Julia McCoy ’22
Any young woman in their late teens or early twenties in 2022 can easily recall a former favorite pastime: walking around the mall with friends. In the early 2010s, around the same time that Starbucks frappuccinos and frozen yogurt shops were having their renaissance, shopping malls were a popular reprieve for young people looking for something to do on a Friday night.
What happened during this time? Girls would walk around stores with their friends, looking for the items to spend their weekly allowance or even their first wages on. They would browse stores catered to their age group like Hollister, American Eagle, and Abercrombie & Fitch. As a result, trips to the mall would impress upon girls how they should look, act, and feel about themselves.
In 2013, Abercrombie unabashedly promoted its brand towards “skinny” people. An Insider article from 2013 titled “Abercrombie & Fitch Refuses To Make Clothes for Large Women” begins by saying, “Teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t stock XL or XXL sizes in women’s clothing because they don’t want overweight women wearing their brand.” There was a clear stigma against women of a certain size, and it caused many to rethink how they looked —always wanting to fit the cool Abercrombie brand.
Men’s clothes at the same time, on the other hand, were available in all sizes, including XL and XXL. The same Insider article suggests that this could be to draw in muscular football players and other “athletic” body types that are desirable in men, but certainly not in women at the time.
It was a dangerous combination, especially when marketed towards young women: in order to be cool and to fit in with your friends that you shop with, you must be thin. Models were thin, larger sizes were not available, and there was no space for young women who did not fit this unhealthy type. In the times before plus-sized models and eating disorder awareness on a wide scale, retail culture threatened women’s mental health with little to no repercussions.
Now, however, TikTok is flooded with “Abercrombie Try-On Hauls,” in which women of all sizes excitedly open up Abercrombie packages—either purchased or sent through influencer PR deals—and try on the brand’s clothes. On their website, denim is now sold up to a size 37 and boasts styles like “Curve Love” which highlights curvier body types and provides a better fit. Models no longer represent a stereotyped, skinny, white society that the company formerly idealized, but rather introduces models of all shapes, sizes, and races.
So, what caused this change? How did a company evolve from messaging like “we won’t sell above a size ten” to a store that all women feel comfortable shopping in?
In short, those same women who were influenced by this unhealthy messaging a decade ago are now trailblazers of a new mindset, one of inclusion and body positivity. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have become safe havens for conversations about mental health, eating disorders, and body image issues, and women have become far more comfortable talking about these things in public. With that messaging being brought into society, there has been a rejection of the former “perfection” guidelines within modeling and retail culture.
Credit is due to Abercrombie for its ability to adapt to the changes in society and to make up for the issues that it has made in the past. There are still plenty of companies out there that have yet to make this change. One, for instance, is Brandy Melville, a company that boasts its “one size fits most” brand. That “most” does not include a number of bodies, and therefore stigmatizes people who do not fit into their small t-shirts or skirts.
Powerful women have brought our country to this change. They are powerful not because they reject the society that they live in, but because they find ways to empower themselves in spite of the issues that society offers. With the continuation of this powerful positive energy through platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and even everyday conversation, there is hope that society will continue to move in a positive direction. There is hope that young girls shopping in the mall will feel happy, regardless of what they may look like.