Decoding the Language of "All American" & "Cool Kid" in the Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries Debacle
In considering how to address a recently publicized interview with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries, I found myself wanting to make fun of MJeff. What else can you do when this fool has written himself – a flip flop wearing, crunchy hair brandishing, cologne doused, self-loathing 70 year old - out of his own definition of “cool kids?” Even more puzzling is that I had been written out of the definition of cool kids. What?! I know. Ridick. Ghurl, clearly MJeff cannot be trusted. Normally this kind of absurdity gets a pun and a chuckle and then I move onto whatever pressing dessert or fashion issue is on my agenda.
But then I realized that I had to take Jeffries’ statements seriously. And I wanted to. They are not merely an instance of Lil' Mr. Hot Mess being out of pocket but are an instance that showcases that business-sanctioned fatphobia is in fact a civil rights issue. His statements unveil the political vulnerability of fat people, especially fat women (who, according to Jeffries, are women over a size 10). It forced me to ruminate on the ways that fat folks are stigmatized and reviled with such reckless self-righteousness and with no protection from the law.
I was also interested in both what Jeffries said explicitly and what he implied through coded language:
"We go after the attractive all-American kid..."
What's particularly noteworthy to me is what his statements say about his ideal (only?) customer, using descriptors like "cool kid" and "all-American." If you've watched Fox News or any neo-conservative media you're probably familiar with the "'Merica for 'Mericans" trope. It is a favored linguistic tool that obscures meaning: conflating Americaness or coolness with specific racial and class markers. Jeffries explicitly talks about his hatred of fat people and of old people, but the phrases "All American" and "cool kids" leave his statements in that murky area of plausible deniability. If A&F images (and price tags) are any indicator, it's clear what "All American" and "cool kid" means: white, middle-class, able-bodied, and cisgendered as well.
One journalist/activist, Janssen McCormick has put out a call on Facebook for an "Abercrombie Fat-In" involving fat presence in stores all over the US on May 25. Jeffries' statement and the belief system that oversees his fatphobic brand are unjust, immoral and bigoted. Finally, the purposeful and explicit exclusion of people of size from an establishment is something I believe should be unlawful.
Watch my recent commentary on this issue on San Francisco's CBS 5 evening news:
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.