By Anna Gevalt
I spent yesterday downtown, enjoying what is characteristically considered the pastime of all teenage girls: shopping. I walked past stores with overpriced clothing draped over mannequins, shirts barely covering the dolls' plastic breasts, pants sliding down plastic, shiny hips.
But this wasn't so bad. These clothes are more or less accepted, and I am no longer shocked, sadly, when the girl in front of me at school sits down and reveals part of her butt and some flagrantly colored string that we now call underwear.
This wasn't the worst of it, though, yesterday at the mall. Not the shirts that proclaimed "I'm sexy" or "Foxy" or "Available." No, what really hit me was this guy walking by. It wasn't him, though. He was a regular guy, wearing some brand name sweatshirt, jeans and a beanie on his head, nothing strange about that. It was his bag. I did a double take -- I wasn't aware of any porn shop in the Burlington Town Centre.
But here he was, a shopping bag in his hand, a paper bag, white with a huge photo on it, a picture that downright infuriated me: A model wearing only thin underwear, cloth that hardly covered her butt. Her picture wrapped around the paper bag, exposing her stomach, and then her breast. No, not her nipple, for that would be bad.
The shopping bag model had lifted her shirt off, arms above her head, hair blowing seductively in the breeze of a studio fan. There she was, a nearly naked woman on the side of a shopping bag. How can this be okay? What about women's suffrage? What about the women's rights movement? Gone to waste; women reduced to mere objects -- again -- on the side of a bag.
I was pretty pissed off. I spotted the label: Abercrombie & Fitch. For the first time, I decided to do something about it. So, my friend in tow, I marched into the store, prepared for an indignant tirade at the manager -- declaring the rights of women, speaking out for justice, equality and respect, demanding that he, the store, and the corporation apologize for its wrongdoing, for its degradation of women. I imagined, too, my triumphant exit.
But there was no man behind the counter, just a college student dutifully working the cash register; she was one of us, a young woman. We decided to walk around the store in search of a male staffer. It would be so much more dramatic to declare the unfairness, to proclaim our outrage to a male. Our search was fruitless; but as we looked we became even more infuriated. On the walls of Abercrombie & Fitch were huge photos of very attractive people, not one with the least bit of clothing. Picture after picture, women whose hair fell in just the right place, a woman posing as if playing the violin with an attractive guy helping her out, suggesting a sort of Bach orgy. Could they make it any more obvious that the only thing the advertisers are selling is sex?
Infuriating. But kind of ironic for a clothing store. Examine A&F's marketing strategy: "Hmm. We need some pictures for our fall season. I know, let's get some pictures of models wearing NO clothes! Then, somehow, the consumer will want to buy our clothes! They'll understand that they'll look this sexy when they wear Abercrombie clothes, so sexy that they, like the models, will get to take the clothes off!"
So, continuing the logic, you won't even need the clothes which you bought from the store in the first place because you wanted to be sexy because you wanted to be able to take off your clothes. And so you end up naked. Like the models. Ridiculous.
Aghast we circled back to the counter. We then noticed that Abercrombie has two bags: Only the guys get naked girls. The girls get bags with naked guys. I had half a mind to tell the clerk I was lesbian, and wanted the naked girl, but I had a different point to make that day.
Even if it was to a woman clerk. So we vented. And she told us there was nothing she could do, she just worked there. She suggested we write the company, and she gave us its email address, the address of a huge multinational corporation.
The naked girl is all over the country by now. I bet she's making big bucks as a bag lady. And, really, would Abercrombie's million-dollar man, CEO Michael Jeffries, listen to me, a 16-year-old high school student who happens to be offended? The only high schoolers he listens to are the ones toting the babe bags full of new merchandise.
But I can hope. I can hope that someone will feel the same way I do, and will tell their friends, who will tell their friends. And, maybe, one will write a letter, and then another, and then all their friends will write and maybe, between meetings, the CEO will read all these letters and come to his senses.
And, who knows? In a couple of years, the Abercrombie models just might start wearing a little clothing. And women can stand for something else for a change.
By the way, I'm not the only woman who's pissed. Do a Google on Abercrombie & Fitch and you'll find dozens of women across the country who are organizing boycotts and letter-writing campaigns. Go girls.
Originally printed in Vermont Woman.