We Need To Change The Way We Talk When Shopping


Last week, this woman's selfie taken in an Old Navy dressing room went viral. Rachel Taylor, who is plus-size, took the pic in a moment of defiance after hearing a mom and daughter guffaw over how omggigantic a top was. It was Taylor's exact size, which made her cry, then made her try it on. It looked good, and a little badass, and the internet cheered. Until several days later, when O, The Oprah Magazine's casually shitty comment that women need a flat stomach to wear a crop top again made women feel ashamed, then defiant.

For women, these aren't isolated incidents: They're daily obstacles in the endless struggle to feel like we have a right to our bodies as they are, and to wear the clothes we like. For men, those rights are a given — many men exert this power by not trying very hard with clothes at all. That's a privilege women can't exercise without censure. This weekend, we saw an exception that proves the rule — on the rare occasion someone suggests men not wear something, cries of reverse sexism and "manshaming" abound. Men, understandably, don't like being told what our culture tells women every day: that anything other than an extremely narrow body type is unsightly, unacceptable, and in need of censoring.

Plus-size women undoubtedly face more discrimination when shopping, but every woman, no matter her size, has stories like this. There's one super-trendy New York boutique that I refuse to shop at, because the clothes run ridiculously small and they don't keep anything above a medium on the floor — larges must be specially requested and fetched from the back room, lending the whole affair a weird sheen of shame, like buying Plan B or a bootleg purse on Canal Street. Several times, in different stores, I've requested my desired size from a salesperson, and they've said with a smile, "Oh, I'm sure you're not that big!" which I'm pretty sure they meant as a compliment.

It goes without saying that you shouldn't say things like, "Oh my God, this top is huge," or "That can't be your size," when you're shopping, since, you know, someone that size might overhear you. But really, no one should say these things at all, no matter who's around, because to do so is to enforce a fear of fat and the sort of weight anxiety that keeps all women down. How many thin women have heard a fat joke and vowed to double down their diet?

Likewise, old-school magazines need to get wise to the fact that there's a generation of women raised on (ahem) digital fashion coverage that refuses to body-shame, and social media outfit-sharing communities full of women of all sizes representing themselves as stylish, beautiful, and desirable. In this atmosphere, O magazine telling women not to wear something sounds as absurd and out of touch as telling us to carry a parasol. That shift is seismic, and it's a wonderful thing.

Thanks to social media, women are reclaiming the boundaries of their own bodies, loving themselves, and not only writing themselves into visibility, but vocally rejecting those who demand their concealment. In light of the furor, O has already apologized. Maybe someday we won't even be able to fathom that we used to ask certain women to hide themselves at all. To be sure, size discrimination overwhelmingly and primarily affects plus-size women — but its eradication would be a win for us all.

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