CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch Mike Jeffries doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he only wants thin and beautiful people. He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. He believes that people who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the cool kids. That’s why he hires good-looking people in his stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and he wants to market to cool, good-looking people. He isn't bothered by excluding fat people (and not carrying larger sizes for women) because not limiting his ideal demographic would make his clothing less desirable.
Since when did our entire civilization succumb to the beauty standards of a 61-year old millionaire with a fake tan, spiked hair, unsettling plastic surgery, and flip flops (you must Google him, really). When did it become acceptable for someone else to tell us who to value and why we should value them? I say we take back cool, my friends. Yes we can. Here's how.
1. Boycott. Just don't buy from Abercrombie, people. Also, have a conversation with your teenagers about the power of retail advertising, the harm of giving into an appearance-obsessed culture, and encourage them not to buy into this thinking.
2. Speak up. Verbalize (in front of your friends and family) your diverse perspective on definitions of beauty, personality types, and success. Comment on the beauty you see in different skin tones, body shapes, styles, professions, life choices. Last week I met with a CEO of a large organization and was greeted by her 25-year old, spiked hair, uber hip male personal assistant. Over dinner with my family later that night, I mentioned that I had met a male "secretary' and how effective and dynamic he appeared to be in his role supporting a powerful female CEO.
3. Speak differently. When talking about someone, try not to describe them by their physical attributes (like I just did in #2). When other people do so in your presence - "Check out how fat that girl is!" if you don't respond, you are actually condoning that behavior and ensuring that it will likely continue. Try saying something like, "You know, I think there is beauty in people of all shapes and sizes. Why are we checking her out anyway?"
4. Look beyond the commercials. Watch independent films, listen to independent music, see a play that is off-Broadway. Expose yourself to that which is not heavily marketed to you. You'll be surprised at what you might be missing. Tell your friends and family about the films, songs, plays, etc. and encourage them to also experience these things.
5. Celebrate quirky. Open your mind to celebrate, and then highlight, eccentric, innovative, unorthodox, non-traditional ways of thinking and working. I used to work with a pretty conservative public relations company. Everyone wore khakis and skirts, and the manager wore dapper bow ties. Then one day he hired a funky editor who wore vintage dresses over colorful tights, who talked dramatically with her hands and was intense and introverted. By pushing everyone's communication comfort zones and bringing a fresh perspective and style, she challenged not only the look of the agency's publications, but also the entire make-up of the staff.
Jeffries said that in every school there are cool and popular kids - you know the ones with the good looks and a lot of friends. Those kids are only "cool" because we as a society continue to define attractiveness in such exclusionary and narrow terms, based solely on physical appearance and one's capacity to be social. How long are we going to let Abercrombie define cool for us? It's time to take cool back. Join me?