Riam Dean: “I Questioned My Self-Worth” [Zelda Lily Exclusive]

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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.



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91 thoughts on “Riam Dean: “I Questioned My Self-Worth” [Zelda Lily Exclusive]

  1. Spot on Cinoda, I will comment further after the court judgement is made, which could be up to four weeks as of 8th. July. but hopefully wont be so long. Good or bad I will update you all. However Riam feels she won already by simply standing up for herself.

  2. >>> I would like to ask you a question and please ,
    >>> be honest in your answer, if you had a little sister
    >>> with the same problem how would you feel if society
    >>> only allowed her to work in a stock room, because she
    >>> was certainly not removed for not being able to do her job,
    >>> but based on image.

    Here’s my honest reply. If such thing would have happened to my little sister I would certainly calm her down and explain that there are two positions.

    Position of a weak person is to blame someone else for their troubles, like “oh, they offended me, they discriminated me, they bullied me, etc.” I am not saying that this is a “bad” position or that one does not have a right to be angry at someone who, supposedly, offended him in some way. But this position simply isn’t a productive one, it doesn’t give you any positive outcome.

    She got psychological trauma, you’ve got legal bills, the supposed offender doesn’t care. So where’s the positive outcome?

    And a position of a strong person – what did I do to get offended/discriminated/bullied? From that point of view the initial mistake was the she did not do her research / thinking about how that job would fit her, before applying. She should have understood that A&F is looking not for ordinary salesperson, but also a perfect ( from their point of view ) model. So there potentially could be problems with her arm, therefor she should have mentioned it in her application or at least at the interview. Also she could have walked around the shop and talked to employees to determine how friendly is the atmosphere, how strict is the dress code, if there aren’t any potential problems, etc.

    With that attitude she would have saved herself from any psychological trauma, as well as you from legal bills. This is a productive position.

  3. Tom, I think you’re missing the point here…

    Whether you are a strong person or not, discrimination is against the law. Whether you are a strong person or not, allowing the offender to get away with it is effectively telling them that they are allowed to discriminate – which they are not. Letting them get away with it means you are condoning their actions, and implicitly endorsing discrimination.

    Endorsing discrimination devalues the worth of the person who is discriminated against, and makes it that much harder for anyone else in a similar position from getting a fair deal.

    How hard was it for blacks to get a fair deal? How long did women fight for equality? Well, guess what – they’re still fighting today, and discrimination against them is still rife – just better hidden. My own parents, when they owned a business, told me straight out to my face that I was only allowed to work for them because I was family – they refused to hire any other female of child-bearing age because of maternity laws.

    Riam is not fighting because she was ‘offended’, as you seem to think, but because A&F’s treatment of her was ILLEGAL (according to the Disbility Discrimination Act), and this kind of attitude is damaging to the employment prospects of every other person with a disability.

    Ironically enough, such discrimination can also work against employers getting the best staff for the job… (personal anecdote) when I was doing voluntary work in a community centre which included a bar, I was often kept away from the bar because “It’s noisy and your hearing impairment will be a problem…” unless they were short-handed. Sounds fair enough, right? Until the customers started telling the manager how nice it was not to have to shout their order half a dozen times, ‘cos the deaf girl could lip-read!

    Unless you’re also suggesting that burglary or mugging victims should be asking “what did I do to deserve it? – Oh yes, I left the house… It must be my fault, so no crime there then…”

  4. I guess we just have different opinions on this. You’re positioning an employer as a potential discriminator and saying that he shouldn’t get away with it, while I believe, from my own experience, that there basically is not such thing as discrimination.

    Every employer is interested in two things: that the employee would be making him money ( in a good and reasonable way ) and that the employee would not be making him trouble. Period.

    That way as long as my employee is making me money and not bothering me with his “special needs”, I do not care if he’s black, blue or whatever.

    In average one of 5 people interviewed gets hired. Therefor to get a job, in average, you would have to get interviewed by 5 companies. That’s life.

