, or just as unhealthy, to promote the image that A&F does of a size 0 white cis ideal woman/man...if they only stock tiny sizes (and the sizes in A&F do come up smaller than in most stores) then justify it by saying that it is 'uncool' to not be really thin, it is fostering body hatred, which doesn't cause eating disorders per say but it can contribute to them and generally make people feel shitty about themselves. It's not about 'avoiding offense'- there is a clear difference between offense and harm. A&F are coming under fire because they are catering to societal norms, unlike plus-size clothing companies which are trying to make a difference. Most high st stores don't stock past size 16 when average size in UK is 14.

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Madeleine Spink Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

When the average size in the UK is a 14, how can you say that a 16 is somehow disgusting and abnormal.

Also this idea that being a size 14 upwards is somehow so unhealthy to be a burden on the NHS, are you for real? we do loads of stuff that is unhealthy everyday - smoke, drink etc

also the idea that a movement designed to make women accept themselves deserves to be torn apart is just rubbish.

I fit in a size 14, do i care what anyone else thinks about my body? No.
do i think i'm unhealthy, not normal, a freak of some kind? No

Women look different to each other. get over it

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Anon Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I, for one, am confused by the outrage that Mike Jeffries has received after his comments.

If you weren't aware that A+F quite clearly aim their advertising at slim, rich beautiful people then I highly doubt you've ever ventured into one of their shops. At least he is being honest about the aims of the brand.

If you are angered by it, don't waste money buying the overpriced, boring clothes that they sell. I certainly don't.

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Rachel Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

He's not making a valid point. He has no concern for the health of his customers - he's making a point about 'cool'. The relentless pursuit of 'cool' as something achievable with dieting and designer clothing is superficial and dangerous, and his comments are not outrageous so much as the attitudes which they illuminate, both in his careless pursuit of profit and wider society's obsession with the two inextricably linked goals of 'thin' and 'cool'. Capitalism sucks.
Concern for the health of strangers does not justify you making judgements on their bodies. However 'unhealthy' someone may be (and equating size with health is overly simplistic) they still need to buy clothes, and size should be a private matter.

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Caleb Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

A few things to pick up on here. Note: I agree with the commenters above who stress that everyone has the right to be happy, regardless of size. Obviously.

Firstly, your argument about incentives is obvious bullshit. A healthier life is its own incentive, any further punishment is just society-wide bullying.

Secondly, both you and this A&F person seem to accept uncritically and contribute to the reproduction of highly stratified social heirarchy among young people.

Thirdly, you have not engaged with the broader context here, commenting on the superficial but digging no deeper. Before you choose to preach your beliefs about the "obesity epidemic" or whatever, a little attention to the facts would help. Among young people, social alienation and anxiety are two of the strongest risk factors for obesity. There is a vicious circle wherein lower social status causes weight gain and weight gain causes lower social status. You, awfully enough, have both endorsed and contributed to this dynamic in your article. Larger people aren't the problem. You are.

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Mitsuharu Misawa Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I think this article fails to realise that the target shopper for A&F is different to that of M&S. Both companies (and fashion in general, and the article above) body shame, but A+F also try to market inequalities to the young - they promote an idea as desirable to impressionable people and then snatch the chance to be a part of it away on arbitrary grounds.

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Mitsuharu Misawa Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Damn, Caleb beat me to it, and articulated it better than me. Everyone listen to him.

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disgusted Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I hate the idea that you can't be cool and popular unless you're pretty and a size 10. Prioritising looks over personality and, y'know, human decency, is something that's gone on for long enough. I for one am sick of it.

Equating being a size 16 with being unhealthy is also ridiculous. People come in different shapes and sizes. It doesn't mean one is necessarily healthier than the other just because they fit into a size 10. Being overweight is not always a matter of overeating, but of being overweight already, sometimes from birth, and taking in the right amount of food that you don't lose weight. (source: http://pervocracy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/quick-note-on-fattedness.html) It might be due to some underlying health condition, a chronic illness. It might be due to being unable to afford food or not having the time to prepare food that isn't processed and unhealthy. And even if somebody is overweight due to being unhealthy, even if their weight is causing them bad health, what business is it of yours?

And seriously, what the **** right does anybody have to say "X body shape is not 'normal'"?

