When did calling people ugly become cool?

Body Image

About ten years ago I was a young teenage girl. It seemed that all of the girls in my class were shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch. Though the store was incredibly loud, giving an almost instantaneous headache, and wreaking of cologne, it was where I wanted to shop. I wanted to look like those beautiful men and women in their ads and worked in their stores. I wanted to wear that coveted elk logo on a polo shirt, or wear the artfully deconstructed denim. No one could do it like A&F. I’d cry when the clothes didn’t fit and be upset that I couldn’t be part of that group, the one that the ads told me I needed to be a part of so I could be cool.
Today, I roll my eyes and laugh about how badly I wanted to shop there and think about the memories I have of attempting to find a fitting outfit. I grew up and, thankfully, realized that I didn’t really want to dress that way because those clothes were never meant for my body type, they weren’t really my style, and they were marketed to my pre-teen and teen self.
I don’t care that Abercrombie & Fitch caters to a specific audience. It doesn’t bother me that they only make smaller sizes or that they target teenagers. I might not agree with their marketing tactics, but I do have the option to take my business elsewhere. In fact, their targeting is no different than Lane Bryant designing clothes for plus size women, REI for outdoorsy folks, or the Men’s Warehouse for businessmen.  A company can’t cater to everyone and the savvy businessperson will find a niche that best fits their style.
Yesterday I read an article about A&F and its CEO, as did much of the country. And I was outraged. It isn’t so much the company itself that pisses me off, but instead it is the CEO, Mike Jeffries (pictured below). As I’ve already stated, Abercrombie & Fitch can sell whatever they want to whomever they want. But to say that your style and size is what defines “beauty” and “cool” is completely wrong. Every woman (and man) is beautiful and no one person should be saying otherwise – whether that someone be Jeffries or an anonymous blog commenter.
I don’t care that Mike Jeffries, who is nearing 70, wants to dress like his target audience of pre-teens and teens, but please quit telling young men and women that their beauty is defined by their size. It’s not your or anyone’s place to tell kids that, just because they don’t fit your perfect ideal of beauty, they’re ugly. Junior high and high school can be miserable enough as a teenager without you, and subsequently worse with your company telling kids what’s beautiful and what’s not.

Every woman (and man) has beauty and more than anything else, it is self defined. Beauty is not necessarily an external attribute (though it can be). But it can also be an internal quality, something that comes from your personality, your emotional well-being, or mental ability.  Whether it is curly red hair, the great smile, or the persevering optimism that you have, there is something that makes each individual feel amazing about themselves. For me personally, I believe my internal beauty to be my appropriate sass. This thing, whatever it may be for you, is what you are proud to show off, to make everyone aware of, and for which they should respect as your natural beauty.
So, if beauty is not defined by others but by the individual, what do we have to choose our lovers by? I prefer to think of these features as attractions that all add up to someone’s attractiveness. The old saying would be better written as “attraction is in the eye of the beholder”. For friendship and respect, beauty is what matters and attraction is irrelevant. Attractiveness only matters for love and relationships. That said, I don’t think a CEO should be dictating absolutes about what’s “attractive” either. They can certainly try to sway my opinion – that’s marketing, politics, and life. But ultimately, the choice of attraction is mine and yours alone. For every individual it will be different. Some folks may be attracted most to someone who shares an interest in modern fashion. For others it may be an interest in the outdoors. For still others it could be that they have found the world’s most amazing smile. But whatever it is, it really is our own, not yet another company whose only goal is to make a profit.
I think all of us that fit outside of A&F’s size chart should be grateful that there are multiple retailers in the world willing to deny A&F’s size of beauty and instead stock sizes for us big, ugly, and uncool people as well. Because we’re just as beautiful.
Smile. You are beautiful.