Let me be completely honest here, there were a good number of years during which going to the mall felt like stepping onto an emotional battlefield. Bombarded by images of confident models with clothing that hugs them in all the right places. Struggling to find things that I liked and looked good on me. Sifting for what felt like an eternity through the sizes of clothing that are all too small for me. Sizes that not too long ago I could fit into. It was every trigger imaginable, all under one roof.
The majority of my change room experiences resulted in tears. In my mind, I looked hideous in everything. I was hopeless. I’d leave the mall empty-handed, losing the last few drops of self-confidence I had before I went in.
It took me a long time to gain a sense of self-love for my body. And it was not done through shopping. However, it is hard to completely forego buying clothes, especially since I needed a new size of jeans every season. Thankfully, I was able to find ways to turn shopping into an experience that often helped, rather than hindered, my body confidence.
If you are like me, I hope these tips will help you out as well:
- It is the clothes, not you.
You try something on and you don’t like the way it looks. Your first instinct may be to insult yourself: “I’m too fat”, “I don’t have enough curves”, “I’m too pale”, “I’m too short”…the list can go on and on. But the reason the clothes do not look good on has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the clothes themselves. Your body is not some mass-produced, defective object. It is graced with all this unique beauty, which clothing is supposed to highlight. If the clothing doesn’t, then then it’s just not right for you. No one piece of clothing works on everyone. The two of you just aren’t compatible, and you have to continue searching for the clothes the compliment you to the fullest.
- Bring a friend
Friends are the perfect distraction while shopping. You can focus less on your self-judgment and more on having an enjoyable conversation.
They also prevent you from some of those dreaded moments in the change rooms. You are not allowed to stand in front of the mirror for ten minutes, determining all the ways in which you look horrible. With someone waiting on you, you feel obligated not to waste their time like that. It saves you from the emotional drainage that eventually leads to those awkward breakdowns.
Friends can be there to provide a voice of reason for you. They can remind you that it’s not you, it’s the clothes. And they can also reassure you when something looks good. Perhaps you may not believe the compliments they give. But truthfully, good friends aren’t usually the type to lie.
- Do not compare yourself to the models in advertisements
For me, it’s particularly the lingerie models: gorgeous women with perfect tans, perfect abs, perfect smiles. But those pictures are heavily photoshopped. There are professional photographers who set the lighting just right, spending hours to get that one perfect shot, and then the graphic designers edit the shot until that girl looks absolutely perfect. You can hardly consider that reality.
That’s not to say that the woman is not beautiful, and I don’t mean to undermine her. Remember though that modelling is her career and it (likely) isn’t yours. She is paid to maintain her size, and it takes an incredible amount of work for her to do so. You, on the other hand, spend that time in different ways developing your own skills, whether that’s studying to complete a degree or diploma or working at your own job.
Both you and that model are beautiful, accomplished people, only in different and incomparable ways.
- Take breaks
Trying on clothes can be exhausting. If you are constantly going from store to store, change room to change room, you are going to get beaten down pretty fast. Instead, take breaks as soon as you begin to feel anxious. Do something that isn’t focused on your body. Go to the bookstore. Grab a coffee. Eat lunch. Look at furniture, art, appliances. Anything that you that brings a sense of calm to your mind until you are ready to march back into the clothing shops.
- Do not look in the mirror until you are fully dressed
While changing, I would often get caught up in staring at myself in my underwear, pinching at all the places I deemed to have too much fat. Or as I was undressing, I would catch glimpses of myself, see the way my skin folds, and cringe.
My solution: I would position myself so I could not look in the mirror until I was completely dressed. For some stores, this is incredibly easy, since the changing rooms don’t even have mirrors. But others seem to be completely made of mirrors.
By no means am I saying that you should be ashamed of your naked body. However, shopping can leave you in a very vulnerable mind set. If watching yourself in the mirror for too long upsets you, avoid it. You will gain that self-confidence in time. If, on the other hand, it gives you a boost of self-confidence, stare as long as you want!
- Recite positive comments to yourself in the mirror
Look into the mirror and smile. Tell yourself that you are beautiful, you are unique, and your body is perfect. Keep doing so until you feel emotionally prepared to continue. Yeah, it’s cheesy. But it works. If you are like me, there can be this ongoing negative dialogue in your head, telling you all the ways in which you are imperfect. So it is good to take a moment and consciously remind yourself that none of it is true.
- You are not just your outer appearance
Do not get me wrong, you are beautiful. But you are so much more than that too. You are also your talents, your intelligence, your humour, your compassion; you are every accomplishment you have made and the growth from every failure. Your body is the vessel that carries you through life, but it is not all that defines you. While clothing and beauty industries may make you believe otherwise, your self-worth is not based on your appearance.
Stephanie Bertolo is an Arts & Science student at McMaster University. A strong advocate for youth health and wellness, she is a founding member of the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health, a volunteer at McMaster’s Children’s Hospital, and a subcommittee member of COPE: a student mental health initiative. Other than studying and volunteering, she spends her time baking, spending hours in used bookstores and coffee shops, and finding herself on enthralling adventures. For three years, she suffered from anorexia and orthorexia nervosa, and is still coming to terms with life as someone who has ‘recovered’.