COLUMBUS, Ohio — May 22, 2013 — For Immediate Release — Teen activists who traveled to Columbus to converge on the headquarters of fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) to stage a protest over dis-pleasure about “hurtful and discriminatory”comments made by the company’s CEO Michael Jeffries, instead sat down with A&F executives yesterday to discuss their concerns and ask for change.
Attending the meeting with A&F executives were Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA);America the Beautiful filmmaker/documentarian and teen empowerment activist Darryl Roberts; NEDA’s Proud2Bme youth program teen ambassador Benjamin O’Keefe, 18, an actor and author of the Change.org A&F petition; America the Beautiful teen activist Cali Linstrom, 17, who launched a protest in her hometown of Chicago and was a key organizer of the Ohio protest; Michael Levine, Ph.D., an eating disorders prevention expert, professor emeritus of psychology at Ohio’s Kenyon College and an original founder of NEDA; and Sarah Murnen, Ph.D., a junior professor of psychology at Kenyon College, who studies gender-related issues from a feminist, socio-cultural perspective.
During the two-hour meeting, the advocacy committee made a number of suggestions, including that A&F reconsider its position on size limitations (including elimination of size zero, which is meaningless); expand its clothing line to be more inclusive of teen body types; reduce the blatant sexualization of its ads and expand its choice of models; consider diversity training for employees; and support NEDA’s Proud2Bme and America the Beautiful’s teen education programs in ways to ultimately to be a corporate leader on anti-bullying and diversity.
An A&F spokesperson issued the following statement: “We welcomed the opportunity to meet … to learn about the work they are doing. We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion. We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values.”
Commented Grefe, “I was honored to be in the same room with NEDA’s Proud2Bme ambassador Benjamin O’Keefe and young activist Cali Linstrom as they passionately put a face to the voices of the 68,000 who signed Change.org petitions and the many protesters in Chicago organized by Cali, all asking Abercrombie & Fitch to make a true commitment to accepting and embracing all of their young consumers. I believe our concerns were heard and we are looking forward to next steps as this company truly has an opportunity to help change our culture. I also believe they are sincere in their intent to move forward with positive next steps for our kids. Time will tell, but if so, we would be proud to be part of that movement.”
Commented O’Keefe, who started a petition to A&F (Proud2Bme.org/AF), “Today I had the opportunity to meet with Abercrombie & Fitch senior staff members, coming together in solidarity to discuss how we can improve the company’s lack of diversity in their clothing and branding. I believe that the most powerful story we have is our own and I used mine today to appeal to the company to change their ways. I am cautiously optimistic that it has done just that and I think their reissuing of an actual apology today represents that notion. I was able to deliver the 2,000 double-sided pages of my petition into the hands of executives. That petition represents over 68,000 names, 68,000 faces, 68,000 voices that have demanded to be heard and they have been! I have accomplished a major part of my goal today and never have I been so proud to be me. Our voices matter. When people come together to fight for something they believe in, change does come! We are proof of that. I am excited to continue open dialogue with Abercrombie & Fitch and work towards creating a nation and world of young people who are proud to be themselves and embrace all the things that make them beautiful!”
Stated Roberts, “I feel that Abercrombie & Fitch is very sincere about reconnecting with their target audience in a way that’s emotionally healthy and I’m excited about possibly working with the company to help deliver a message to our youth of self-love and acceptance.”
Added Linstrom, “We had a productive meeting today that was uplifting in anticipation of Abercrombie & Fitch’s efforts towards acceptance and anti-bullying. We look forward to working with the company on these issues in the near future.”
The furor was in response to Jeffries recently revealing that A&F does not offer clothing above size 10 to purposely keep what he considers to be plus-sized women and men out of its stores and that the brand targets only “thin and beautiful” consumers. “We don’t market to anyone other than that. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes] and they can’t belong.”
Across the country – believing that such comments and practices foster an environment of bullying and discrimination – outraged consumers have written letters to A&F, packed up clothing in their closets to mail back to the chain’s corporate headquarters and protested at local storefronts in their hometowns. High-profile print and broadcast media outlets from coast to coast have joined the fray and online campaigns have been waged calling for a boycott of the brand.
Studies have shown that the unrealistic, ideal body images portrayed by the fashion industry, in the media and in advertising contribute to poor self-esteem and are triggers among those who are already vulnerable for developing eating disorders. In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Anorexia nervosa has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), headquartered in New York City, is the leading U.S. non-profit organization supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. Each year, NEDA helps millions of people across the country find information and appropriate treatment resources through its toll-free, live helpline, its many outreach programs and website. NEDA advocates for advancements in the field and envisions a world without eating disorders. For more information, visit www.MyNEDA.org.
Proud2Bme is NEDA’s interactive website for teens and young adults. Launched in October 2011 and sponsored by J.P. Morgan Chase and the Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation, Proud2Bme is committed to serving as a forum for young people to discuss and receive support regarding body image, self-esteem and eating disorders. The site features articles about topics ranging from fashion and beauty to news and entertainment, while promoting self-confidence and positive body image. Proud2Bme also aims to empower young people to become advocates for self-esteem and activists against bodysnarking and negative media messages. Visitproud2Bme.org to join our community!