What You an Mike Jeffries, CEO of A&F, Have in Common

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By now you may have heard about the insulting words said by CEO, Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie and Fitch. If not, you’ll find the story here. Or, if you prefer not to subject yourself to the whole story, I’ll provide you with a quote to give you a taste of what you’re missing (not much, I assure you).

Regarding not offering women’s sizes larger than 10, Jeffries says, “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 [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

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Size acceptance advocates, psychologists, teens and their mothers, and others are sharing their thoughts, organizing boycotts, writing letters and articles and announcing their disdain for Mike Jeffries.

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I am too. I am writing about it with you.

This same article suggests that Jeffries was not a cool kid in school and therefore is making up for this by glamorizing cool kids while putting down fat kids.

This perspective interested me. I think it’s at the core of most of our perceptions about size, shape and weight. Fear, self-hatred, and damaging (although well-intended) messages from family members couple our self-worth with appearance. Perhaps Mike Jeffries is just caught up in his own feeling of self-hate, fear and negative messages from his family.

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. If you received the message from your parents that you were good for eating so little, you may end up hating your body when it changes shape, whether from puberty or weight gain. From this place of body hate, you may insist that weight loss is the only way to feel good about your body again.

Or you may put your fears of being fat and therefore unworthy onto others. This tactic often comes out as insults and injury toward others that represent the fear you feel. It’s a very common coping mechanism that we therapists call “projection.”

Keep this in mind: those who criticize people who are fat are terrified of fat themselves. Let’s take Jeffries as an example. Let’s suppose he wasn’t a cool kid when he was in high school. Let’s say he now fears getting old, which he can’t stop. Let’s say his father criticized people based on their appearance and gave teenage Mike the message that he wasn’t good enough because he couldn’t play basketball well. Put all of these together (and, probably more) and what do you get? A man obsessed with creating clothes for thin, beautiful, cool kids and criticizing anyone who doesn’t fit this ideal.

Does that make him a cruel person? Perhaps. It also makes him a man in fear and in a constant state of self-hatred. Sad, I think.

If you imagine him as a hurt little boy who never fit in and is in fear of his aging body, you might also feel sad for the man. Unfortunately, that isn’t what you’ll see from him. You’ll see all the ways he covers up his feelings—by criticizing those who represent his fears and self-hate.

By taking on other’s criticism (from Jeffries or anyone in your life!) you give them your power. You make them right and you wrong. You take away from your own wonderfulness!

But you can do something about this. You can ignore him. You can decide it isn’t about you. You can decide that you are beautiful and worthy and sexy even if you don’t fit into A&F clothes, because you are! When you start to feel good about yourself, inside and out, you can let other’s stuff just be their stuff. (You can also boycott, write letters, etc. This can be a form of self-love too.)

Hard to do, I know. That’s because you too are afraid to get fat or old or become an outcast. That’s okay. That’s what you’ve been taught. Your feelings about this run your behavior more than you might know. So be kind to yourself. Realize that this isn’t about how you look but about how you feel about how you look and what that means to you. If, like Mike Jeffries may have experienced, you were told that how you looked was important (which is SO pervasive in our culture that how could you escape it) then how could you not fear fat.

Take care of your body image and you will heal our cultures’ poor body image! The Jeffries of the world will no longer matter. You can walk into any clothing store, head held high and pick out the perfect outfit and wear it from a place of “I’m hot!” and really know it to be true—no matter what size you are! That’s a beautiful thing!

If you had any reactions to Mike Jeffries or to this article, please post your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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