Girls won't be defined by clothes

Posted: May 23, 2013

By Mariandl Hufford

Mike Jeffries, CEO of the clothing company Abercrombie and Fitch, has recently come under fire for comments in a Salon magazine interview. He stated, "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."

In the past week, Jeffries responded to the controversy by posting an apology on Abercrombie and Fitch's Facebook page, a move that once again was met with criticism for his perceived lack of contrition. Responses to Jeffries' remarks have, in some cases, gone viral. Those that have garnered the most attention sarcastically work on rebranding the Abercrombie image.

It is difficult as an educator of girls and as a mother of girls not to have a strong reaction to Jeffries' "business plan." To define the worth of our youth by a one-dimensional metric (thin and attractive) obliterates the richness and true value of our humanity.

I wish I could tell Jeffries just that.

I wish I could tell him, on behalf of all the girls out there, that we no longer care. Jeffries has given us so many years of a "lifestyle" that is, at best, vacuous. For a while, there were many among us who tried to help our daughters fit in. We spent hundreds of dollars on overpriced clothing so our daughters would feel they belonged - in some cases, so our daughters would avoid being ridiculed for not being able to pull off A&F's fashion sense. But, now, we are done.

I wish I could speak to Jeffries on behalf of all the girls who have had enough, the girls who honor all shapes and sizes and who value the body diversity they see around them. I would speak for those girls who, Jeffries says, "can't belong" in A&F clothes and couldn't care less that they don't. But I would also speak for those who could, but have no desire to, even if they could afford to do so. The ones who, regardless of shape, find their individuality by dressing, with pride, in clothes that make them feel comfortable or beautiful or sassy or whatever they desire.

In some ways, one must feel compassion for Jeffries. He is wealthy, for sure, and my guess is he is a fiercely competitive and intelligent man. But what he doesn't know, and this is why I feel sorry for him, is that there is so much more to girls than skimpy shorts or sexualized slogans on T-shirts or underwear. Girls are so much more than a gaggle of easily manipulated consumers who are awaiting the next season's catalog.

Girls think. They consider. They create. Every day, I see at least one of them do something remarkable. Amazingly, Jeffries must not be aware of that. He must never have seen a group of 13-year-old girls talk about the sustainable community they created for a class project, based on months of research on geographical location, alternative energy sources, and wastewater treatment.

He must never have known girls, like I do, who started organizations to fight cancer, stop hunger, or raise awareness about human trafficking, or who planned a day of leadership training for other girls. He may not know of the simple acts of kindness girls often bestow on one another, even at 5 years old, when they help out a classmate who is having trouble, or cheer for a friend who is battling a serious illness.

These girls will not be defined by the clothes they wear, despite Jeffries' best efforts to do exactly that. They value themselves too much for that. And the people who pay for the clothes on their backs, they do as well.


Mariandl Hufford is director of the Center for the Advancement of Girls at The Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont. E-mail her at mhufford@advancinggirls.org.

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