    Yet now some people, being declined a job, come up with an idea that it’s not because of their lack of skills, general trouble-making attitude or simply being not able to fit the job, but because of their skin color, disability or sexual orientation.

    Can you imagine a Hooters girl suddenly turning to Muslim and going to the job with that blanket over her head? Certainly she would get fired and certainly enough she would think she was discriminated due to her religious believes, but not because she was unable to do her job of leaving a pleasant impression on the customers.

    As for mugging victims, this are crimes that take place in reality, not just in the victim’s head, so of course the offender should be held responsible. Yet it still is partly the victim’s responsibility, too, if he did not take reasonable precaution to prevent the crime. For example my dear aunt likes to carry her purse over her back and sometimes, when she gets off a crowded bus, she discovers it open and her wallet missing. In such situation a reasonable precaution would be to have your wallet in your inner pocket and your purse where you can see it.

  5. Riam you have nothing to be down about. You are a georgeous young woman who is achieving great things in life. Endour through this trial to the end and never give up when someone stands in your way in life or your dreams, therein lies happieness in.

  6. Thank you Mike, all the messages of support have been overwhelming, especially to her facebook from all over the world. Its a real shame that people like Tom who either doesnt believe or understand that she only did it to make a point, a difference in her life and the life of the little disabled kids she so cares for. I wish I could say more, but under the circumstances, I’m sure you understand especially that we are now waiting for the verdict.

    But I will say one thing, are so proud of her

  7. May, I do understand that she is trying to make a point, only this point seems kinda bizarre and certainly inconclusive. As you have said, even if she wins it will hardly cover the legal bills. For A&F, I can assure you, this sum is nothing and even if they’ll loose, they would find a way not to cover it from their pocket.

    About helping this disabled kids… I understand that she is trying to make a point – don’t mess ( in a bad way, such as discriminate ) with a disabled person. But companies ( if they’ll pay attention to this anyway ) will take it a step further and would not mess with a disabled in any way. Thanks to her example, they might tag disabled as troublemakers and not hire them at all to avoid possible problems later.

    Maybe companies will hire lawyers to re-write their contracts so that it would be harder to sue them. Just from the top of my head, they might add “you shall not discriminate anybody” to their manager’s contract, that way when someone pops out, thinking that his manager discriminated him, the company would show off, see we told him not to discriminate anybody, therefor if he did, he did it on his own, sue him, not us.

    After all, if Riam really wants to help disabled kids to secure good jobs in the future, she should be looking for a way to make the employers BENEFIT from hiring a disable person, rather then expect trouble from him.

    She’s good at making media buzz, she’s persistent, why not try to make the government pass a law that would cut the income or social security tax ( that the employer is paying for his employees ) in half for a disabled person? Then I can assure you that employer would be head-hunting for the disabled ones.

  8. Tom you are only looking at it from a financial point of view, but actually you have a point, I quite like your suggestion in cutting an employer’s taxes for hiring disabled people smaller sized companies would probably consider it, but do you think large corporations would really care? You have to understand if by fighting this case Riam would be winning some of her confidence back so be it, and it would have been well worth it. Please understand its not just about making the other side loose, its winning our daughter’s bubly personality back and supporting her in her fight in order to feel better about herself is equally important, you cant imagin what this did to her

  9. >>> but do you think large corporations would really care?
    It depends on the company, if its branches work as a separate small company, then why not. For example, McDonald’s isn’t just one big company, but a big bunch of franchisees. Yet on the other hand, wouldn’t it be discrimination against normal people?

    >>> you cant imagin what this did to her
    Well, actually I know how a seemingly everyday situation might turn out really traumatizing. When I was her age not so long ago I got an assignment, to write an essay – “image of a businessman”. Unlike other students who downloaded their works, I was really into that subject and had spend a few days writing the essay. In the first part I explained how a businessman should look like, what watch should he wear, what suit, what car, etc. Then I explained that the main thing is his inner drive, his charisma, his character and that successful people do not really care all the much about their appearance. Now then the teacher saw my work, he flipped it open in the middle, notices some quote that I had used to spice it up, and said something like “ah, another copy & paste work.”
    This might seem an everyday situation, but I kinda cried half a night then, while I can’t say that I’m a too emotional person. :)))

  10. I fully understand you in that way. Some time ago my brother got into a conflict and I was 100% on his side, while as I look at it now, it was a 50/50 situation, both parties were at fault.

