I’ve worked in retail the past four consecutive years. Recently this summer, I switched my retail job from a popular retail chain to a new retail store that just opened in the mall I work at. I like this new job, it pays better than what I was previously making, and I’ve met a bunch of wonderful young women who I enjoy working with. The only bad experience I’ve had, however, was a time when my manager made a remark to me about my body and compared my body to hers.
The day this happened, I had just worked a four hour shift as the fitting room attendant (I was actually covering for someone who called out and wasn’t supposed to work that day). After my shift, I decided to try on a few cute tops and rompers we have because I was in need of a cute outfit for a trip to Georgia I am taking later this month. My manager on duty (or MOD) was helping me find sizes and she said,
“One rule: You have to show me everything you try on!”
I was thankful for her help and I was also excited to get a second opinion on how things fit.
I didn’t know what size I was in our clothes, and the store I work at has a full run of sizes ranging from XXS to XXL. We don’t carry many XL or XXL sizes in store, but there are some available on the sales floor. The funny thing about women’s clothes that all of us women can relate to, is that no matter what brand, store, or size of garment you are trying on, it is going to fit differently than when you tried the same garment on at another store. In some cases, even the same size of the same garment can fit differently in the same store. This happens to be the case for the store I work in. I wasn’t sure if I was a small, medium, or large in rompers or tops, so I grabbed a few sizes, and whatever else I needed, my MOD grabbed for me.
I tried on a few different tops, and I came to one top that was a peplum fit and a size medium. It was loose in the chest area, and my MOD was in the fitting room waiting for me to show her what I tried on. She saw that the chest area was loose, and ran to grab me a size small. The romper I tried on earlier was a size medium and fit perfectly, but as I said before different garments fit my body differently, so I was hopeful the small would fit better.
My MOD came back into the fitting room with a size small in the top and I proceeded to go into my dressing room and try it on. As I came out, I noticed another fellow employee was in the fitting room to see how the top looked (and to open rooms for customers since my shift had ended 20 minutes earlier). The small top fit a lot better than the medium in the chest area, but I didn’t like the way the peplum fit cut my torso. I am 5’8” and have a long torso and long legs – peplum is not meant for my body. I ask my MOD what she thought of the blouse and she said something so incredibly ignorant I still can’t wrap my head around it five days later.
She said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”
I assumed what she was about to say. A lot of the time I work with this MOD, she always made comments about her weight or how small she is.
“This is why I can’t shop in our store.”
I wasn’t expecting this response and gave her a puzzled look, not understanding. So she elaborated –
“Well Julia, that’s a small. Look at me.”
This MOD is 5’3” and probably weighs around 105 lbs.
Now my MOD said this not only in front of me and my fellow employee, but also in front of the mothers waiting in the hallway of the fitting rooms for their daughters. I not only felt embarrassed for a moment, but also shocked she would have the audacity to say this to me in front of customers and fellow employees while she was working.
My MOD is not only 27 years old (she is a grown-ass woman), but she also has a college degree and is looking into graduate work. She lives in an apartment and pays her own bills. She is by no means an un-educated woman. She loves to read and always has her nose in a book. I actually admired this MOD until she made this comment to me.
Fortunately for me, I have really thick skin. I’ve dealt with body-image issues for basically most of my pre-pubescent and teenage life. I’ve shared this with this MOD in private conversation previous to the day she made her comment. I shared with her that at 16 years old, I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa, and had suffered eating issues since I was a kid. Not only was this MOD’s lack of professionalism, empathy, or decency appalling, but her crass and insensitive approach to her comment and comparison of her body size to mine brought me to a couple of realizations.
Realization #1: This woman clearly didn’t think about the power of her words before she spoke. In retrospect, when I think back to all the conversations her and I have shared thus far, I realize every single conversation involved her making one or more comments about her weight, her size, or how small her body’s proportions are.
Realization #2: This comment was intended to hurt my feelings and make me feel bad. I am not saying this woman is a bad person, or even a mean woman for saying this to me. What I will say, though, is that her disclaimer, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but..” really didn’t do anything to soften the blow of her words. How was I supposed to take that comment? Is there any “right” way to take a comment like that? I believe the answer is no. The comment she made was pointless and was not needed in the discussion of clothes I am buying for my vacation. Additionally, as I mentioned before, our clothes fit differently depending on the garment. There are definitely clothes she could fit into in the store. Yes she is tiny, but she isn’t too small for any of the clothes in our store. Thus, her comment was totally uncalled for and unnecessary.
Realization #3: This woman might have some unresolved body-image issues and I feel awful that she is in that position. I used to be in a position where I felt so badly about my body, I made sure I was skinny enough so people made comments about how small I was. In my eating-disordered state of mind at the time, my disease needed that recognition in order to fuel itself. I needed people’s approval of my size. I’m not saying this woman has an eating-disorder and I am not trying to diagnose anyone, but I know when women body-shame each other, it is so they feel better about themselves – it’s as simple as that. Nonetheless, although I felt bad for her because she seems like she is self-conscious about her own weight (as many women are), I became extremely grateful I have been strong enough to fight through my illness and become the healthy, able-bodied woman I am today. Not only have I fought to be healthy and strong enough to maintain my perfectly-normal-sized body through college (I’m entering my junior year and am a dance major on a performance track), I have fought to be able to filter my own thoughts on my body-image and push through negative emotional obstacles.
What I learned through this experience is that no matter how hard you fight through your own issues, there is always going to someone going through their own issues. Sometimes people take their own insecurities and self-aggressions out on others because they don’t know how to handle what they are going through. I always try to look at the positives when I come face-to-face with challenges to my recovery such as this, and this is going to sound strange, but I am grateful this MOD said those words to me. It could have been another employee of ours who was trying on clothes who isn’t in a stable or self-loving state-of-mind, and the harsh and ignorant words of this MOD could have cut her to the core. It could have even been the last straw to throw another girl over the edge and push her to try to drastically change the way she looks. I also think this experience was a big stepping-stone for me in my own recovery – I was strong enough to take the MOD’s words with a grain of salt and not let them disrupt my own happiness or thoughts about my own body.
As women, I am a firm-believer we should be lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. We need to be each other’s cheerleaders if we want to see progress in women’s issues, and also to have a stronger identity as women. There is power in numbers. If women stopped shaming each other and started appreciating each other for all of their similarities and differences, there could be some awesome progress in the advocacies that effect women today. Gender issues aside, I think we also should remember the golden rule our parents used to tell us as kids – If you don’t have anything nice to say, refrain from saying it at all. You never know how your words will effect someone.