I alone admit it: the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO ruined my chubby little life.

Mike Jeffries, the epitome of cool.
Mike Jeffries, the epitome of all-American cool.

I’m a size 12-14 woman, and Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries has laid waste to my entire life with his comments.

In 2006, Jeffries said to Salon writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis that his preppy “all-American” college-kid clothing brand caters exclusively to slender, “attractive” people.

“A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” Denizet-Lewis quotes Jeffries, whose stores pointedly refuse to carry plus-size clothes for women.

Somehow, Jeffries’ comments lay relatively dormant for seven years – only to inflame the blogosphere earlier this month.

As I covered all the mirrors in my apartment, other women boycotted Abercrombie and published feminist screeds to shame Jeffries for his “bullying.”

According to Denizet-Lewis, Jeffries restricts his retail hires to “good-looking people,” because “good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”

In the nine-page article, I knew the three or four sentences that refer to people’s size were the ones I should obsess over. And as soon as I saw Denizet-Lewis’s condescension toward his source dripping off the page, I knew that such blatant journalistic bias could be met only with unswerving belief in the cultural import of the writer’s message.

I do have to admit, while Jeffries’ fear that a girl of my size might someday pollute an Abercrombie store shook me to my blubbery core, his comments did ease some confusion about exactly what he’s selling. For a long time, given the store windows and bags I wistfully glimpsed on my way to Sears, I was under the impression that Abercrombie sold muscular, naked Caucasian male torsos.

It's the PANTS they're selling. Now you know.
It’s the PANTS they’re selling. Now you know.

But as soon as Jeffries’ comments had sunk through my Old Navy jeans, off-brand t-shirt and New Balance sneakers, right into my heart, I called my husband to confess.

Defying all the laws of cool, I managed to get married before Jeffries weighed in.
Defying all the laws of cool, I managed to get married before Jeffries weighed in.

“Honey,” I sobbed, “do you remember that petite, pretty girl I told you about who used to roll her eyes at me in senior year English? Well…what would you say if I told you only one of us was wearing Abercrombie and Fitch?”

The conversation was short, and the divorce lawyer called at about the same time a cryptic e-mail arrived from my publisher.

She said that while I certainly had had a lot of unique ideas to contribute to the magazine, Mike Jeffries had finally given her the courage to say that I did not have the physique that would attract the kind of stories she wanted to tell. But she wishes me the best.

I logged onto Facebook to update my relationship status from married to single, but saw that there was almost no-one left to see: the only people who hadn’t un-friended me were my mom and my former co-worker’s dog, who somehow maintains his own page.

To try to make sense of it all, I went to the Willow Grove Mall and lingered outside the doors of Abercrombie & Fitch in my purple-rimmed spectacles and worn Timberland boots. A pair of size-two girls with long platinum ponytails walked out talking about the party at Stephanie’s after the big game. But they didn’t invite me, so I wiped my tears and slunk into Macy’s.

I had a lot of great experiences despite my terrifying size, but that's all behind me now.
I had a lot of great experiences despite my terrifying size, but that’s all behind me now.

Since Denizet-Lewis reports that in 2004 the retailer paid $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from minority applicants who claimed they were denied employment or forced to work in back rooms, I wonder if Abercrombie could at least set up a rack for me – perhaps the large sizes could be around back, in a separate but equal store.

But to be honest, the biggest philosophical question Jeffries raises isn’t whether or not I should throw my well-endowed form off a cliff (or whether he should throw himself off, for forcing me to feel that way), but a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” Jeffries told Denizet-Lewis. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids,” which Jeffries defines as the “attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.”

Given Jeffries’ penchant for luring in “good-looking” shoppers by hiring “good-looking” staffers (to man what looks like a graduation party in Daddy’s wood-paneled study, all under a blasting alt pop soundtrack) I wonder if Abercrombie imparts the cool to its customers, or if it’s the other way around.

