“Oh, No! This is the section for Fat People.”
Yesterday, at a large department store sale, I was perusing the racks in Juniors Plus when a mother and daughter entered the area. At first, I hear Mom say, “Check the sale rack first; you’ll be able to get more items that way.” Smart. But, then directly on the heels of this advice, I hear a comment, spoken loudly and dripping with disdain, “Oh, not here! This isn’t your area. These are for Fat People.” Ending with a barely concealed “Ewwwww…”
Equally embarrassed and curious, I risked a glance over my shoulder to see the source. I discover that, yes, the teen in question is slender and fit. But, the mother is not. In fact, she looks like she shops for size 16, the same as me. As found in most plus-size sections.
As much as I felt like hiding my face behind a rack for fear of being seen shopping in the “Fat People’s section,” I found myself even more concerned with those shopping around me. Because I happened to be browsing in the juniors section, filled with impressionable teens. The store was packed with large groups of young women shopping for semi-formal dresses (Homecoming, perhaps?) and they were all shapes and sizes.
Luckily, it seemed I was the only one close enough to be hit with this verbal vomit. And, honestly, my gut reaction was to say something to this woman. But no matter the pithy comment I thought of, all of them seemed as if they would only exacerbate the situation; and give weight to her words. But now I wonder. Should I have said something? So that if, by chance, any young mind had heard, they would know that not all people agree with this statement nor think that it is right.
But, I admit, in that moment I fell victim to Body Shaming. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. Worse, I didn’t feel like I had the “right” to say anything to that woman because “technically” I am a “fat person.” It seemed like it would be better coming from someone with a slimmer silhouette.
In less than 30 seconds, I felt less than.
But, perhaps, I could have calmly said, “I understand this section isn’t right for your daughter. But it is right for lots of young woman and your words were hurtful and inappropriate.” What do you think?
I started to observe the groups shopping. I noticed that groups of peers were generally supportive of each other. Each group contained a wide range of body types but instead of comparing or belittling, they lifted one another up. They suggested flattering outfits, complimented each other, and when in the changing room, if something didn’t fit or look right, they giggled about it instead of making disparaging remarks.
Conversely, I witnessed a different type of reaction between mothers and daughters. Moms were quick to point out things that wouldn’t look good when their daughter excitedly held up an item. Most often with a “Really?!” and a raised eyebrow. One word that can speak (negative) volumes. And the parents who had slim children seemed to flaunt them; many of these parents being less-than-fit themselves. As if their child’s attractiveness was a direct (positive) reflection on themselves.
Yes, I know it was clothes shopping, which directly lends itself to “body talk.” But why can’t it be positive, supportive body talk?
Soon after this, I found myself in the dressing room. As I faced the daunting task of trying on a pile of clothes, knowing that if I found 1 thing that fit well, it would be a success, I was presented with two options. One, to let that woman’s voice seep in and take up court with my mental judges, or, two, to dismiss her as an ill-informed person.
I chose the second, and this is what happened:
- I actually felt some compassion for her. How? You may wonder. I realized she must feel so uncomfortable in her own skin, she needs to belittle others and take on her daughter’s identity in order to feel better. What a painful way to walk around.
- I looked myself straight in the mirror and reminded Me that we each have our own story. My weight is from years of physical conditions, surgeries and side-effect laden meds. I used to “pre-emptively” want to explain that to people (strangers, that is!). Even going so far as hoping they would think I was pregnant instead of “abdominally challenged.” Now, I remind myself we are all walking around with our own stories, no matter the exterior appearance. Being overweight comes from a variety of sources, whether it is physical or emotional.
- I also looked myself square in the eye and made myself stand tall and proud. I committed to trying on clothes with a critical eye; not one of a critic putting myself down but critically, assessing which things compliment me and which aren’t suited to my body type. Period.
- And a funny thing happened… I ended up finding too many items that fit me well! Wherein I needed to pick and choose and leave half in the store for another time. That rarely happens!
- I also walked through the store proudly. I didn’t let one person’s shaming shrink me. Depending on the brand, I can wear anywhere from a Lrg to a 2x. That’s a wide range! It also means I shop almost every section of the store. I committed to acting the same way no matter the area; to not feel like a fraud when I’m in the “regular sections” and to not slouch and hide in Women’s or Plus. I am who I am. And I belong here too.
- Finally, I started to positively pay it forward. I complimented women of all ages and sizes on their outfits or accessories I found flattering. I encouraged someone checking out an item to try it on: “Wow. I think that will look great on you!”
As a society, we need to stop “Body Shaming!” That includes making negative, derogatory comments about people or celebrities wearing (what we think is) an unflattering outfit. We need to refrain from making comments about what others choose to eat. We need to cease the “non-verbal commentary” of a pointed look, raised eyebrow, smirk, or the good ol’ eye-roll. Or even the sound effect comments: “Hmmm…,” “Eww,” “Ugh,” *sigh*, etc. We all know what I am talking about.
Body shaming isn’t right. Worse, it isn’t supportive. As women, we should constantly be lifting each other up not tearing away at each other so we feel better about our own selves. And this includes people who you do not know… It is ALL wrong.
All that mother needed to say was, “Oh, hon, this section doesn’t have your size. Let’s check over there.” Instead, within her original comment, she not only put down anyone shopping in that section, she also put down herself, and her daughter. Because I was once a slender and fit girl, too. I no longer fit that body type. No one knows where our lives will lead. And we all deserve the unconditional support of our mothers, sisters, and Sisterhood at large.
How can you support a fellow woman today and Stop Body Shaming?