When bullies and jerks become CEO

I’m the first to admit it: I dressed kind of weird when my family moved to Minnesota from Peru.

My innate lack of style — and years of wearing the state-mandated gray school uniform — somehow led me to believe that green-and-white plaid pants were OK.

Teques BLOG

Of course, my pants were not OK. Neither was my affinity for cartoon-character t-shirts, nor my (still unexplained) habit of wearing sweatbands on my wrists.
Every. Single. Day.

And of course, I paid dearly for these sins. I was bullied and teased and ostracized. One classmate punched me in the back of the head; another kicked me so hard that I had a lump on my rump for two weeks.

So I bought new pants. I tried (in vain) to curl my hair. I tried to mimic the “cool” girls. But it didn’t take long to see that I didn’t belong … and that I couldn’t belong.

Perhaps that’s why the words of Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries struck such a nerve:

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. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong … and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

When I expressed my outrage to my friend James, he said, “It’s just a marketing ploy. They pull a stunt like this every year. Remember those offensive tees?”


Yeah, I remember the t-shirts. And the thong underwear for pre-teens.

I suppose it’s possible that Mr. Jeffries is a genius at turning a few provocative sound bites into free Internet advertising. (Hey, he’s gotten my attention.)

But regardless of the motive, the message is still destructive. And whether that message comes from a small-minded bully or a huge corporation, it’s still wrong to belittle a boy because of his appearance. And it’s downright sociopathic to demean a girl — as Abercrombie & Fitch has — by telling her she’s too fat to be “cool.”

All of this said, some might still argue that a company has a right to be as “exclusionary” in its marketing practices as it wants to be. But guess what, Abercrombie & Fitch? I can be “exclusionary” too: You’ve just been excluded from my holiday shopping list. I’m guessing my nephew won’t miss you. He may be beautiful enough to wear your clothes, but he’s not a bully — or a jerk.


    • I had no idea either, which is why I felt compelled to write something. We often forget the power we have as consumers — but also the responsibility we have to hold companies accountable. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Funny you should mention that video, justapinch13: I ran across it on Facebook a couple of days ago, and it’s exactly what inspired this post. Like you, I greatly admired the young man’s cheeky approach to “brand readjustment.” But in the end I decided not to link to the video because it pretty ruthlessly mocks Mike Jeffries’ appearance. It seemed a bit hypocritical to say how hurtful it is to be mocked for one’s appearance — and then post something that did just that. 🙂 Still, I’m glad this topic is getting some discussion. And I’m also very glad you stopped by. Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Ha, ha Xpat! I tried golf once, actually. But after 15 swings failed to yield even a single connection with the ball, I gave up. Probably for the best, given my general uncoordination and total lack of aim. 😀

  1. Stupid Mike Jeffries! Doesn’t he know that the kids who weren’t cool in high school are the ones who go on to be cool adults with jobs and money and panache? And enough style that we don’t want their kind of clothes any way. Hah!

    • You make a great point, Sherri. In hindsight, I’ve realized it was actually *good* for me to not fit in. I learned that how other people treat me is not a reflection of who I am — but rather, a reflection of who THEY are. I learned to be my own person. And I learned that beauty can be superficial. I suspect that many of the cool and popular kids who were deprived of these lessons got a very rude awakening when they got out into the real world. Yes, some of them went on to become the CEO of a gross, “exclusionary” corporation. But I suspect that, for most of them, high school was the high point of their lives. Not too cool, eh?

    • I used to joke that I should have been born in Britain, where eccentricity is celebrated (or at least cheerfully tolerated). But kind words like yours make me feel better about having ended up in the U.S. instead. Thank you, Tom.

      • I grew up as an eccentric kid in Britain and I was bullied too. But I did still manage to have some friends who stuck by me despite my immense oddness. So you may well have been better off, but not completely. It did improve and by university oddness was indeed celebrated 🙂 Needless to say, I loved uni!

        • Aw, knotrune … I’m sorry to read that you were bullied, too. But kudos to you for being yourself in spite of it, and for hanging in there until your special, unique oddness was finally appreciated — and celebrated! — at university. I think that if more people were genuine and true to themselves, we’d discover that the continuum of what we consider “normal” is much broader than we currently realize. Anyway, cheers to you from your weird American cousin! 😀

    • *All* popularity contests seem silly to me, because they’re so superficial. But if they’d crown chaps like Stephen Hawking prom king, now THAT would be a party for which I’d actually wear a tiara!

