“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’?”
Blame it on bad lighting, nagging attendants, or just plain claustrophobia, but there’s something intimidating about the inside of a fitting room. You’re locked in there with that unfamiliar article of clothing, and the moment when you get it on and zip it up and turn around can be make-or-break. What you see looking back in the mirror can be comforting, encouraging or straight-up terrifying.
Crippling yet common, it seems like almost everyone—mostly girls, but I won’t exclude guys—has an issue with their body image at some point or another. Personally, though my figure isn’t perfect, I’ve made peace with it—the worst of my appearance-based anxieties are over. I conquered my previous fear of sizes, and now the 8 on the tag of my skinny jeans looks like a jolly zero with a belt to show off her curves. To me, the days of freaking out over being “fat” seem long gone, and looking back, I feel foolish for worrying so much in the first place.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to achieve that level of satisfaction with one’s appearance, and the marketing behind popular clothing brands doesn’t make it much easier. Take, for instance, Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, who recently came under fire for remarks he made about A&F’s clientele. In a 2006 interview, Jeffries rationalized the sale of exclusively smaller women’s sizes with his company’s aim to “market to cool, good-looking people”—or rather, people able to fit into a size 10 or smaller.
One can look at Jeffries (no, actually, Google him and take a look at him) and wonder where an old man sitting on an eight-figure salary gets off making catty comments like a high school girl. A person with a strong sense of security can write off A&F’s CEO as catty, nasty and out-of-touch, but for someone who struggles with their self-image might take Jeffries’ comments to heart. What your kindergarten teacher said about sticks and stones isn’t always true—words can stick and sting and leave scars.
After the controversy erupted, I stopped in at Gilly Hicks—an A&F brand and a longtime favorite of mine—with the words of the store’s CEO still in the back of my mind. As I turned over cute undies small enough to be a doll’s handkerchief, I felt hyperaware of how much I didn’t belong there. Skinny tween girls glared at me like a circus freak, like I wasn’t cool enough to bump elbows with them as I browsed bathing suits. It was getting to me, and I didn’t like that. I wasn’t supposed to care, but I did, because deep down, I wanted to feel like I belonged there.
I left without buying anything and got a cupcake instead. That’s okay, A&F, I didn’t want to be a part of your demographic anyway.
Weeks later, I found myself at Brandy Melville on Newbury Street, where most of the clothes don’t have sizes. They say it’s “one size fits most”, which could either be a stingy manufacturer’s shortcut or another sneaky way to maintain an exclusive and attractive clientele. Some lucky girls will slide right into those crop tops or maxi skirts like Cinderella into a glass slipper, but the not-so-lucky can go buy their cute hipster-chic sundresses elsewhere.
As much as I hated that, I wanted nothing more than to be one of the “most”, so I picked out a few items and headed towards the fitting room. After a few disasters and no good fits (it’s okay, I didn’t really need a black spaghetti-strap crop-top with a gold zipper up the back), I tried on the last dress, a backless poly-cotton number in Boston College burgundy. To my surprise, it was a perfect fit.
As I admired my reflection, I couldn’t help but think of the girls who had loved the dress just as much as I did but couldn’t make it fit, or the ones who were too afraid to even try it on or come into the store for fear of judgment. As much as I wanted to buy the dress and feel like part of the “most”, I felt guilty for those who were left out through no fault of their own. Even if I managed to fit in, how could I support something that had shut the door on so many others?
People come in all shapes and sizes, not just the cookie-cutter “ideal” dictated by the clothing industry. Everyone has a right to feel comfortable in their own body, and being left out of what’s trendy can be a major setback. Though voices of reason encourage us to love ourselves inside and out, they can be hard to hear over those who insinuate that the measure of one’s waist is a measure of attractiveness or self-worth. In a world of mixed messages, who do we listen to? However difficult it may be, we must tune out the negativity to create a society where everyone feels accepted and beautiful regardless of their size.