Whether I am shopping with a client I just met or helping a friend I’ve known for years, it seems I always end up doing a bit of counseling during the trip. Now granted I am not a card carrying therapist, but I do like to think of myself as a field sociologist. Watching women and how they react to their clothes and their appearance is fascinating work. Unfortunately, based on my experience on the fitting room frontline, too many women are filled with insecurities, hang-ups and unrealistic standards.
We know that no one is perfect. We know the ideal feminine image provided by the media is unrealistic. We know beauty comes from within. That’s what we are teaching our kids, right? So what’s with the constant self-loathing or at least partial self-loathing? I hear way too many women say I can’t wear this, that or the other because of an offensive body part. I find these complaints are usually exaggerated. If your arms do not look like Jennifer Anniston’s, you do not have “big arms”. If you are lacking Gwen Stefani’s abs, you are not sentenced to a skirted tankini. These famous women spend an inconceivable amount of time and money to pull off the look of perfection. Why would we make them the benchmark? If you play tennis once or twice a week, do you expect to perform like a Williams sister on the court?
When I hear the list of clothing restrictions based on what I feel is an inaccurate body image, I try to find out where it comes from. There is usually some sort of explanation.
Exhibit A, Upper Arm Issue: I have a good friend who is petite, but curvy, which can certainly be a challenge. She has small shoulders and a large bust. I suggested she try sleeveless wrap style tops and halters to lift her bust while showing off her small waist and shoulders. She said she wasn’t comfortable in sleeveless because of her big arms. She didn’t have sculpted triceps, but her arms were fine. After going back and forth trying on different types of sleeveless tops, I found out why she didn’t like her arms. It was based on a conversation with an ex-boyfriend that took place almost 20 years ago. He once made a “wow, your arms are big” kind of comment in passing and my friend had held on to that critique since.
Exhibit B, Post Pregnancy Belly: I worked with a slender, young mom who was wearing lots of loose, peasant style tops. Although she worked out several days a week and had lost her baby weight, she couldn’t give up the security of a billowy layer of cotton between her belly and the world. Her stomach was flat, but it wasn’t exactly like it was pre-pregnancy. She was ready to pitch several cute, fitted tops that looked awesome on her. After lots of push back, I finally just flat out asked her, “You are tall and thin and look great in your clothes. Why do you think you have a problem?” She explained that her mother and sister were both overweight and she was so afraid that she was next.
I am happy to report that my friend with the arm issue followed my advice, and bought the sleeveless tops and halter dress. She was rewarded with loads of compliments and an enthusiastic reception from her husband. The client who feared gaining weight decided to keep some of her fitted tops and got so into showing off her waist, she bought things that were belted! These women managed to put their ‘problems’ into perspective and moved on. I guess there really is something to be said about the power of retail therapy.