    • Hahaha, Carla! What a wonderful surprise to hear from you! When I read your first comment I was a bit confused because it was someone who clearly knew me — but I didn’t recognize the face or name. And when you described yourself as wearing sweats with Mary Jane shoes … well, I was *really* confused! (Somehow, D’Andre didn’t seem like the Mary Janes type. 🙂 Anyway, thank you so much for your kind words. I always thought you were WAY super cool!

    • Yay! ¡Hola, guapa! THAT’S more like it! 🙂 Though now I’m wondering if that other guy will get my replies? Because I told him I was worried about his choice of footwear. Ha ha!

  2. Wow I hope their business goes down the pan just like the Ratners jewellery co. did back in the late 80s early 90s after describing there products as “rubbish”.

    I wasn’t popular at school but as an adult gained my popularity and “coolness” lol.

    In fact your sister saw how cool I was by befriending me on a social network site and hey presto ended up visiting me across the pond last year after I invited her to the Olympics! 🙂

    • Rach! Is that you??! Your note just made me week. Thank you! As another of your (unnamed social network) friends I can attest to your popularity, coolness and charisma. And I hope to copy my sister one of these days by hopping across the pond paying you a visit. (Though we’ll probably have to do without the Olympics. Haha.)

      • Yes it’s me!
        Well you are very welcome, we would love to show you the sights!

        You won’t find many people wearing A&F, they have better things to spend their hard earned money on 😉

  3. Holy crap! That CEO is a real pill. What a jerk. Honestly, I was a teen in the 70’s and your attire get’s a thumbs up from me. It used to be, most kids wore hand-me-downs. But I suppose the same people that grew up wearing cheap knock-offs (where I grew up anyways) are the same crew that really want their kids to have ‘everything’ now. I guess with less kids in the household now, there’s more $$ to go around. I don’t know if it’s better for character building, but most look models these days.
    I’m sure sorry you were bullied. I believe in Karma, so you gotta know they’re a miserable bunch now 😀

    • Isn’t that CEO a piece of work? I wonder what became of him. But *thank you* for the thumbs-up on my outfit! I wish I’d known you when we were little … your sense of style would have obscured my dorkiness. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind words. xx

      • Obscured your dorkiness ooooor we could’ve been dorks together and shopped vintage stores and Value Village. Nerds are ‘the jam’ these days don’t you know. (I think it’s the Big Bang effect) I knew there’d come a time when dorks where hot and the ‘in’ thing, LOL….as trend ‘setters’ we were just ahead of the curve. 😀

        • I really like how you think: Yes, that’s right … we MEANT to be dorky because we were visionaries who knew one day it would be really cool. Ha ha! Though I still can’t believe you were ever a dork. From your posts I gather you have a wonderful sense of style.

          • Wow, that’s a sweet message! Thank you so much. Now, imagine Elaine from Seinfeld saying, “you think I have style?” as she smacks Gerry in the arm. LOL
            I might have ‘a’ style, but not anything most people gravitate to. It’s a bit off-beat, generally just random stuff brought together because I fancy it.
            My theory is, if I love it, it’s going to look great, because everything is collected with my own eye for my own home (or wardrobe). It might look like trash on you or in your home.
            I think, style is more of an attitude maybe mixed with your own personality. I could never be a designer because everyone’s project would look like my house 😀 I’m a one trick pony. ‘Me’ is all I know.
            Am I dorky? Well, I’m extremely clumsy, I never get the joke and I tend to dress a little nutty. Today I’m wearing a seafoam coloured skirt with black cats on it, kind of retro 😀 It complements my kitty cat eye glasses 😀 HA!

          • I can think of no better reason to buy or wear something than because you fancy it, honestly. And who wants to look just like everyone else, anyway? I wish I had as much confidence as you (I would be drawn irresistibly to a seafoam-colored skirt with black cats on it but would be way too self-conscious to actually wear it) — so another two thumbs up on your fashion moxie.

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