By Benjamin O'Keefe, 18
When I began my petition against Abercrombie & Fitch just over two weeks ago, I had no idea what it would become. I had no idea that it would inspire a movement.
I had no idea that I would receive tens of thousands of personal emails from people sharing their stories and thanking me for sharing mine. I had no idea the people I would meet, the difference it would make, and the way it would change my life would forever. But what I really had no idea of... although it's what I worked tirelessly for... is that it would WORK!
On Tuesday May 21, I had to opportunity to sit down with Abercrombie & Fitch senior staff members as well as NEDA President and CEO Lynn Grefe; Dr. Michael Levine and Dr. Sarah Murnen (experts in the field of eating disorders and body Image); Darryl Roberts and Cali Linstrom. Our goal was to come together in solidarity to discuss how we can improve the company's lack of diversity in their clothing and branding.
I believe that the most powerful story we have is our own and I used mine to appeal to Abercrombie to change their ways. The conversation was long and broad. I personally and passionately disclosed the intimate details of my struggles with anorexia, bullying, and depression, but more than that, I also reasoned with them from a business standpoint. The changes we discussed ventured far beyond simply expanding their sizing. We delved into important topics like the hypersexualization of youth through their ad campaigns and of the existence of the size zero (What is a size zero? Zero means nothing. Are we truly telling people to aspire to be nothing?... And then double zero? Extra nothing?)
I was able to deliver the 2,000 double-sided pages of my petition into the hands of Abercrombie executives. That petition represents over 68,000 names, 68,000 faces, 68,000 VOICES that have demanded to be heard. Never have I been so proud to be me because I know that my voice matters.
Our voices matter. When people come together to fight for something they believe in; change does come! We are proof of that.
I left Abercrombie with a challenge. Redefine what is "cool." As it stands, their brand is not synonymous with being cool. In fact, all it truly represents is discrimination. I did not do that to Abercrombie, my petition did not do that to Abercrombie, the global news coverage did not do that to Abercrombie. Abercrombie did that to themselves! But now they have an opportunity to correct their wrongs and not only change their brand but change the game. And we are there to help. It's so important that they show young people that their clothing should accentuate their beauty on the inside and reinforce what I have been saying all along: It's not about the size of your waist but the size of your HEART and the length of your ambition.
The staff members present seemed truly moved by the stories we presented to them and eager to make strong and concrete changes. Shortly after the meeting they had this to say:
"We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion," Abercrombie said in a statement. "We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values."
I am thrilled to see Abercrombie finally issue what I believe to be a heartfelt apology and I am cautiously optimistic that our hard work has paid off. Abercrombie made a clear commitment and I am determined to ensure that they see it through. I am excited to continue open dialogue with Abercrombie & Fitch and work towards to creating a nation and world of young people who are proud to be themselves and embrace all the things that make them beautiful!
This post was originally published on Proud2Bme.org.