Question: What do Barbie, Cindy Crawford, and Angelina Jolie have in common?
Answer: Boobs and a butt.
OK…it’s a bit more than that. Each has been some little girl’s icon at one time or another for the ideal of beauty she embodies (mine was and actually still is Julia Roberts). And don’t get me wrong — it’s for much more than how some of them look (I admire Angelina for always being sort of crazy and not caring, for her humanitarianism, for her pre-emptive mastectomy). But it’s even more about how the media portrays them and other women. As a macho friend of mine once said in response following one of my feminist tirades on the unattainable ideals of beauty, “Is it so wrong to admire a pretty girl you see walking down the street?” No. No it is not. Even girls do it. The problem is it’s hard to put things in perspective when all you can see in magazines are rail-thin models like Kate Moss, and your boyfriend drools over girls with the 36-24-36 curves online.
Most of us will never look even close to any of these ladies (save a raw vegan diet, boob job, and a little lipo…not to say that any of these are wrong – in fact I’m an advocate for doing whatever the hell you want with your own body, no judgments! – they’re just maybe not necessarily always fun or cheap).
So I’ll be the first to admit it: I have body issues. I don’t think I’m the first or the last gal to have them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my weight. But with my pear-like shape, I’ve struggled my whole life to escape body issues – especially when I first sprouted boobs and a butt (which, appropriately enough, I named – it was so larger-than-life that I had to own it). But I took my aggressions out toward my supple lower body in some pretty unhealthy ways.
There is a happy ending: Since then I’ve found more peace with my butt. I found a healthy fitness routine that makes me feel happier not just in my own body but also my mind. I found a healthy appreciation for food. And once I had these down pat and was coming to terms with my unique and special body shape, I found a wonderful man who loves every healthy inch of my body, curves and all. I am one lucky girl.
So it took me back to an ugly place yesterday with what I think was a particularly nasty incident when I went dress shopping. I dropped by a store during my lunch hour to try on a wedding dress and to my shock found The One. It was stunning. I shivered. I knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for.
The sales girl, pleased with herself for helping me to find it, whipped out her measuring tape to take my measurements so we could put in the order. I tried to look away and tune out as she read out numbers for my bust, waist, thighs. She disappeared into the back to do some paperwork. And when she came back, she did something that has stayed with me like seven-cocktail hangover to now as I exorcise the experience on my keyboard: she brought out her size chart, to show me EXACTLY what each of these measurements would be in dress size.
Bust? She pointed to the measurement, then ran her finger over to the size. 0. Waist? She ran her finger over and down; it ran somewhere between a 2 and a 4. And hips? She ran her finger down to my measurement and then over to the size. Somewhere between a 4 and a 6. “So while otherwise you’d be maybe a two or a four, because of your hips, I recommend you get a six. We’ll have to take it in a bunch on the bust and maybe a little on the hips, but it’s better to get it too big than too small.”
It stung. When I left the shop I tried really hard to put it out of mind. But every few moments, all day long, I couldn’t keep it from wandering back.
I felt vain and stilly and ashamed for even caring. But then again, so visually pointing out the big difference in size between my apparently nonexistent boobs and my four-times-larger butt? It hurt me. I couldn’t help but think that this sales girl – who had seen me undress down to just a thong, bare butt up in the air and boobs flopping around as she helped me try on each dress – was, in her own very special way, being petty and cruel. She’s a woman, and she works with naked women all day, so she has to know how hard we all are on our own bodies. So it felt, at least, that she was intentionally trying to hurt my feelings. Am I being ridiculous? Is it wrong to feel shamed?
Here’s how I would have handed it: Take the measurements. Go into the back. Come out and tell my client that she runs somewhere between a 4 and a 6, but that a 6 is best because it’s easier to tailor it down than up. And we work with an amazing seamstress who will make the dress fit like magic. That’s it. No size-chart shaming.
I’m still trying to get a hold of myself, to be the bigger person. I’ll get over it. But for now, I’m trying to come to terms. Mean girls don’t go away, even a decade out of high school. I just wish we as women could all take a step back, recognize that we all have insecurities, no one is perfect, and we’re all our own worst critics, and try to treat each other with a little more compassion. Well that, and I need to be a little less hard on myself.
Update 12/17: I talked with a few friends who think I overreacted. I thought about taking down this post. But writing it was cathartic. I still think the saleswoman could have been more sensitive. But maybe my anger is really about an outdated size chart that needs to be fixed (who says that 32 inches is a size 0??) than with how one woman treated me.