    But maybe there are also other cheaper and more effective ways to regaining her self-confidence? Books, seminars, classes… maybe even psychological counseling?

  11. For example I also was sort of self conscious once out of school, to a certain level I was afraid what would people think of me, would they like me, I believed they were judging me, etc.

    Long story short, half a year later, thanks to acting classes I took, I became a different person. I became free inside. In everyday life I felt like an actor on stage, who can play any role. I could impersonate a very strong and charismatic person or a weak and scared, a snobby and arrogant one or a caring and compassioned… depending on the situation.

    Also I stopped caring ( in a good way ), what would others think of me. I knew that I’m just playing a role and they are my audience.

  12. Heard about the victory over A&F, Well done Riam, best of luck and have a nice life.

    By the way who is Tom, seems to spend a lot of time here.

    James

  13. Riam didn’t ‘win’ against A&F, technically, she lost. Her claims about discrimination were rejected by the courts. She won a payout for ‘hurt feelings’ that didn’t even cover her legal expenses – although no doubt some anti-corporation organisation will fall over themselves to cover the shortfall, now that she’s their dream poster girl.

    The sad thing is that Riam has a history of exploiting her own disability for attention and financial gain – something the media originally reported on but now cover up since public opinion sided with the girl.

      • You are so wrong Jane, Riam did win, you should watch the short video on youtube, GMTV had their own British employment lawyer to give her opinion on the subject.

        and Emily, whenever you find out where Riam exploited her disability for financial gain. please do let us know, because this was Riam’s first paid job in life, and what A&F will pay her will not even cover our legal bill. Her only other non paid employment is working as a volunteer (non paid) carer with an organisation called REACH to look after 60-70 disabled children during a week long activity holiday every year. You are welcome to check out this information, from them directly http://www.Reach.org.uk

        People should have the decency to write only what is true and to get their facts right first before making such acusations. Riam has never used her disability or ability to gain any money.

        What is so surprising to see is that people simply cannot believe that there are people out there who would still put up a fight simply for the principle.

        The most accurate account was in this article:

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1206802/The-young-student-prosthetic-arm-took–beat–global-fashion-giant-tells-story-humiliating-ordeal.html

  14. >>> The sad thing is that Riam has a history of exploiting her own disability for attention and financial gain…

    Could you provide more info on this one? Couldn’t find any info on the net.

  15. I tell what Tom the only sad thing in Riam’s case is you! I wouldnt be surprised at all if A&F are paying you for all the comments you have placed in so many blogs. The majority of decent people who have commented were all in support of her. We are very proud of her for standing up for what she believes in, she has drawn a much needed attention to the difficulties facing disabled people today, it is hard enough having to deal with a missing limb but to put up with ignorant people such as yourself as well makes it even harder. Riam did not make money from the law suit, as the money she was awarded did not even cover our legal bill, but we were prepared to do it just for the principle, something you obviously have never experienced. This will be the last time I reply to your stupid comments because you are simply not worth wasting my time.

  16. Interesting, no followup story when Ms. Dean’s claims of disability discrimination were found to be “not well founded”. I remembered this story and looked it up when reading about the new lawsuit.
    I personally think A&F’s “look policy” is overly specific and wrong. But I do deplore selective journalism. . .

  17. I know leaving three cotmenms in a day is two steps to CREEP! but I can’t stop myself. I am mildly bi-curious and I must say that Jessica Biel deserves better. Angelina Jolie’s limbs are a poor substitute for boobage. Sure, boobs are merely post coital cushions, but those amazingly long legs of hers make me think of chimpanzees, not shit, I need to masturbate NOWWW.

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