I’ve been thinking about this whole A&F scandal, and the more I think about it, the more I notice something under my skin that I just can’t scratch away. The reason it bothers me so much, I think, is that when I entered high school as a freshman, I desperately wanted to be able to wear A&F clothing. I couldn’t afford it. I could probably fit into them, but only their largest sizes (as they don’t carry anything above a Large, my size 8 was the upper limit of fatness in A&F world), and that would never do. As far as I was concerned, all the cool kids had A&F, and I didn’t, and I wasn’t cool.
What bothers me the most is knowing that Mike Jeffries wanted me to feel that way. He wanted the kids who could buy A&F to feel cool, and he didn’t want anyone less cool than them being able to wear his clothing. I was one of those ‘less cool,’ and he wanted me to know it.
As an adult, I have always assumed that there was an adolescent immaturity to my belief that ‘all the cool kids’ had A&F. There was a self-centered and fundamentally flawed worldview that led me to believe I wasn’t cool because I didn’t own any A&F. I manufactured this grand juvenile conspiracy in my head, to convince myself I wasn’t good enough, but it was something I all made up. No one was out to get me. The cool kids weren’t laughing at me behind my back. There wasn’t, really, any difference between me and them.
And now I find out that 14-year-old-me was right. A&F, specifically Mike Jeffries, wanted me to feel that way. He wanted me to feel like less so that the ‘cool kids’ could feel like more. He wanted them to feel like there was a difference between them and me, and by proxy, he wanted me to feel that difference. The cool kids were laughing at me because Mike Jeffries told them to.
My freshman year of high school, A&F jeans were the Holy Grail, because Mike Jeffries told the cool kids they were, and even though I wasn’t cool, I was listening. Well, I couldn’t afford them and I didn’t want to wear the largest size anyway. So I did two things. I started babysitting and I stopped eating.
My freshman year of high school was a roller coaster that you don’t want to hear about, but on the first Thursday of June in 2006, seven days after my freshman year of high school ended, I had a heart attack on my driveway at about 8 in the morning. I had lost 40 pounds my freshman year.
A month of therapy later, I had gained 10 pounds back, and I bought a size 4 in A&F jeans. They cost me $80 and my cardiac and mental health.
Every time I see another link or another dumb quote from Mike Jeffries, I have to resist the urge to take it personally. I think to myself, it’s not about me. But it is about me. It’s about every kid who thought they were uncool because they couldn’t fit into or couldn’t afford A&F jeans. It wasn’t just an adolescent sense of unfairness; Mike Jeffries went out of his way to make sure that certain adolescents felt like they were worth less than others. As if high school wasn’t hard enough as it was.
I hope he knows that for every kid who feels ‘cool’ because they have his clothes, there’s 10 who are left feeling uncool. Well, I may have been uncool, but I was also so much more than cool. I was intelligent, I was headstrong, I was determined, I was tenacious. And Mike Jeffries made me believe that those things didn’t matter because I wasn’t cool.
This isn’t about a bunch of teenagers feeling left out because they’re overweight or poor. This is about Mike Jeffries intentionally telling them that they are worth no more than that.