The fact is that we need to do more. Every time I watch an advert, it shows slim, beautiful people showing off the clothes. And I'm not just talking about brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, or even places like Topshop and H&M, but department stores like Debenhams or supermarkets like Asda. Plus size retailers are really the only ones providing this kind of representation- even companies that do stock up to size 18 tend to pick models down the lower end of the scale. A&F have made their discrimination overt, but there's still a massive problem with representation in almost every clothes company (I would say with the exception of those specifically aimed at plus size people but even they tend to pick slimmer models- even if they do sell to people sized 32, I certainly can't see a model from my quick flick through their website who looks larger than a size 18.)

Conclusion: Abercrombie and Fitch are awful and body shaming, but they're far from the only ones.

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Dylan Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Other arguments aside, I feel that this article hugely misses the point in suggesting that Jeffries is some kind of brave crusader against the obesity epidemic afflicting our society. His unpleasant, exclusionary views obviously aren't going to get anyone anywhere.

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Samantha Peel Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

The average size in the UK is between a 14 and a 16. The taking of this average necessitates a broad sweep of sizes, ranging from the "ultra-thin" all the way through to the to the "ultra-big".
If excluding some of the larger sizes is suddenly deemed some sort of crusade against obesity, even though women of some builds are perfectly able to be a size sixteen without being obese, then should we expect calls to remove the smallest sizes in order to prevent undernourishment? We don't expect these calls because they are *absurd*. Women come in all sizes, and it has nothing to do with anyone other than that individual. Trying to pigeon hole women into particular sizes via societal pressure is an attempt to take a form of control of their bodies. And nothing anyone can say will justify that.

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Anna Fries Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

You clearly haven't seen A&F clothing charts - their woman's L is the equivalent of a UK 12, not a 14. I am 5'10" and have broad shoulders, so even when I was slim, I needed a size 14 to have the seams of the shoulders where my shoulders end... Now I wear a 16/18 - if I was 5'3", then yes, I would be rather too large and worried about my health. But I have a defined waist, jog three times a week and have no rolls of fat. But if A&F is "cool", I'll pass, thanks.

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Emma P Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I think some comments are misreading the article. I don't think it's so much a call to exclude larger sizes as a comment that inclusion of sizes at both extremes of the scale, those which are 'ultra-thin' and 'ultra-big', serves to normalise what might actually be unhealthy sizes.
The average UK size is actually a size 16, not a 14 and the author is correct in that most women with a healthy BMI do fall within a size range of up to a size 14.
But clearly, all shapes and sizes should be catered for and I think that's main problem with the A&F size debate - the criticism is one sided. Yes, plus-size retailers should be able to cater for a demographic which wears larger sizes and equally, places such as A&F should similarly be allowed to cater for a demographic which wears slimmer sizes.
I for one don't see the issue in both being allowed to stock whichever sizes they want. There's no law which says any retailer has to stock sizes for *everyone*.

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Marley Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

This section is full of oversensitive people.
Yes, yes, we all know that people can be overweight because they have health problems or other extenuating circumstances etc. but let's get real here - the vast majority of people are overweight because they overeat. And you can't escape the facts here - being overweight is unhealthy - no doctor would tell you otherwise.
You can't have it both ways and say that it's fair for one shop to only cater to bigger people but unfair when another only caters to skinny people.
It's not about fat phobia, it's about being realistic and honest with yourself. Sure, some of you might be a size 18 and largely healthy because you're tall or because you're muscular but most people at that size are overweight.
When the whole size zero thing came out EVERYONE was harping on about how having size zeros in shops and size zero models on magazines was presenting an unhealthy image to impressionable youths and making them think that being a size zero was healthy and normal.
Are you now trying to tell me that, yes, that's a valid argument when it comes to skinny sizes but when it comes to larger sizes it's not the same? But rather that a size 20 in shops and size 20 models on magazines are a good thing - they're 'representative' of our society? Bullshit.
Just because being overweight is 'normal' doesn't mean it's good, it's still unhealthy. The vast majority of students drink too much - it doesn't mean we should be endorsing it as part of some 'feel-good' campaign because it's representative of 'real students'.
If it became the 'norm' in the U.K. to be a cocaine addict - would we say that it's simply 'FREE CHOICE' and everyone should be able to 'feel good about themselves' so, hey - why not use photos of cocaine addicts on the covers of our magazines; they're representative of 'real' Brits - right?
Bullshit.

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Jordan Howell Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Reading down through these comments, it's clear that some people only see what they want to see. Personally, I'm baffled by the overly-defensive attitude and frankly, poor reading skills displayed in of some of the comments here.

