After a moment of disgust viewing a beautiful plus-sized bikini model in H&M's new advertisements, I realized something was very wrong. When I read that Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, considered anyone over a size 10 unworthy of wearing "cool" clothes, I understood why our society — and my thinking — has gone so awry.

When I first saw H&M's new advertisements featuring a size 12 model in a bikini, I was disgusted.

I was absolutely appalled — at myself, revolted by my first thought (and this is not easy to admit): "Ewww, she's too fat to be in a bikini in an advertisement." As I scrolled through the images, I found myself critiquing her body, analyzing and assessing her like I would a piece of meat at the grocery store.

I could not believe those were the first thoughts that entered my mind. I didn't ask for those thoughts, and that isn't even what I believe!

And I did this at lightning speed, in mere seconds!

I simply could not believe it.

I could not believe those were the first thoughts that entered my mind. I didn't ask for those thoughts, and that isn't even what I believe!

My "real" feelings

What I believe is that she is a stunningly beautiful woman who has every right to proudly sport a bikini in an advertisement or anywhere else (of course, who doesn't have that right?). What I think is that she's about 10 times sexier than the emaciated pixies in Victoria's Secret ads, and the truth is I'd give just about anything to have a body even resembling hers, and I find her refreshing and lovely as a healthy representation of "woman."

And though I realize how ridiculous it is that a company featuring an average-sized female model in an advertisement is national news, I still want to hug H&M for using a “regular” model in the "regular" (not "plus-sized") section of clothing.

Broken beliefs, broken society

But I started thinking: Am I a terrible person for having that initial reaction? Or was that a conditioned response, reflective of a broken society?

Well, because people (and I'm using that term loosely) like Mike Jeffries exist, I'm pretty confident those thoughts were implanted in my brain without my approval by a seriously whacked society. (Or unattractive, almost-elderly white dudes with the intelligence of flag poles. You decide.)

Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that.

Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, explained that their stores only carry women's sizes up to size 10 because they only want “good-looking people": "Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that."

So people above a size 10 are neither cool nor good-looking. OK, thanks for clearing that up.

The tool goes on: “In every school, there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids… candidly, 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.”

Wait, what?

Implicitly he reveals that Abercrombie & Fitch is playing on the insecurities of teenagers as they try to find their way in the world.

OK, so fat people are so uncool, so not good-looking, they aren't even worthy of your clothing. (My, my, you really are a tool, Mr. Jeffries. I mean, have you seen yourself? My goodness, talk about unattractive.)

He explicitly states that this message is targeted to young people. Implicitly he reveals that Abercrombie & Fitch is playing on the insecurities of teenagers as they try to find their way in the world. He's targeting our teenagers in their most vulnerable, formative years.

The origins of broken beliefs

Well, now, things are becoming a little clearer: I was once a teenager. I didn't grow up in a vacuum. I grew up in a world of Mike Jeffries. I grew up in the world of Abercrombie & Fitch models screaming at me from eight-foot high images: "I am perfect. I am sexy and hot and I am a size zero."

You are not. You are a size eight. You are not sexy or hot.

How is the societal construction of "cool" or "pretty" or "sexy" making its way into my daily behavior?

The same voice still enters my head when I see those Victoria's Secret models: "You aren't good enough. You'll never look like that."

They are perfect. They are the "cool, good-looking" ones. They are the "cool kids."

You, you don't belong.

And it's the voice that made me criticize Jennie Runk, the gorgeous “plus-sized” model who isn't “plus-sized” at all. It's the voice that isn't mine.

And it's the voice that's making its way into the minds of my children, right now, and yours.

As women, as mothers, we absolutely MUST ask ourselves those really hard questions: What ideas exist in my head that I didn't put there? How is the societal construction of "cool" or "pretty" or "sexy" making its way into my daily behavior?

If you're brave enough to look, the answers may surprise you.