In other words, could I have changed the course of my life, finding love, friends and career, if I had marched into Abercrombie & Fitch a decade ago, as if I belonged there, and worn those talismans of cool to campus? Or would the fat-girl alarms have begun to wail as soon as I crossed the threshold, confirming that no brand of clothing will ever render me stylish?

This blogger's high school graduation dance (in purple). Should I have gone to to Abercrombie then? Or was I already too large?
This blogger’s high school graduation dance (in purple). Should I have gone to Abercrombie then? Or was I already too large? Do you think I’m sufficiently all-American?

To find out, I pulled on my burlap sack and knocked on the doors of the people who, eleven years ago, in their Abercrombie tees, would not have given me the time of day in the halls. But, as nurses, lawyers, baristas, administrative assistants, ministers, musicians, government workers or all-American wives with stellar Republican credentials and toddlers, they were all too busy to talk to me about it.

As the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. While sensitive Americans affirm their cool by boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch, my non-relationship with the brand has finally, albeit accidentally, resulted in my being in on a fashion trend.

So, in the midst of the storm, infer what you like about my lack of Abercrombie logos. Disregard the tears on my plump cheeks over the cruelty of a man in his late 60’s wearing distressed jeans and dyed-blond hair, whose face looks as if it was just blown up with a bicycle pump.  Because despite everything else CEO Mike Jeffries has stolen from me, he can’t take away the habit I have had since the 9th grade: walking right past his stores.

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14 Comments

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  1. Awesome, and a much-needed laugh.

  2. Size 14s of the world UNITE!

  3. Enjoyed the read and laughs. Will always love my thrift stores ( and you!)

  4. Great blog post! Honestly, I don’t know how anybody could be that pompous. But I have too many good friends and family to be bothered by people like him. BTW, I love your wedding dress!!

  5. I had a great time reading this post. I’m also way too big (and apparently, too Canadian) for Abercrombie & Fitch, and I’m OK with that. There’s no fun in looking like everybody else.

    Thanks for posting this, I needed to have a laugh. 🙂

  6. This does and will never cease to make me angry. There are so many UGLY people who wear a size 2–whether that ugliness be inside or out. And there are so many beautiful people who wear a size 14–whether that beauty be inside or out. I have a friend who wears a size 12. She’s “ugly” and “does not belong” in Abercrombie clothes, apparently. But she’s sooo gorgeous and her body is too! We’ve shared a dressing room, and dare I say it, her body is far more “bikini ready” than mine. (Of course, part of that is my own self-perception…) Yes, it’s a tired subject. But lest we grow bored and mute, there is still a generation of young women entering the years of puberty wherein all of this is still NEWS. They deserve for us to keep talking about it and adamantly pressing the fact that HEALTH, above all, is beautiful. And that some very beautiful, healthy bodies naturally rest at a size 14 rather than 4.

    Sorry to rant, but it just makes me think about how I avoided buying the Rockstar jeans at Old Navy for so long because, for whatever reason, they run small and I’d have to buy 2 sizes up. Eventually I was like, but they look GOOD ON ME 2 sizes up! I swallowed my pride, put on those double digits, and dammit I look HAWT. Dressing for your body and not your ego is so rewarding!

    I see the pictures you’ve posted here and I see a healthy, beautiful, physically trim and fit young woman. Who cares what your jeans say. Your body is beautiful. Keep dressing well and eating well. You SO deserve it.

    Our “daughters”–the next generations–deserve that, too.

    • Alaina Mabaso May 31, 2013 — 2:14 pm

      Thanks! For years I hated my body all day, every day. But I’m finding some peace now, though of course I have bad days. I got some perspective as I got a tad older and looked back at pictures of myself as a teenager – I look beautiful! and at the time, I wanted to hang myself because I was soooo fat. Maybe that’s still true? As in, I may think I look rotten now, but when I look back on myself now as a middle-aged woman, I’ll go, what was I thinking? So why not just live in my body, feed it responsibly, and get on with life?

      I love Old Navy jeans! Size 12 baby – and they look fine.

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