lifestyle

"I was told I got the job because the other girl was fat."

Yesterday, New Zealand-owned women’s clothing store Glassons came under fire for using mannequins that have protruding ribs on display:

Glassons was defended by prominent New Zealand fashion entrepeneur Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, who said: “Clothes look better on skinny people. They just do.”

When I saw the shocking rib-cage mannequins and heard L’Estrange say that, I wasn’t surprised. Because I was once told by a Glassons manager that they had hired me over another girl because that girl was fat.

A number of years ago, I had just finished high school and was looking for a job. I had no experience in, well, anything really. I had no professional work that I could put on a resume, so I just listed my school achievements, and walked around the local shopping centre hoping to find part-time work.

I was so excited to get a job at Glassons.

Given I had no work experience and was pretty clueless, I was shocked when I got a call from Glassons asking me to come in for a trial. I never expected them to get in touch with me; Glassons was a young women’s clothing store – kind of like a cheap Sportsgirl – and since I’d never worked before, I was fully prepared to start somewhere like Subway and work my way up. To get a job in a clothes shop was kind of my holy grail at the time, so to have Glassons call me after my mass resume drop? I was stoked.

I went in for an unpaid 3-hour trial the next day, and I’m going to be honest with you: I wasn’t great. I was really nervous, really shy, and had no idea how to sell things to people. Approaching a customer and trying to convince her to buy a shirt was terrifying to me. I was relieved when the 3 hours were up.

I was told that they were trialling one other girl, and that they were going to choose between us. I did not expect to get a call.

But then I did. That afternoon, despite the fact I’d had a terrible trial, I was offered the job as a Glassons sales girl.

I was equal parts excited and confused, but the idea of working with clothes instead of fast food stopped me from reading too much into it. Well, it almost did anyway.

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I’m not sure whether it was because I was young or naive or inexperienced, but on my first day, I decided to ask the manager why I had been hired. I said I thought I had totally screwed up my trial and I was really surprised when she called. And I’ll never forget what that manager said to me:

They told her she was the right size for the job.

“Yeah,” she replied. “The other girl we trialled did have a lot more experience than you, and to be totally honest, her trial went a lot better. But she was… A big girl. Like, probably bigger than a 16. And we just really needed someone who would look good in the clothes.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond. It was probably the first time I’d ever really realised that my size 8 body put me at an unfair advantage in life. I tried to act natural, even though I’d basically just been told that I technically did not deserve the job I was so excited to start.

“Oh totally,” I said. “That’s fair enough. I get it.”

“Well, we took a gamble with you, so don’t let us down!” she laughed.

And that was it. The whole conversation lasted about 30 seconds, but I’ve never forgotten it. And over time, the memory has come to have more meaning for me.

I thought about that conversation when I went to university and had my eyes opened to things like feminism and body-image and size-discrimination.

And I thought about that conversation when I saw that Glassons is using mannequins with ribs protruding. Because in my experience, a woman’s size is what Glassons values most in her. That’s the reason Glassons gave me a job I didn’t deserve all those years ago, and that’s the reason they think it’s okay to have mannequins with their ribs showing today.

I was skinny – the other girl wasn’t.

And clothes just ‘look better’ on skinny people.