Middle school was awful. Those three years of my existence were filled with awkwardness and self-pity that, looking back, makes me cringe. Teenage acne, braces, glasses and struggling with my weight — I was the stereotypical middle-school “outcast”. Fitting in wasn’t easy — the best I could do was try to blend into the background and avoid unwanted attention. But kids were cruel. The popular girls and boys preyed upon whomever they thought was a “loser” by checking if you had the stamps of approval — Abercrombie, Hollister or Aeropostale.
Before the recent controversy over Abercrombie and Fitch, I knew there was something sinister about the brand — stout eighth-grade Megan knew something was amiss about their sizes. I remember shopping for school clothes with my mom and begging to go shopping at Abercrombie. However, nothing ever fit quite right. I could feel my self-confidence withering away as I tried to squeeze into a pair of jeans. Abercrombie — with all its beautiful, toned models and tailored clothes — subtlety relayed the brutal Mean Girls message that I wasn’t “cool enough” to wear their clothes. I shouldn’t have been ashamed that I couldn’t fit into their generic, branded clothing. But try telling that to a young girl trying so desperately to fit in. Eventually, I came to the realization that it’s not the label on the pants that defines you.
Over the last week, a 2006 Salon interview with Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, went viral. The interview features Jeffries addressing the very thoughts I had as a pudgy middle schooler with a few friends. “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids … A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong.” It may seem silly now, but back then wearing a moose or seagull emblem was a way to simply fit in, to gain friends in a hostile environment. Was because I couldn’t fit into a specific brand of t-shirt or jeans a reason I wasn’t worthy enough to belong?
Personally, I’ve stayed away from any clothing from Abercrombie and the like, but calling for a boycott of one clothing company is only a quick fix. While the reactions to Jeffries’ interview have certainly hurt his company, the interview provides insight to the warped view of Americans when it comes to body image and self-worth. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men have an eating disorder at some time in their life. Companies like Abercrombie and Fitch have made a fortune off of depleting self-worth — the dieting industry is worth $40 billion dollars a year. Since it’s deplorable to think that others are getting rich off of others’ insecurities, we have to address the core of the problem — why do these insecurities exist and what can we do to get rid of them?
I’m not arguing that one shouldn’t strive to improve one’s health, but the motivation to lose weight or eat healthier foods shouldn’t come from a Botox-infused CEO. I’ve learned that self-worth isn’t attached to your pant, dress or shirt size. That’s the message we should be sending to young middle schoolers and everyone else who struggles with their body images. It’s not the clothes, hair, make-up or shoes, but the person within them that matters.
Megan McDonald is an LSA sophomore.