Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For Abercrombie & Fitch A Prosthetic Arm Just Is Not Fashionable

There are many reasons to avoid shopping and Abercrombie.  They have a history of forcing their workers of color to labour in back room because we do not fit the correct image that they are trying  to market to.  Fashionable means incredibly skinny and white. 

They have now added yet another proviso on who is fit to shill their shit.  Apparently, one must have no visible markers of disability to work for minimum wage folding their clothes and using a cash register.  A prosthetic arm might be disturbing to their customers who need to see themselves reflected in every corner. 

According to the Daily Mail, when Riam Dean was hired, her boss was more interested in quickly taking her picture and ensuring that she fit the “look policy” of which all new employees are made aware of via a handbook. 

It stipulates that staff must represent a 'natural, classic American style' and instructs them on everything from how to wear their hair (clean and natural) to how long they should wear their nails (a quarter of an inch past the end of the finger).

image When it was discovered a few days later that she had a prosthetic arm she was told to wear a cardigan.  If that were not offensive enough, she was ordered into the back room after a worker from the “visual team” decided that she did not fit “the look” that they were attempting to promote.

Riam is rightfully suing for discrimination.  There will be those that feel that because she knew of the companies standards, that she had no right to complain about her treatment, however setting an employee appearance code that shames people based in a differently abled status is discriminatory on its basis.  Riam asked for no special treatment and simply sought to do her job. Even if she had asked for accommodations a refusal to do so would again be invoking able bodied privilege.

I could simply spend my time listing the various ways in which Abercrombie & Fitch reify negative social constructions in their business model, however I feel that it is important to note that in the case of disability, the concept of blending in is particularly problematic.  We are often asked to go unseen as we struggle daily with issues that able bodied people take for granted.  The right to take up space is specifically denied us.

As Lauredhel noted over at Hoydon About Town,  now there is a measure in Australia to reduce parking spots for the disabled.  If it can be constructed as an inconvenience to the able bodied, any form of accommodation to the differently abled is understood as an unnecessary hardship. Bodies that are different from what we understand to be the norm are constantly under attack, as that is the only way a system of hierarchy can be imposed. Who has the right to take up space is very much decided by which bodies we have decided to privilege. 

Space is what this comes down to.  By forcing her into the back room Abercrombie denied her right to exist and function alongside everyone else based ableism. Her arm in their minds denotes a lesser than being and only the “beautiful” people of this world are worthy of being looked at.  The differently abled are often not seen as competent, attractive, sexual, or beautiful. To many, we are our supposed dysfunction and therefore to Abercrombie, Riam was her prosthetic  arm and not a whole human being.  The moment we deny someone's humanity, we justify discrimination.