Perspective

hand mirrorA few months ago, I put on a dress getting ready for work. My first-grade son sat on my bed, watching me as I examined myself in the mirror, scowling, twirling back and forth. As I pulled the dress over my head I muttered, “Man, I look terrible. I'm so fat.”

And he looked at me dead in the eyes and said “Mama, you sure aren't very nice to yourself.”

I froze as I realized he only saw his mama, perfect and gorgeous and whole. I was the one who couldn't see myself clearly. I was the one holding myself up to examination like a piece of meat in the grocery store: too much flesh here, not enough there. Broken. Wrong.

I was the one with tainted eyes and I didn't even know it. Unintentionally, I was passing those eyes on to my children.

I didn't ask for those eyes or those thoughts, but they've made their way into me anyway.

Now it's my job to see them make their way out.

More on body image

Victoria's (not so) Secret attack on our daughters
Teen body image, courtesy of Mom's issues
Does your teen daughter want plastic surgery?

Topics:

Comments

  • newest
  • oldest
  • most replied
Siobhan Menge June 19, 2013
0 0
I tried to leave a comment and it dissolved into the ether.

Janelle, I hope you do not take some of these comments to heart. I have to believe that these responders are struggling so hard with their own negative self talk they are not able to see the value in exposing it and questioning its origins. I, for one, appreciate your honesty and self-examination. I think this dialogue is essential! We must look at the messages our misogynistic culture is feeding us, and recognise its voice disguised as our own. Thank you for raising your voice and exposing yourself along with it. Your self-honesty is inspiring and encouraging. Keep on.

Love, Siobhan
Janelle Hanchett June 03, 2013
0 0
So let me get this straight, Shawna. I'm "disgusting" for honestly talking about something, admitting I'm wrong and trying to set it right? In the interest of your "inner self," I'm going to assume you only read the first few lines of this article. Because seriously, unless you are some sort of infallible human, it seems very odd to me that you would judge somebody so harshly for not being perfect, admitting it, and trying to do something about it.

If this is "disgusting" to you, you might want to rethink how you assess other human beings, and maybe give some thought to your own inner self.
Shawna Foley May 15, 2013
0 0
It sickens me that even girls who aren't skinny themselves think that curvy models (or curvy girls in general) are "disgusting" and "fat". You know who the disgusting person is?? YOU! Sorry, but I have a very firm belief that everyone is and can be beautiful- the only thing that makes you ugly or "disgusting" is the inner you. And you cannot blame anyone but yourself for thinking this way.
Leigh Ann Torres May 13, 2013
0 0
As much as I hate Jeffires' comments, that's his marketing strategy for HIS company. And they're not hurting. It just sucks that there are going to be some girls out there who want to shop there to fit in, but can't. So they won't just get made fun of for being awkward or uncool, they'll get made fun of for "not being able to fit into Abercrombie." There really is no perfect answer except to try to teach our kids that they are more than the clothes they wear or the number on their jeans.
Cameron Garriepy May 09, 2013
0 0
I'm glad this writer got a wake up call, because her initial reaction sickens me. Seriously sickens me. I am working my ass off to achieve a goal size that is larger than that model, and knowing as I do that there are people who are constantly disapproving of my current body like I am some kind of monster - like they have a right to - makes it hard to leave the house, never mind consider trying to feel beautiful and sexy. The media may shape our perceptions, but it does so because we ALLOW it to shape them. We allow stereotypes and advertising campaigns to bestow upon us the right judge people wanting as human beings because of size or color or fashion choices. And I'm not innocent of it. I admit, I took one look at the author's perky headshot, her perfect blond hair, and decided she was a skinny b*tch. Not fair, is it? I don't know her. I have no business thinking that way. But the media tells me that pretty women are mean to fat girls.

We all lose when we permit marketing to dictate the way we view each other.

We all need to seriously examine what's important. Health, joy, love, kindness, feeling good in our skins, and not fearing the glances of strangers.