The White Life Is The Right Life

As stated in the video above, popular American clothing brand, Abercrombie & Fitch, draws billions of dollars in profit annually, despite the fact that the clothier makes no qualms about its exclusionary branding, marketing, and selling practices. Abercrombie & Fitch has capitalized off of embodying sexism, classism and racism at its finest. Dwight McBride, author of Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality in America, states, “Abercrombie & Fitch has devised a very clear marketing and advertising strategy that celebrates whiteness – a particularly privileged and leisure-class whiteness – and makes use of it as a “lifestyle” that it commodifies to sell otherwise extremely dull, uninspiring, and ordinary clothing… The danger of such a marketing scheme is that it depends upon the racist thinking of its consumer population in order to thrive” (66).

Powerful words, indeed. Abercrombie CEO, Michael Jeffries, makes absolutely no effort to disguise his elitism and is unapologetically dismissive of any criticism or other backlash. He has been quoted as saying, “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 in our clothes, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Our people in the store are an inspiration to the customer. The customer sees the natural Abercrombie style and wants to be like the Brand Representative… Our Brand is natural, classic and current, with an emphasis on style. This is what a Brand Representative must be; this is what a Brand Representative must represent in order to fulfill the conditions of employment.

Excerpts of the Abercrombie Look Book, as quoted in McBride

Exclusivity is not limited to the target consumer, but potential employees as well, as exemplified by the Abercrombie Look Book, their employee manual. Keywords is the handbook include “natural”, “classic” and “American”, of which McBride explains, “such words in the context not only of Abercrombie, but in the context of US culture more broadly, are often understood for the coded ways of delineating the whiteness that they represent. Indeed, most of us carry in our imagination a very specific image that we readily access when such monikers as “natural, classic, American” are used” (McBride 68).

It is true that when one hears “natural, classic, American” that a certain image comes to mind, however that does not constitute the actual image of a classic American. It is largely accepted what that term mean, but that term, nor related image is an accurate reflection of an American, as Americans come in endless varieties.

The creation of an “A&F Look,” which almost invariably functions to produce an exclusively white staff of brand representatives in Abercrombie’s stores, might be understood as an elaborately devised method by the company of forestalling the potential legal exposure of such an exclusionary employment policy. The formal workings of what we might call the “corporate culture” of A&F provide the infrastructure for maintaining and reproducing the discriminatory, virtually all-white A&F look

McBride, 80

It is one matter to blatantly propagate one’s individual ideals, as Jeffries does so infamously. However it is another shocking and sobering reality altogether to realize the potent accuracy of McBride’s words about a marketing scheme depending on the racist thinking of the consumer, and their relation to Jeffries’ irreverence. The fact is, Abercrombie is extremely successful, despite their widely disseminated discriminatory ideologies. Jeffries has no reason to feel bad or show any remorse because it is not his convictions (or lack thereof) that are making him repulsively rich, it is the fact that there are millions of people buying into those beliefs – and buying the clothes.

Ellen DeGeneres spoke about the latest Abercrombie scandal on her talk show, and although intermixed with her usual comedic nature, there was a distinct gravity in her remarks. “Beauty isn’t between a size 0 and a size 8; it is not a number at all. It is not physical… What you look like on the outside is not what makes you cool, at all.”

According to him anyone who’s a plus size isn’t cool enough to shop in Abercrombie & Fitch. You know what I say to that? Oh, Fitch please!

Ellen DeGeneres

Similar to the impractical and precluding ideologies put forth by Abercrombie, the the beauty industry comes under similar scrutiny for its unrealistic standards. Michelle M. Lazar says in, “Discover the Power of Femininity!”, “The beauty industry has long been criticized by some feminists as oppressive upon women for its promulgation of impossible beauty standards” (506). This ad for Dove is a perfect example of the impossible standards. Impossible and simply unreal.

Beyonce in a L’Oreal advert


Freida Pinto in a L’Oreal advert

An ongoing issue in various sectors of the beauty industry is “whitewashing“, a trend in which the skin of women of color appear much lighter in printed ads than in real life. This practice is another perpetuation of the false notion that “white is right”, in lifestyle and standards of beauty.

Lazar was focusing on the relationship between feminism and consumerism, a “global sisterhood”, however in studying this, she had no choice but to acknowledge factors such as class, culture and ethnicity, and their lack of representation in the  majority of beauty advertising. “I shall consider the dimension of female consumer identity and identification afforded by power femininity, which co-opts a modern global sisterhood of “women.” One way in which a globalized consumer sisterhood is construed in the as is, paradoxically, through erasure of difference among women from different geographical regions, cultures and ethnicites… In other words, the white models are not particularized; instead, they stand for the universal modern woman” (514).

When white women are used in ads, even those targeted to or intended to be inclusive of women of color, they are positioned as the ubiquitous, all-encompassing epitome of beauty. When an actual woman of color is used in an ad, like Beyonce and Freida Pinto, she is more often than not altered in her appearance, either digitally or by the use of wigs and other cosmetic aids, to resemble more of that “natural, classic American” that Abercrombie works so relentlessly to maintain as ideal.

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