After weeks of controversy regarding Abercrombie & Fitch's limited clothing sizes for women, its CEO's disdain for customers that aren't "cool kids" and his half-baked apology, we thought that there couldn't possibly be any more frustrating realizations about the clothing brand. After reading former employee Kjerstin Gruys' essay in Salon about her experiences working for A&F, it's safe to say we were wrong.
Gruys, who was once a merchant in Abercrombie & Fitch's outerwear division and is now a sociologist who researches body image, talks about the pressure she felt to maintain a certain size given that A&F required employees to dress "on-brand" (a.k.a. wear only current Abercrombie clothing to work each day). She wrote:
I squeezed myself into the second-largest A&F women’s size available -- an 8 -- and dieted to stay that size. It terrified me to know that if I gained weight and sized out of their women’s clothes, I’d have to wear ill-fitting men’s T-shirts and sweatshirts to work every day, as I’d seen other “large” women do.
So even though A&F was employing these women, ostensibly for their skills, they maintained a policy that forced their employees to wear ill-fitting, unprofessional men's clothing in the workplace. Sounds like a pretty uncomfortable work environment to us, not to mention the fact that wearing clothing clearly created for teenagers in an office full of adults is odd to begin with.
"Can we pause to imagine the hilarity of grown people sitting in an office wearing the latest season of Abercrombie clothing? How anyone manages to pull off frayed, embellished short-shorts in a work environment is beyond me," wrote Jezebel's Meher Ahmad.
Gruys also argued in her Salon piece that the public outrage over Abercrombie's policies is incongruous with our general lack of outrage over so-called "vanity sizing," where companies lower the numbered size of clothing items without actually changing the measurements. So last year's size 12 could be this year's size 8.
"Given our emotional attachment to vanity sizing, our critique of A&F is both ironic and ill-conceived," she wrote. "If so many of us agree -- nay, beg -- to have fashion retailers lie to us when it comes to our own clothing size, why are we so horrified and furious to learn that retailers are just as fat-phobic as we are? We can’t have it both ways, not if we desire real change."
Gruys isn't the only one using the Abercombie debacle as an opportunity to bring the public's attention to the larger issues that inform fat-phobic policies like Abercrombie & Fitch's. When blogger Jes M. Baker of The Militant Baker did a photo shoot recreating A&F ads using the tagline "Attractive & Fat," she stressed that her project wasn't just about targeting one company.
"What this is about is eliminating the differentiation between cool kids and not cool kids, not using the versus when it comes to pretty vs. ugly and not separating attractive and fat," she said on the 'Today' show in May.
And that's a message we all need to hear more often.