Does Your Favorite Retailer Have a Hidden Agenda? How To Steer Clear of Discriminatory Perceptions Around Fashion and Body Type

Posted By Kantorlaw || 1-Jul-2013

Whether Savannah Kitchen celebrity, Paula Deen, openly admits to using racial slurs or the beautiful body retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch's CEO Mike Jeffries, brags about his store marketing to the "attractive" "cool kids," certain retailers and brands blatantly offer up their own shocking prejudices, which disgust some and apparently make little difference to others. How does anyone maneuver their way through these headlines and not get caught up in their own imperfections? And knowing that these companies support unrealistic and discriminatory ideals, why do we still support them?

Accusations of sexist, racist and discriminatory practices have been a part of A & F's "M.O." for years. Yet, they continue to remain in business; located in every mall, Fifth Avenue and Main Street U.S.A. In 2009, A & F was sued by a worker as her prosthetic arm was not "natural" or "classic" enough for the store and violated the "Look Policy." In 2003, A &F paid 2.2 million dollars to employees who felt that that the company was unfairly forcing them to buy A & F's clothes. In 2004, they paid a 40 million dollar settlement after being accused of discriminatory employment practices. A & F stock prices have fallen a bit in the last few months, but people are still buying their stock.

A & F is not the only retailer guilty of pandering to the perfect and pretty. In 2010, it was American Apparel's 2010 "no uglies" policy scandal. Mall retailer, Wet Seal, has weathered several crises of discrimination in the past decade for firing employees that do not fit the "white, blond, blue-eyed" prototype to which they hope to exclusively market. Just a few months ago, a Federal Judge ruled that the entrances to hundreds of Hollister stores nationwide (owned by A & F) violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. Hollister's store entrances feature steps that lead up to a mock-surf shack front porch to enhance their Southern California-cool vibe, but they instead pose an insurmountable obstacle for disabled customers. The stores had side ramps, but most stores blocked these ramps with tables filled with merchandise.

Through all this elitist muck, there are some notable exceptions. For instance, H & M using size 12 women in its recent swimwear campaign (again, size 12 is considered "plus size" in the fashion world). Jean Paul Gaultier closed his 2005 show in Paris with Crystal Renn, then a size 12 model, while Robyn Lawley became Ralph Lauren's first plus-size model last September. Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign, which subbed real women for professional models in its ads, went viral after launching in 2004. Most recently, Jade Beall's photographic journey in, "A Beautiful Body Project : Reshaping Media & Praising the Un-Photoshopped Body of Women," candidly showcases the un-retouched, awe inspiring bodies of mothers, stretch marks and all. But these examples are still too few and far in between.

So what to do? First, put your money where your heart is, and do not support businesses that do not support you and what you believe in. Second, stay aware and current on the underlying conscious of your favorite retailer. Ignorance is not bliss. Third, educate the people around you and encourage them to be socially conscious. Next, be patient, as change takes time. It is very difficult to shift the mind set of companies and convince them to do the right thing. Finally, try not to get caught up in what the Mike Jeffries of this world think. His perception of "cool," "pretty" or appropriate sizing is simply his perception. Show him you're literally not going to buy it, and don't!

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