For the past few years I’ve augmented my writing career with part-time jobs in retail, specifically at women’s clothing stores.
When you’re helping people zip up dresses and watching their reactions to certain items of clothing, you start noticing patterns. Reasons people do or don’t buy something. Features they want to play up or hide. Insecurities that run deep. Beliefs that inform not just what they wear but how they live.
Here are four of the phrases I hear most often in the dressing room, and how I wish — oh, how I wish! — I could respond.
1. “I’m waiting till I lose that last five pounds.”
What I want to say back: “And then what?”
I hear this one multiple times every shift, from women of all shapes, sizes, and ages: big, small, curvy, straight, soft, muscular, very young, very old, and everything in between.
Hearing the same sentence from two differently-shaped women — one a size 18, one a size 0 — underscores how arbitrary and pervasive this “last five pounds” obsession is.
Your perceived ideal body weight will not change your life. Image via iStock.
It leaves me with the distinct impression that these phantom pounds are a distraction engineered to steal our attention from a whole world of more important things.
Five pounds won’t make that much of a difference in how pants fit, and I can tell you from personal experience (endless five-pound increments gained and lost) that it won’t change your life.
If you find yourself “waiting to lose five more pounds” before buying a dress you love, maybe it's time to ask yourself what you're really waiting for.
2. “I can’t show my arms.”
What I want to say back: “Says who?”
We all have features we like to play up and features we’d like to camouflage, but when these preferences are stated as if they’re law, it warrants some follow-up questions.
I have to ask myself these questions frequently, because I fall into the “I can’t show my arms” trap every summer. My upper arms are soft and pale and doughy and meet none of the mainstream standards of arm beauty as exemplified by Kate Hudson and Michelle Obama and Carrie Underwood.
Learning to love and accept this part of my body is a work in progress, but somewhere along the way, I became convinced that not loving my arms means they shouldn’t be seen. It is a belief that has kept me sweating through cardigans in July, insisting I “get cold easily.”
When we say things like “I can’t show my arms,” what are we actually afraid of? Let’s stop accepting these “rules” at face value and dig into the deeper belief system lurking underneath.
3. “I don’t have the body to pull this off.”
What I want to say back: “Style has no prerequisites.”
Watch as Managing Editor, Annie, gets a wardrobe makeover. Post continues after video.
I’m a firm believer that the only time anyone should utter the phrase “I can’t pull this off” is when they’re literally stuck in a shirt and unable to remove it from their body no matter how hard they tug on it.
Otherwise, let’s stop making excuses and remember “pulling it off” is about confidence and attitude, not waist size. Gigi Hadid isn’t the only one who’s allowed to have fun with fashion!
4. “I look fat.”
What I want to say: “SO WHAT?”
That response might seem a little harsh, but here’s the deal: I love fashion because it provides a daily opportunity to be creative.
We get to decide how to present ourselves to the world each day. We get to choose colors that delight us and fabrics that feel like heaven against our skin. We get to take inspiration from history and art and culture and movie stars and create a look that’s all our own.
Between thrift-shopping, affordable mainstream fashion, indie designers, investment pieces, and vintage, we have infinite options at our fingertips. We live in a time when nearly everyone can put together a pretty kickass wardrobe on any budget.
And yet, when most of us go shopping for new clothes, we throw all this inspiration out the window and focus instead on one objective: not looking fat.
This goal isn’t just unnecessarily boring, it’s fear-based and fatphobic. (Seriously, is “looking fat” the worst possible scenario?).
Let’s rethink our standards of “flattering.” Let’s delve into what we really mean when we say “fat,” and why it scares us so much.
Let’s be brave enough to try something on that breaks all the rules, to look in the mirror and follow up “I look fat” with “and I look fucking amazing.”