Despite frequent references to 'cool' in the comments above, the article clearly wasn't identifying with Jeffries' 'cool' and 'popular' aspirations; evidently not given that they dismiss these comments 'laughable' within the first few lines of reading the article.

Since when did we forget how to read? Jumping on some hysterical bandwagon proclaiming that the author is branding, 'a [size] 16 is somehow disgusting and abnormal' - forgive me but where? On the contrary, the article states that a size 16 is 'the norm', not abnormal or disgusting.

Now let's have a look at some of the other more redundant comments, such as, 'It doesn't mean one [size] is necessarily healthier than the other just because they fit into a size 10'. I'm afraid that actually, for the most part - it does. Most people who are a size 10 are healthier than people who are a size 0 or a size 24; yes there are anomalies but in general, we all know this to be the case.

It seems like many here are trying to 'justify' being overweight because of 'social alienation and anxiety', or, absurdly, because 'some people are overweight from birth'. My personal favourite? Some people are overweight because they don't, 'have the time to prepare food that isn't processed and unhealthy' - if ever there was a worse justification for obesity, I have yet to hear it.

I'm a 22 year old male with a busy lifestyle - I'm a full-time history student, I hold down a part-time job, I don't have the time or money to go to the gym, I run a couple of times a week and I eat a typical student diet - not great but by no means the worst. Yet I manage to stay slim. If I was overweight I would only have myself and my own poor eating habits to blame - nothing and no-one else; some people need to grow up and take responsibility for their own actions.
I for one find it sad that we live in a society where people feel justified in blaming their weight on everything and everyone but themselves.

Here are the facts: Over half of British adults are overweight or obese and by 2025 obesity will cost the national health service PS20 billion, equivalent to about 12 per cent of the budget.

I don't agree with Jeffries by any means in his bizarre quest for a thin, preppy, beautiful population but let's be realistic, if some of these overly dramatic comments - intent on ensuring that being overweight be considered perfectly healthy/normal and that matters of excess weight escape any wider criticism - are anything to go by; the article's got a point when it talks about the big fat elephant in the room...

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Tim Riggins Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Women in this comments section overestimating the average UK dress size to make themselves feel better is like guys underestimating average penis size for the same reason.

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Madeleine Spink Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

The thing that makes me feel better about my life is not how thin i think i am compared to most people. Nor do i judge my self worth on my weight.
Women are a little more complex than that

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Anonymous Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Here are three links I found in under a minute that state that the average UK women's dress size is 14/16.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1247537/Alice-beautiful-confident-average-size-woman-Britain-today--does-feel-fat.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/average-dress-size-of-women-increases-to-14-715277.html
http://fabulousmag.co.uk/2012/05/21/meet-the-women-showing-you-how-fashion-can-be-sexy-at-any-size/
And quite frankly, can we not move on from this anachronistic discussion in a university environment of all places? Emphasis should be placed on minds, not bodies: personality and independent thought make people beautiful.

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Anon Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

'Emphasis should be placed on minds, not bodies: personality and independent thought make people beautiful'

^^ What is this airy-fairy nonsense?
It sounds suspiciously like the kind of thing people say about ugly people when you ask if they're attractive: 'Oh he's really nice!' or 'Oh she's really funny' <--- people wouldn't make use of evasive answers like these if there wasn't thing as 'beautiful'.
There are clearly certain aesthetic attributes which make people beautiful
Yeah sure, someone can have a beautiful 'personality' but in terms of actually appearing beautiful, let's get real, it's all down to looks - we all know this to be true.
You are delusional to think otherwise...

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Anonymous Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Would it be wrong to point out what Mike "we go after the cool kids" Jeffries looks like? https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=mike+jeffries

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Pete Swan Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

As a clothing company, A + F is only really concerned with one thing: selling clothes!

They want to target a group of people who ALREADY HAVE these preconceptions that Mike Jefferies is playing up to, and sell them stuff. Of course this is nurturing these views and contributing to the problem to a small extent,but the real culprit is the daily exposure to this way of thinking in the media.

Film stars, athletes, presenters and models typically have slimmer more athletic figures and so people want to aspire to be like that, rightly or wrongly. Jefferies is just cynically exploiting an already existent problem in our society for financial benefit.

Health and obesity have nothing to do with these comments. It is a purely an aesthetic issue.

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Ugly Fat Girl Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I just want to bake a cake out of rainbows and smalls so that everyone can eat, get fat, wear the clothes we want and be happy.

