There’s nothing quite like bikini shopping to test the self-esteem of girls everywhere.
Enter: the dressing room breakdown.
The dressing room breakdown is not a dance move although one could argue a move or two is busted as we shimmy into skimpy bottoms and snake our way into strappy tops.
The dressing room breakdown is a phenomenon that occurs when shopping takes a turn for the worse. When you’re looking in the mirror and getting worked up about what you see. When you have to get the next size up. When nothing is fitting the way you want it to, and your chest starts to tighten with panic.
Long story short…it ain’t pretty.
Recently I went to buy a new bikini for spring break. There were a lot of other young women in line for the dressing room, bathing suit options dangling optimistically from their arms. As I wormed my way in and out of my top bikini contenders, I heard the grievances of girls in the rooms next to me.
“Ughhhh, I’m just not feeling this. Especially after chicken and waffles.”**
The comments made my heart pang a little. But they also made me realize how far I’ve come with my body image.
You see, I am a self-proclaimed expert in dressing room breakdowns.
H&M. Nordstrom. Urban Outfitters. J. Crew. Zara. You name the place. I’ve probably had a breakdown in the fitting room. I can describe the lighting in each store. I know whether it has carpet, hardwood or tile floors and whether the soundtrack leans toward the bubblegum pop genre or is more coffee shop cool. I can rank each store based on the best sitting situations. I’ve spent a lot of time being upset in dressing rooms. Trust me, I know where to find the comfiest chairs.
Throughout high school, as I struggled to recuperate from an eating disorder, my self-esteem was fragile at best. I was constantly trying to look “perfect” and being extremely hard on myself when I fell short of my absurd expectations. Let me tell ya, dressing room breakdowns were at their peak.
When jeans didn’t fit me right or the lighting made me feel ugly, the tantrum began. Sometimes I cried. On other occasions, I became irritable and impossible to reason with. I would storm out of the dressing room, telling my mom I didn’t want to buy anything. I didn’t like anything. I would selfishly cast a melancholy mood over what was supposed to be a fun mother-daughter shopping outing.
It was terrible.
Why do we beat ourselves up in dressing rooms? Why do they become breeding grounds for self-abuse?
Well, because shopping is supposed to be fun. But when you’re in front of a three-way mirror, trying to fit into an arbitrarily labeled size 6, under fluorescent lighting, it can quickly become very not fun. Sometimes we just don’t like the way our bodies look. Sometimes nothing is fitting. Sometimes our mindset needs a makeover.
I used to get so worked up when I didn’t like my body in the dressing room mirror. I’d say nasty things to myself, things I’d never say to another person. For the rest of the day or week, I’d feel like I didn’t deserve to eat anything.
And the worst part is, I know I’m not the only girl who has done those things. Most of us have.
Then in college, something changed.
I got tired of beating myself up for not looking airbrushed or fitting into what I considered the “ideal” size. Bashing myself was taking up a lot of my energy. And hey, I prefer to save that energy for more important things. Like breakdowns of the dancing variety, for instance.
Enter: the dressing room truce.
When I go into the dressing room, I tell myself I’m going to remain calm. If things aren’t fitting right or I’m not happy with the way I look in the mirror, I breathe through it and assess the situation.
I’ve had breakdowns when I was stick thin. When clothes hung off my shoulders like I was a hanger instead of a human. I’ve had breakdowns when I actually had gained a few pounds and wasn’t taking proper care of my body. Now I know how to tell the difference from when I actually should make a change in my lifestyle and when I’m just being overly critical of myself.
In any case, a breakdown has never done anything besides mess up my afternoon.
So to all my ladies who feel like stepping into a dressing room is a bit like playing Russian roulette- “Is this going to go well or end in disaster?”- hear me out. Stay calm, and be real with yourself. Is there an actual issue or change you want to make in your life? Or is the problem external? You know, like oompa-loompa mirrors, American Girl doll sizes, or dentist office lighting? Are you just being extra hard on yourself?
Shopping should be fun for everyone. Not just models and actresses and personal trainers. You’ve got to come to the mall with a positive mindset, non-negotiable self-love, and good walking shoes. And if it takes you a little bit of time to get there, that’s okay. (A tip from one fashion lover to another; there are no dressing rooms in the shoe department.)
Keep calm and remember that you’re a work in progress. You deserve killer outfits and shopping outings regardless of how you might feel under the fluorescent lights of Forever 21.
Love yourself, and save the breakdowns for the dance floor.
**I’d like to thank the chicken and waffles girl for making me laugh in the Target dressing room and for inspiring this article. I hope you found a cute suit, chicken and waffles girl.