Justice Clarence Thomas recently declared that he objects to affirmative action first and foremost because it degrades its recipients, making them feel like beneficiaries of someone else's largess rather than capable people advancing on their own merit. If so, let's all shed a tear for the brave employees of Abercrombie and Fitch, whom the company recently acknowledged are chosen for their high cheekbones rather than their high standards, for hard chests rather than hard work.

It seems that A&F is one of those savvy employers who practice positive discrimination for a decidedly tiny American minority - those who look better than you and me.

Antonio Serrano, a former assistant Abercrombie store manager explained the policy in The New York Times: "If someone came in with a pretty face, we were told to approach them and ask them if they wanted a job. They thought if we had the best-looking college kids working in our store, everyone will want to shop there." Likewise Tom Lennox, Abercrombie's communications director, acknowledged that the company targets sales assistants who "look great."

Now there's real affirmative action.

Beautiful people do have a miraculous ability to part us from our money. Abercrombie and firms like them have learned that beauty actually makes people more generous. We humans like to be charitable and big-hearted, but prefer to show our generosity toward the big-breasted or the long-legged. Normally loathe to pick up hitchhikers, we overcome our caution if a beautiful blonde or a stubble-faced stud sticks out their thumb. Studies have shown that a good-looking man or woman who has lost a wallet with their picture inside stands a far greater chance of having it returned to them--even through the mail--than someone ugly. That's altruism for you.

It's pathetic to think we'd buy a pair of jeans more readily when a body-builder with six-pack abs tells us it looks great on our flabby bodies. Abercrombie is capitalizing on this natural desire to make beautiful people happy, in order to make their shareholders happy.

The trend began long ago with celebrity endorsements. Become a movie star, and suddenly you're an expert on motor oil. And we--the suckers who stand in awe of fame--buy the product based on the brainless endorsement of someone who looks great but may not be able to stay married, stay off drugs, or have any clue as to how to raise a child.

Now the trend has moved down the food chain to what psychologist Warren Farrel likes to call 'genetic celebrities,' those who, through no effort of their own, boast a pretty face.

When we were kids, our parents told us we were beautiful, even if the world didn't agree. Our parents weren't lying. Rather, their emotions colored their appraisal of us. Their affection dressed us up so that in their eyes we were gorgeous. That's what love is: the inability to be objective about the object of your love.

Once upon a time, when a man fell in love with a woman, he stopped comparing her to all the other women he could potentially date and started becoming subjective in his appraisal of her. Even as they aged together and the world saw her wrinkles, he still remained fixated on her sparkling eyes.

I fear that the constant bombardment of beautiful faces through every medium has rendered us incapable of being subjective about beauty. We have all become experts in objective standards of beauty--those five or six templates of beauty left into which we all have to try and squeeze. For women, it usually means a round face, blue eyes, and super thinness. All the fat people, well, they'll just have to get used to working at McDonald's or Wal-Mart.

Forget that Marilyn Monroe was a size 14, or that the great masters never painted a single skinny woman. Television and glossy magazines have changed all that. Visual media cater to the eye's need to reduce everything to a series of lines, and hence, stick figures reign. A hundred years ago, people made love with their hands and 'meat was neat.' Today, they make love with their eyes and 'thin is in.'

So the next time you see a young woman who looks slightly emaciated in a bright pink top, rather than give her your credit card so that the two of you can become one flesh through the orgasmic pleasures of an impulse purchase, consider instead giving her a couple of bucks to go out and buy a good meal. In the meantime, let Abercrombie and firms like them know that when they discriminate against us "ordinary" folk in their hiring practices, us ordinary folk would rather spend our money around other ordinary folk who may seem plain to Abercrombie, but whose parents and spouses consider beautiful.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus