In 2002, I was the type of elementary school kid who was keenly aware of and dependent on the transformative power of shapewear. I wasn’t even 10, but I knew that I didn’t look the way a girl was supposed to look — was I even a girl with a gut like this? I didn’t know. I did know that SlimFast made you dizzy, that Dr. Siegel’s famous Cookie Diet tasted like crap, and LeanSpa was a scam. I drank energy drinks marketed as meal replacements and developed a healthy fear of guarana. A bully whom I’ll neither forgive nor forget once described me as “a rolling sea of flesh waves,” and one whose name has long escaped me once pulled me aside and said, “Everyone thinks you look pregnant, are you?”

Looking back on those days, I don’t know that I was “fat” in the same way we think of fat today. I do know that whatever I was, it wasn’t desirable in the early 2000s. You’ve heard it all before, but that was just the culture. And its impact knew no limitations. As I said, middle school was still a far cry for me when I started shopping for Spanx.

The whole climate was less overtly “fatphobic” than status-obsessed. Being thin was a marker of wealth. Wealth was best expressed through celebrities. That same year, Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” came out. Donald Trump was America’s boss. We all tuned into the reality TV program The Simple Life to drool over the famous-for-being-famous hotel heiress and waif Paris Hilton and her fat friend Nicole Richie. Jessica Simpson was declared fat, too, either that year or shortly after. Renee Zellweger was called a heifer for her performance as clinically obese 130-pound Brit Bridget Jones. We came together as a nation to torture Anna Nicole Smith and Kirstie Alley. Low-rise jeans were in. I didn’t know happiness until the 2010s.

In this environment, Abercrombie & Fitch, the subject of Netflix’s new documentary White Hot, reigned supreme.

Founded in the 1800s, Abercrombie had once sold hunting gear to the gentry class and top-quality fishing tackle to Ernest Hemingway. But that version of the institution bears almost no connection to the one that White Hot covers. This one rose to prominence somewhere in the 1990s after disinterring the corpse of the preppy and cutting up his khakis and waxing back his hair, making him over like a well-oiled, hardbody Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. No longer confined to old money, the preppy now smacked of Southern California and smelled like musk and was vaguely homoerotic. Rosemary Choate, who? Abercrombie did such an excellent job of colonizing the term that, for a spell, “preppy” became interchangeable with “cool kid.” We forgot it had anything to do with white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants at all.

Abercrombie created an archetype for ordinary people to aspire to and misfits like me to identify against. It didn’t just hire models to photograph — they actually stood in front of the door of the store at the mall and made you feel bad with their abs. Writing this, the allure of stores like Hot Topic enters my mind in sharp relief: the shuttered windows and clouds of cologne and pounding music and the lithe, tan bodies in front of Abercrombie & Fitch telling me loud and clear that I didn’t belong.

White Hot captures this moment perfectly, and I sense that this film might be capable of inducing an acute sense of nostalgia even in people who weren’t there. However, this nostalgia is the film’s crowning and sole achievement, thanks only to its subjects’ description of their own experiences, as the film is weighed down by out-of-place graphics that recall the aesthetic language of Fleet Foxes or Neon Indian more than the cool kid retailer.

White Hot’s thesis is that Abercrombie’s exclusionary branding was not only a moral and entrepreneurial failure but something worthy of a fight. Unfortunately, the documentary just isn’t compelling. Was Abercrombie’s identity a moral failure? Maybe. I don’t know that I would be able to sleep at night if I helmed a company that promoted such a narrow definition of beauty and one that potentially had racist undertones at that. An entrepreneurial failure? I’m not sure I’d agree. From my memory and White Hot’s history, it seems as though Abercrombie & Fitch was so popular not in spite of its exclusionary practices but because of them. At a minimum, it fulfilled one of the cardinal rules of creating a cohesive brand identity: let your customers know who you’re for and who you aren’t for. All that said, I’m no great business mind.

Are any of these things worth my time to be outraged about and actively attempt to change? On this point, I can confidently disagree. In the film's penultimate scene, Anthony Ocampo, a former Abercrombie & Fitch employee, says the store was “everything we want America not to be.” OK, but Abercrombie & Fitch is not America.

During my own trips to the mall, I never felt wanted at Abercrombie & Fitch, so I simply never entered the store. It’s nice that the sensitive kids have won the war over the chiseled jocks in almost every regard since the cologned days of the aughts, but I’d hope we former rejects had brought some hard-won magnanimity and wisdom to our reign over the culture. If there’s a party that you’re not invited to, you don’t have to show up anyway — and you don’t have to cry and you don’t have to make a movie about it.

Katherine Dee is a writer and co-host of the podcast After the Orgy. Find more of her work at or on Twitter @default_friend.