Weekly challenge: Say no to Abercrombie & Fitch’s weight discrimination

In a somewhat fitting set of coincidental circumstances, New Jersey governor’s Chris Christie’s weight loss surgery dominated headlines last week along with a controversy brewing over clothing designer Abercrombie & Fitch’s refusal to carry extra-large clothing sizes.

Weight discrimination is “really the only still-acceptable form of discrimination in our country,” Christie said to MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski in an interview last Thursday.

He’s right about that. Abercrombie & Fitch’s chief executive Michael Jeffries candidly admitted that his company designed clothes no larger than size 10 to target “cool kids,” in a 2006 interview with Salon magazine that gained renewed attention several days ago.

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“We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” Jeffries said. “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

In case you thought teen girls who wear size 12 or 14 could be cool, Jeffries clarifies that by saying, “Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

Jeffries, though, seems to have managed to alienate everybody. A petition on Change.org has already garnered more than 7,300 signatures and calls for the company to make larger sizes and to be nicer to teenage girls. Hundreds of others have left comments on the Abercrombie & Fitch’s Facebook page saying that they plan to boycott the store because they think it’s encouraging eating disorders like anorexia.

The National Eating Disorders Association called for a boycott of the company last week, saying its marketing philosophy “fosters body shaming.”

Abercrombie & Fitch has remained mute on the issue and didn’t respond to my request for a comment. Oddly, the company’s website has a page devoted to diversity with this quote from Jeffries: “Diversity and inclusion are key to our organization’s success. We are determined to have a diverse culture, throughout our organization, that benefits from the perspectives of each individual.”

Different skin colors are fine, but different body shapes, not.

Dr. Sherry Pagoto, an obesity and weight management physician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said the company’s diversity claims are hogwash “To me, it’s identical to having a sign in a restaurant that says we don’t serve black people. This is the attitude that this company is standing behind. They’re not even trying to hide it.”

So how should consumers respond?

Pagoto said they should take a stand against weight discrimination and stop making purchases at places that denigrate those who are overweight. “It’s important to understand that if you buy something from a company that has a certain attitude, you’re supporting that attitude yourself. You’re saying this is what I’m all about.”

Parents should have discussions with their teens about the clothing manufacturer and discourage them from shopping there, she added.

Your weekly challenge is to think about what your purchase, and consider signing a petition or making your feelings known to those who condone weight discrimination.