Gilly Hicks had a sale recently, and as usual, I deliberately ordered enough stuff from their website to get free shipping, with the intention of returning most of the lot. This morning, while searching for their return policy to see how many days I can hem and haw before the sales are final, I wound up on a couple of Abercrombie & Fitch (their parent company) and Hollister-inspired Tumblr blogs. Apparently, it’s customary in the group interviews with these stores to be asked a make-or-break-you question about “what diversity means to you.”
Needless to say to anyone familiar with the brand and its many spinoff companies, I had a rip-snortin’ good smirk at that “diversity” crock. A&F’s version of diversity is still the pretty and skinny young adults with conventionally attractive hair and bodies, and with “cool kid” social skills, but in different skin colors. I mean, yeah, Crayola sells blue and green crayons alongside the red ones in their boxes, too, but doesn’t mean the box is full of “diverse” art supplies. In this case, A&F pretending to care that people naturally look somewhat different from each other is just a CYA move.
Years ago, there was a study done to explore whether women who had breast implants purely for non-medical, cosmetic reasons actually did feel any more confident about their bodies as a result of the surgery. These women were not recovering from mastectomies or other health procedures where one might desire a certain level of normalcy after altering or removing body parts; they just wanted bigger breasts. And did the implants help? Largely, yes. Much to my dismay, more than half of the women DID, at least at the time of the study, feel better about themselves after having augmented their otherwise healthy breasts. I was disappointed that the artificiality had won out, though it made me question why that might have been so.
In high school, one of my best friends refused to wear anything displaying a prominent brand logo. She didn’t want to advertise for those businesses for free, and she didn’t associate those brands with her identity. (She always was a smart one.) As someone who wore as much discount Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch clothing as I could afford, her deviance baffled me. For me, wearing those brands felt like instant unspoken social approval. Deciding what to wear in the mornings required little thought because, as long as it was tight enough to show my thin figure, and push-up bra, and had a pre-approved store logo somewhere on it, I was good to go… from the neck down, at least. Why wouldn’t someone want to wear something that would instantly elevate their attrativeness in the jungle of the high school halls? Little did I recognize my friend’s wisdom back then.
It feels good to conform.
Social approval is a very, very powerful reinforcer. If you’re feeling ostracized or anxious, conforming to what works for other people can bring with it a sense of peace. It calms us down, letting us feel validated and accepted. But, that doesn’t mean conformity is always a good idea. By conforming, we’re treating the symptoms, not the disease. We recognize that it’s a choice to get implants, visit tanning salons, wear makeup, shave, pluck our eyebrows, etc., but we often don’t question WHY we choose to do those things.
Personal expression is always influenced by the environment in which we live, and it’s impossible to make any decision free of all outside influence. But, recognizing those influences and calling them out when they’re unhealthy is a good first step toward a healthy mind, and I challenge you to question yourself a little extra tonight.