By Tzipporah La Fianza
When I first read about what Michael Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, had to say regarding their target market, I had nothing more than an eye roll to offer. I’ve never shopped, nor do I ever intend to shop at A&B, so it didn’t seem worth wasting time forming an opinion on it.
But then I got to wondering if perhaps, I should be a little more upset by it. Though I personally wouldn’t want to walk into a store targeted towards teens, especially one with the high price tags and blatant sexual images that Abercrombie and Fitch displays, the idea of this 68 year old man targeting teenage girls in such a negative way did not sit well with me.
I’m a curvy–that’s how we’re qualifying females over size 10 these days, in case you didn’t know–32 yr old woman myself, and no doubt A&F cares very little about what I think of their marketing practices. But I was once a young, impressionable, self-conscious, teenager dying to fit in like so many others are now. I remember clearly how it feels to have your clothing, your car, your weight, your nose, and your hair, all judged harshly by your peers. Only to then look into your worst critic’s eyes in the mirror every morning. Sizing yourself up, comparing your thighs to the model in the magazine, comparing your shoes to those of your friend’s; the worries of fitting in with just the right crowd all the while pretending you don’t really care at all. Working to get that “I just rolled out of bed looking this incredibly good” look without letting on that it took you nearly 40 minutes of teasing, blow drying and sixteen different hair products to look that casual. Oh, and school work too, because you are in school to receive an education after all, right?
Teenagers live in an emotionally exhausting head-space and even with juggling my very busy adult life with four kids to care for, I still don’t think I have anything on them. Honestly, I don’t miss it at all.
Though I feel that many companies’ marketing to be distasteful at best, I’m quick to remind myself that I am free not to support them with my hard earned money. At the end of the day, a company is going to do whatever is quickest to push its product. This isn’t the first nor the last company that will play off of the insecurities of their consumers in order to make sales. In fact, I researched a few more fashion stores generally targeted at teenagers and I found much of the same. This portion of the popular teen store 5.7.9.’s “about us” statement makes it abundantly clear that they know exactly who they are marketing to:
“…featuring sizes 00-9. The target age group is the 13 to 22 year old. She lives in the suburbs, comes from a middle & upper income background & uses malls and a social meeting places as well as a place to shop…”
How can I find any particular fault with A&F that I don’t find with other stores targeting the same demographic? Maybe it was a bit of a faux pas for Michael to publicly state that “good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” But under the surface, is there really any difference in what other stores that target teens and young adults do? I’m not so sure.
Time has taught me that self-esteem is not only an important asset to developing your own sense of identity in school, but it is the way you feel about yourself during those formative years that tends to stick with you like glue, becoming hardened in the cement of growing older, and eventually becoming nearly impossible to change once we hit out early thirties. Our self-esteem and that of our children, is something truly worth fighting for because when all is said and done, all of those high school relationships and BFFs will be behind us and all that we will really have left from the four year experience, is a diploma and a seed planted in us about our worth in this world. It’s clear that in this day and age, if you don’t fight hard to be the master of your own sense of self-worth, you’re going to have it stripped away or handed to you on a silver platter by any number of sources.
I know that I will never be able to walk into a Target and fit my size 14 body into one of their maxi dresses or skinny jeans. I accept that when I need a new shirt or skirt, I will have to head over to the “petite” (that’s a nice word for short) section of JC Penney to scavenge through the various racks of pre-shrunk cotton shirts and rayon blouses for something that doesn’t make me feel 82. I can even deal with the fact that my body shape isn’t within the framework of the American ideal. Honestly, it’s no skin off my back, I’ve never prided myself in my astounding fashion sense nor have I ever wanted to, as I like being my own person. But that’s not to say that I don’t recognize the effect this sort of marketing does have on teenage girls.
As far as I am concerned, Abercrombie and Fitch’s marketing might as well follow a you into high school and stand in line right next to that mean girl who pretends not to see you and shoves you with her shoulder in the hallway, or the group of girls who crack into sudden hysterics as you as you walk by their lunch table, causing you to both check the bottoms of your shoes for toilet paper and your nose for rogue boogers while you walk away blushing. If there is one thing teenagers do not need from their elders, is the encouragement to divide up into groups to bully and outcast.
Do I think that Abercrombie and Fitch should retract their statements or be shamed into coming out with a secondary clothing line for us of larger stature or of dorkier social status? Not at all. I still stand by my conviction that it is within their right to market as they see fit. Instead, I turn my attention to you, the consumers and the parents of the consumers, and implore you not to buy into this ideal of the perfect American body type. Instead of stressing over wardrobes so much, consider investing in who you are as a person. As cliché as the saying is, it’s quite true that beauty is only skin deep. Mothers, remember to tell your daughter how beautiful they really are because every teenage girl really needs to hear that, no matter how much she might deny it. Fathers, make sure your little girls know that they are treasured and respected, because someone who truly values themselves will always value others. Girls, demand for yourself respect from society, from your peers and always question companies who are willing to eagerly take your money and in exchange, hand you a token of your perceived net worth as a human being.
And for goodness sakes, never let a 68 year old CEO of a clothing store define who you are in this world.