Too Young for “Push-up” Tops: Abercrombie Kids Slowly Understands

Abercrombie Kids, a division of Abercrombie & Fitch, sells to an age range of 7 to 14 years old.  Now that is a fairly broad range and naturally there are differences in what is appropriate for each age range.    So when the company marketed a product across this range, there was some negative reactions.  The product was the top for a bikini.  The top of the “Ashley” was push-up, designed to enhance breasts.  Many mothers and social critics cried foul over sexualizing children as young a 7. 

Here is a sample criticism

“The spring line features three styles of tops: triangle,  bandeau…and push up. All starting at size 7. The push-up tops must be big sellers—they’re at the top of the list of swim top offerings. Of course, I can see why.  When you’re shopping for a bikini, there’s basically one ideal in the universal mind. Even a 7 year old knows you’re supposed to look like the girls in the pages of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

The thing is, it’s our job to show them why that’s not a good idea, not to help them achieve this fantasy sooner.”

The criticisms of Abercrombie appear online and in the traditional news media.  As CNN reported:  “No stranger to controversy, U.S. retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has come under fire for offering a push-up bikini top to young girls.  Its “Ashley” bikini — described as “padded” and a “push-up” — was posted on the Abercrombie Kids website earlier this week.  The company declined to comment Saturday but noted it has since updated the description of its bikini online.”  The consistent theme is these messages was that the marketing was age inappropriate and somewhat “creepy.” 

As background information, here are some addition controversies for Abercrombie:

“In 2002, for instance, the trendy retailer caught flak from parents because it was selling thong underwear in children’s sizes with the words “eye candy” and “wink wink” printed on the front.

In 2001, the company’s quarterly catalog created a stir when it ran photographs of models who appeared to be college-age or younger in the nude, kissing and fondling each other.”

The conflict carried over to Abercrombie Kids’ Facebook page as people debated whether or not the company had acted inappropriately.  As you might expect, there were defenders who were fans of Abercrombie.  Their points was if you do not like it, don’t buy it.  Here is a defending comment: 

Minreal Herrera

‘Ok stop really
Dont lik it? Dont buy it!
Dont lik our comments? Dont read them and to renee i think kids shood hav a say, and u cant control ur child forever! Of u want u can but other kids rnt urs so u cant tell us wat to say or do! So rea…lly… STOp!’

Another point that was made was that the smaller sizes might fit the younger demographic but some age appropriate buyers are smaller than normal for their age and want this style. 

The critics did respond:

“to all the people who said if u dont like it dont buy it.. really??? if u think 7 year olds should make them selves look sexually suggestive then u have a scew loose. u know there is that mom out there who has to “be cool” and buy it. kids dont understand the perverts out there. and too many moms are just plain stupid! so just get rid of it!”

Their point is that sexualizing children is wrong and responsible companies should not facilitate that process.  It is not a question of whether to buy it or not but whether or not it is appropriate at all to sell. 

Abercrombie did change after the “outrage” and related media coverage appeared.  Here is their statement:

“We’ve re-categorized the Ashley swimsuit as padded,” according to a statement posted Monday on the Abercrombie Kids Facebook page. “We agree with those who say it is best ‘suited’ for girls age 12 and older.”

The challenge from stakeholders was respect as Abercrombie changed the marketing of the produce to reflect the concern from critics, to a degree.  People may still debate their age choice.

Questions to Consider

1.  To what degree do you think past controversies affected the current situation and why?

2.  Do you agree or disagree with the critics of the marketing?  Why or why not?

3.  Why would this situation qualify as a paracrisis?

4.  What was the danger if Abercrombie choose to defend its actions?  Could they have done this successfully?  Why or why not?

5.  Some people claim all publicity is good publicity.  Do you feel that is the case here?  Why or why not?

6.  How ethical was Abercrombie in this case?  How ethical were their critics?

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