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.
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?”
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.