The first thing Riam Dean’s mother said to me over the phone was “How has this story spread so quickly to the United States?”
The story of Riam Dean, the beautiful British law student with a prosthetic limb who was removed from her job at a London Abercrombie & Fitch shop floor because she violated their “look policy,” has been making headlines all over the world. Riam’s suing the company, and the public response has been overwhelmingly supportive. It seems we all harbor a lingering resentment toward the company that taught us, as pre-teens and teens, that the only acceptable all-American, cool-kid look involves perfect bodies, flawless faces, and super-fun trips to the beach with your equally gorgeous gang of BFFs and a boyfriend who can’t keep his hands off you.
The A&F catalog is different from Vogue magazine spreads or Versace ads because they specifically target us when we’re in our most vulnerable years — awkward, insecure and desperate to fit in. We drag our parents to their shops and we beg them to stretch their limited budgets to buy us overpriced uber-low-cut shorts and draped flannel tops, hoping that this time we’ll get to sit with the popular girls at lunch. It doesn’t work. As we get older, we feel manipulated and under-cut by their marketing tactics and imagery. And so we’re inclined to side with someone like Riam, who’s decided to fight back.
Zelda Lily has the exclusive first look at some of the statements that will be presented next week when Riam’s case goes to court. In her statement, Riam talks about being removed from the shop floor for wearing a cardigan, which apparently violates the store’s “look policy.” Riam had previously been given permission to wear the cardigan to cover the joint of her prosthetic left hand, but the company’s “visual team” — which inspects the appearance of the store’s employees — weren’t informed of the exception and were hostile with her. The store sent her to work in the stock room instead, and she calls her manager’s attitude toward her “combative and aggressive.”
It made me feel as though she had picked up on my most personal, sensitive and deeply buried insecurities about being accepted and included. Her words pierced right through the armour of 20 years of building up personal confidence about me as a person, and that I am much more than a girl with only one arm. She brought me back down to earth to a point where I questioned my self worth. My achievements and triumphs in life were brought right down to that moment where I realised that I was unacceptable to my employer because of how I looked. I have never before encountered the stark reality of this attitude, but deep down I have always feared this, and in that moment my worst fears were realised. My entire perception of my own my self worth was shattered. It was a moment of clarity and pain.
On her break, Riam called her mother crying hysterically. Her mother urged her to leave on the spot, but Riam refused to back down so easily. She finished her shift in the stock room, and, when she got home, she contacted the company’s management about the issue. They responded, two days later, by saying she had been “erroneously placed on the shop floor.” She decided to quit.
I wrote to [my manager] explaining that I would not be returning. I swiftly received a short email simply dating my date of departure, nothing more said. I had been bullied out of my job. A&F had removed their problem, yet I will live with the prejudice which was uncovered for the rest of my life.
Riam’s friends and family noticed what a toll the incident took on her self-confidence. Says Elizabeth Gaston, a close family friend,
Riam was deeply affected by the incident. She is a bright, bubbly and very sociable girl. She seemed to draw into herself and would not leave her house. I talked to her often during this time, but for only a few moments at a time. She was withdrawn and sad. I had never known her like this. She has a totally positive ‘can do’ attitude to everything, yet she seemed broken by this.
“They messed around with the wrong person,” her mother, May Dean, told me. “She’s a law student; she knows the law.” She decided to take the company to court. Riam volunteers with a charity called REACH, working with children with upper-limb disabilities. “I owe it to those children,” she told her mother.
When Riam filed her lawsuit, A&F offered her 6000 pounds — about $10,000 — to go away quietly. She declined. “Even when they offered her money to shut her up, [she refused],” May Dean said. “She said ‘I don’t want their money. If I accept their money, it means I can’t talk about it. And they will treat somebody else like that in the future again.”
“To destroy a young girl’s confidence,” she adds, “it’s unforgivable. Absolutely unforgivable.”
Her mother added that Riam spends all day responding to emails of support she’s receiving from all over the world. Consider this another shout of support, Riam! Good for you for fighting back and for not allowing this company to discriminate against you. Not all guys like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.