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Sick and tired Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Honestly, political correctness has gone too far. It is ridiculous that we live in a world where fat people feel justified at being upset when told they're unhealthy (they are) and I for one am so tired of these women trying to say they're 'curvy' and 'voluptuous' and 'real' when really, they're just overweight.
Free choice is great, nobody can tell you how to eat - so if you want to eat more calories than you burn off and end up a bigger size that's fine - no one's stopping you!
But at the same time, don't expect to be congratulated for it or to be able to use masquerading terms like 'curvy' and 'real women' when really, you're just overweight. BMIs don't lie (except in rare cases where you're extremely muscular, yeah we know) and most of these 'real-women' actually have a BMI that's either overweight or obese.
A spade is a spade and fat is just fat. Deal with it.

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Mitsuharu Misawa Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

The body shaming in this comment thread is shameful as are the ill-thought assertions about what is and isn't healthy and or acceptable. The general topic about A&F's harmful policy has decended into people putting forward their own bigoted ideas about fat people.

Fat and health are two different things. You can be fat and healthy. You can be thin and unhealthy. Comments like "being overweight is unhealthy - no doctor would tell you otherwise" are unhelpful generalizations, what's more, it is classless from the doctor in the article to publicly body-shame models. Fat people are not evil or lazy or dirty or messy or anything other than fat. It's just a body type.

What's more, people with or without medical credentials seem to be quick to say that being fat is the fault of fat people and that they should just lose weight - a lot of people drawing the "If I can do it, so can everyone" argument out. In reality, since permanent, significant weight loss is not possible for most people, and since intentional weight loss itself may have negative health effects, recommending weight loss is cruel and unethical.

What's more, even if an individual is fat and unhealthy, that doesn't mean that it is acceptable for you to publicly shame them, this is harmful to them and harmful to people like them.

Making the claim that people (especially women) obsess with weight because of some sort of tiny non-issue or that there is anything wrong with finding issue - or not finding issue - with one's own weight is especially ignorant, as is claiming that it is simply "something put forward by the media" as an intelligent woman once said "if a woman obsesses over her shape, size or weight, it's not because they're shallow, vain and fickle. It's because fuckers tell them they only have any worth if they fit into the size 8-10 bracket!"

Finally, if you care to learn more about the problems with body shaming, here is a write up of a study which shows that people are healthiest when they are treated like human beings and not targets for your ignorant views.

http://stfuconservatives.tumblr.com/post/43588062799

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Sick and tired Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@Mitsuharu Misawa:
I'm baffled that you are genuinely trying to suggest that there isn't an inherent link between being overweight and being unhealthy. There is. And while yes, there are some exceptions to that rule, in the vast number of cases, health risks increase parallel to the levels of overweight-ness. Equally, I fail to see one comment here which has suggested that being underweight isn't also unhealthy, so I see no reason for such redundant statements as, 'You can be thin and unhealthy'.
This isn't about 'body shaming' or being 'bigoted' but equally, it shouldn't be about being dishonest either. No one is suggesting that it's unacceptable to be fat, rather, simply that to be so often comes with its own negative health related consequences - medical credentials are not required in order to state this to be true, it is a well known medical fact.
No one is saying or even insinuating that fat people are 'evil or lazy or dirty' - where are you getting this from?
Furthermore, whilst you may think that you are being 'kind' and 'accepting' by suggesting that, 'recommending weight loss is cruel and unethical' - you are in fact perpetuating bizarre, unhealthy, unsubstantiated and uneducated understandings of weight and health. Most people who are overweight would reap the health benefits of losing weight so for you to claim otherwise is, in my opinion, the true definition of 'cruel and unethical'.
Finally, by suggesting that overweight people would not do well in terms of health benefits to lose weight, what you are in fact doing is discouraging people and making them feel that they are not capable of achieving something when they very much are - whilst actively encouraging the poor health of others may be what you consider 'kind', I personally find it despicable.

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The Hobbit Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@ Sick and tired

Yes, being overweight is, by definition, unhealthy, as is being underweight.

But this Jeffries fellow isn't making a comment about public or personal health. He's making a comment about social status, what's 'cool' and 'uncool'. And, he says, fat people are uncool - they are lower in the social pecking order than non-fat people - and he doesn't want their custom. Regardless of what we might say about the health risks of being overweight, that's a remarkably crass and offensive thing to say.

People should want to avoid being overweight for the right reasons, i.e. personal health, not because some dickhead has persuaded you that being overweight turns you into a second-class citizen with whom no one will be friends.

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