If you're anything like me - that is to say, an unemployed 20-something who spends a great deal of time dilly-dallying around social media and pop-culture news sites - you're sure to have seen the interview with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries where he openly states that he doesn't want fat people wearing his brand.
In case you have more important things to do than derp around the internet, here's a brief summary: Abercrombie & Fitch doesn't sell women's XL or XXL clothing because Jeffries wants "good-looking people" to be the face and bodies of his clothing. He speaks about exclusion and how there are kids who are cool and those who aren't, and only the popular, pretty crowd are idyllic enough to proudly wear A&F garments.
There have been countless outraged reactions to Jeffries' interview: women and men refusing to support a brand with a "creepy, predatory, bug-infested, bigoted, racist" CEO; major news sites offering scant analysis with appallingly lame titles; and a "Former Fat Girl" (who is keen for us to know that she is no longer fat) repeatedly demanding that Jeffries be ashamed of himself, just to name a few.
These and the many other editorial and opinion pieces written in response to Mr. Jeffries are all well and good. They correctly point out the problem of fat-shaming and the growing number of young girls and boys who have self-esteem and body issues, and they call for reform of the way clothing companies - and their leaders - perpetuate the cycle of shame and self-abuse by ensuring that "outsiders" continue to feel like there's something wrong with them, and they don't belong.
But, quite frankly, I think a lot of this noise in reaction to Jeffries is doing more harm than good.
A day or two ago, my roommate had plans to go downtown in the evening, and she and I were rifling through both of our closets, trying to piece together an appropriate outfit. We started talking about how we hate a lot of our clothes, because when, as a plus-sized shopper, you basically have to take what you can get to cover up your skin. This turned into a goodnatured "hate-on" for our bodies, listing everything that was too big or out-of-proportion or didn't allow us to wear a certain style or cut of clothing. It wasn't just hate for our clothing options; it was hate for ourselves.
And it occurred to me, as we were talking, how insanely arbitrary the clothing market is. Why do we let an arbitrary system of numbers stitched into the back of a shirt or pair of trousers dictate how we feel about ourselves? Why does the difference between a 12 and a 16 mean that I have moved from a "regular" sized woman into a plus sized? And why does that even matter? Why do I let two digits determine my self-worth?
As I read Jeffries' words and the people who raged against him, all I felt was exhaustion. It is so tiring to be constantly reminded about what's "wrong" with you and why these reminders are making your self esteem slowly seep into the ground. It's exhausting to hear people say "it's ok to be fat, we're all different" instead of just saying "it's ok to be."
It's exhausting hating yourself.
What bothers me most about the reactions to Jeffries is that they all make it seem like he's the most powerful man in the world, and that he - and he alone - is the reason young people hate themselves for not fitting in. I find it troubling and annoying and sad, because the main reason teens and young people are uncomfortable in their own skin is because they see that we, the general mass of adults, hate ourselves, too.
We hate ourselves because we don't fit into the clothing we want, or because we can't find a job that we like, or because we don't have enough or the right education, or because we can't find true love, or because our friends are cruel or stupid sometimes, or because we can't stop eating chips before bed, or because we don't make enough money, or because our Facebook friends have better lives than us. We hate ourselves for completely arbitrary reasons.
I don't know when, as a society, we decided we were supposed to loathe ourselves. It's amazing that the United States, a country obsessed the opposing ideals of extreme Christianity and narcissism, has somehow lost track of the fundamental Biblical command: "Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Surely, if we were loved into creation, and are told to love others in the same way, there is no room at all for despising the self.
But yet we're supposed to be self-deprecating and apologetic about ourselves. We're not supposed to be self-aware or honest about our strengths because it's not the norm. How dare we not think we are terrible, underdeveloped humans! Do not know yourself and what you can accomplish; feel consistently unworthy of love and praise.
I've decided I'm done. I am through with hating myself because of my pant-size or one wonky tooth or my weird giggle. Because I am loved - not because of a pretty dress or a red lipstick or curl in my hair. I am loved because I was created to be loved. And I refuse to stand in the way of others anymore. I refuse to hate myself so that others can maybe see that they don't have to hate themselves, either.
So thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mr. Jeffries; I'm going to have another cookie and forget everything you've ever said. I hope others will too.
Current book: Eating the Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman
Current TV series: Lost - season 5
Current nail colour: OPI's "Red Lights Ahead...Where?"