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A&F and Disney and Teen Body Image

So I was on a much needed vacation last week with That Guy and came across a twitter post from a friend about a campaign against Abercrombie and Fitch. Now, I was never an A&F teen: we could never afford the clothes, and I could never fit in them in even if we could have afforded them. However, I can acutely resonate with what Benjamin O’Keefe says in his blog….

“Me” is a title I used to dread to claim. You see, like so many other young people, I suffered to find the beauty in myself. When I looked in the mirror, I hated who I saw staring back at me. I was too fat, too tall, too ugly, too blah blah blah blah. Being me just didn’t seem enough. In school, I was constantly bullied and put down, and in the media I was shown images of people who just didn’t seem like me. They fit a cookie cutter mold that I could never fit…..

…I have made it one of my missions in life to build others up and show them all the things that make them special. That is why when I saw an article posted earlier this week, I had to take action. The CEO of the clothing brand Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries was recently quoted as saying, “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.”

Abercrombie & Fitch has made it clear that they don’t want overweight young people wearing their products because according to this popular teen clothing retailer “fat kids” will never be a part of the popular crowd and will therefore never be a part of their brand…. Instead of inspiring young people to make healthy choices and better themselves, Mike Jeffries and his company has told them they will never be good enough. Well, he is wrong.

A&F is a company and in the business of making money. However, when they speak out and say that there are those who “don’t belong” in their clothes and “can’t belong” in their clothes, they go past the line of decency. So far, Ben has over 7,000 signatures on his change.org petition. Join in the fight.

And while A&F decided to exclude the uncool kids from their stores, Disney decided to sex up their teenage princesses.

Ironically enough, I was on vacation in Walt Disney World in Florida all last week, and I *like* Disney. I like the parks, I am amazed at the detail they put in the attractions, and I really like the movies (doesn’t hurt that they now own all the Marvel and Star Wars things).

While I was there on Saturday, they “officially welcomed” Merida from Brave into the Disney Princess family. If you don’t remember the movie, Merida wanted nothing to do with being a princess, let alone having her life dictated by her station or marrying someone she hardly knew. She was a teen, and when Disney/Pixar designed her, she looked like a typical sixteen year old.

However, when Disney accepted Merida into the official Princess Pantheon, she got a new makeover, and now can be found looking quite different.

They thinned her up, lowered the neckline on her dress and gave it sparkle and glitz, filled out her bust and hips, cleaned out the freckles, and lost the weaponry.  If you need a side-by-side comparison, here you go:

Brenda Chapman, who won an Oscar for her work on Brave has slammed Disney about the redesign here. Suddenly, the whole meaning of the movie has changed- no longer is Merida good enough as herself, no longer is she OK as she is, she must be a pretty pretty princess to be accepted with the others, and as Merida is so must the rest of our girls who follow. The message that it’s OK to be you is lost because now you must be the pretty pretty princess to be accepted. It conforms her to a more narrow sense of acceptable beauty, and that is extremely harmful for kids of any age.  A Mighty Girl has started a change.org petition and has over 120,000 signatures; join the fight here.

What does this have to do with teens? Our teens see these images every day- they’re immersed into the culture that surrounds them. If Merida isn’t good enough the way she was, then she and they have to strive to fit into an ever narrowing mold of perfection in order to be ideal in society’s eyes. If clothing retailers like A&F can say that they only want the “cool kids” and can blatantly say they don’t want the ones that don’t fit it, what does that say to teens, even subliminally? Bullying and abuse (because it’s an extremely fine line between the two) starts younger and younger- I have friends who had their FIRST grader called *fat* by older elementary schoolers the other day, and they had been calling her that for weeks, and she just now got up the nerve to tell her parents about it- because she asked them if she could go on a diet when she’s underweight for her age and height. She can’t tell them who has been doing it because she doesn’t know their names. Yet she’s underweight in first grade and wants to go on a diet because she’s getting bullied in school and believing it. There are more and more teenage boys being diagnosed with eating disorders. There are reasons behind everything- we’re just not seeing them.

More on Body Image and Teens at TLT:
Is Fat the Last Acceptable Prejudice?
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Cooner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)The Cover Story: Body image and ya book covers
Top 10 Books about Eating Disorders
A moment to pause and reflect on body image and ya lit
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on Body Image and Gay Teens

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