Thursday, May 16, 2013

Abercrombie's marketing from a 19th-century feminist position

Many of you are aware that Abercrombie 's CEO recently affirmed that his market clothing was "exclusionary," as it is supposed to only appeal (and fit) the "cool" kids. In fact, Abercrombie's clothing is so exclusive that it does not include a woman's size above a size 10--sparking outcry and vitriolic criticism worldwide.

Obviously, I do not condone Abercrombie's philosophy. But I think that the CEO's choice to exclude overweight women from their clothing is important to consider in a post-modern world. Society has come a long way in valuing women other than their fertility and physical attractiveness. In fact, it was long held that children inherited their physical body from their mother and their soul from their father. From this belief, women became associated more with beauty and men for their wisdom and knowledge.

Margaret Fuller, one of the most seminal 19th-century feminists, lambasted these views in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, as she recognized that these beliefs reduced women solely to a body, rather than a body with a soul. Moreover, she asserted that when men viewed women as simply a body meant for physical pleasure, they subsequently reduced themselves to the bodily sphere as well, as they were solely focusing on their carnal appetite. Rather, Fuller argued, both men and women had to be aware of the the need for the soul's nourishment, which came as a result of intellectual activity and an earnest search for truth. That is not to say that the body was inferior to the soul; physical exercise in her mind was vital in assisting the soul. But in focusing more on activities intended to fuel their vanity, women, in her mind, became a "blighted half-being."

Today, an unprecedented amount of women have more opportunity than ever to engage and enlarge their intellects, and, in many ways, Fuller's dream has been realized. But when we read comments such as those by the Abercrombie CEO, we are reminded that there are still threads of societal regression. We are still showing signs of valuing women to the extent that they are aligned with an ideal physical form. The outcry of Abercrombie's marketing brings me hope that society is moving in the direction of valuing the woman's souls over their bodies. And I hope that it continues.

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