The idea of Abercrombie and Fitch models evokes an all American, athletic yacht club kind of vibe, and—you know you were thinking it—young, scantily clad, muscular or slender men and women. Indeed, as soon as you walk into an Abercrombie store you’re likely to run into models, in person or in large posters along the walls that fit this prototype. And not only do you encounter them in the store; they’ll follow you out of the store as well on the bag that carries your new purchases. You won’t hear many people complaining about being stalked, however, because no one can deny the appeal that Abercrombie and Fitch models have to the public, specifically the targeted demographic of customers 25 years old and younger. However, when you come across Abercrombie models you might notice that many ethnicities tend to be underrepresented.
This is an issue that has continued to spark controversy and remained a thorn in Abercrombie’s tanned, sun kissed side. Abercrombie has been accused of expressing racial prejudice in the clothing it sells, and another matter of contention is the alleged racial discrimination in hiring models. Court cases have been filed against the Abercrombie and Fitch company, accusing it of practices like hiring Caucasian employees over minority employees, firing minority employees and replacing them with Caucasian employees, and putting Caucasian employees out in the front as the face of Abercrombie while relegating minority employees to the stockroom behind the scenes. This practice largely concerns Abercrombie and Fitch models, because models are first hired to work in the store before they can get signed to a marketing campaign and appear in ads.
However, Abercrombie denies racism in its practices, and others who have investigated Abercrombie business say that while Abercrombie does appear to discriminate, the discrimination is not racially motivated. Rather, it’s motivated by physical appearance. Abercrombie and Fitch models are often recruited while shopping in stores based on their looks, and when corporate reps visit stores and see employees that “don’t fit the Abercrombie look,” they instruct managers to shorten those employees’ work shifts.
It’s a sticky situation because while judging individuals by appearance can be discriminatory, modeling standards do have to distinguish attractive people from unattractive people. It’s a fact that models have to be good looking, but it gets complicated when you try to address who is considered good looking and who is not. At what point does discernment become discrimination?
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