The Dressing Room Narrative: Changing the Story

There’s got to be a way to change this narrative.

That’s what I’m thinking when the door swings shut with bang so loud it startles me.  Already on edge, I do that thing where I scream in my head. Fuuuuccckkkkkkk.

I take a deep breath and introduce myself to the four walls.  “I’m Christie.  If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”  To the mirror, I mustered a smile as a truce:  Let’s leave the past behind us, ‘kay?



Outside the door, I hear a young girl call after her mother.  “Grab the extra-small,” she says.  “The small is too big.”

Deep breaths.   We’re doing this differently, remember?

I start with the easy stuff.  Black.  Then navy.  I work my way up to actual spring-colored clothes.  I think about my rule for looking at pictures of myself: If I can’t look with love, then I stop looking until I can.  I rarely look at recent pictures of myself.  It’s safer to go back in time– graduations, honeymoons, four months after my first baby.  Something about the here-and-nowness of my body makes me want to look with something darker and more acrid than love.

Two years from now, I’ll look back at a picture of this time– oh, Easter 2014— and I’ll think of myself, not bad.  Not bad at all.  But in the moment, my eye scans for flesh.  Then magnifies .  Distorts.  I can’t breathe.  This is my eating disorder at 40 years old.  It’s not furtive heaves over a toilet after dinner or skipping meals before a long run.  It’s a steady picking, picking, picking at my physical appearance, a stash of shame and misery so potent I consider it my “nuclear option”.  It’s guaranteed to ruin my mood; all I have to do is push the red button.

I pull a dress over my head.  A multi-colored shift– Banana-Republic-does-Pucci.  I take a deep breath.  I do the full-body scan.  I step back from the edge of disgust and the accumulated debris from all my bad habits in small spaces like this.  I’m desperate for distance, thirsty for a larger room without a mirror.

If this is going to be different, I have to do something different.

I smile at myself with compassion because even though this whole process erases my entire IQ, I never lose sight of my gnawing need for compassion.  I dare to check the side view.  I keep smiling, even though I’ve gone too far.  I’m ready for side angles.  Not with the substandard bra I’m wearing.

“How’s everything going in there?”  A chirpy sales woman asks, still shiny on this holiday weekend.  I mumble that I am great and hope she never ever comes back.

We were going to change the narrative, right?  After all, what happens to me in those moments is that I fall under the spell of a story.  A story that yanks down my serenity with such force that it leaves scratch marks, deep grooves that sting to the touch.  The story is worn and frayed, like a library book that hundreds of kids have taken home and tried to feed to their feral pets.  But I’ve memorized it: You should be skinnier because then you would be prettier, more in control, more loveable, more secure.  Just somehow better and, however illogically, smarter and more successful.

I take off the Pucci-esque dress, because, honestly, where am I wearing that? To swim lessons and to the grand opening of the new grocery store down the street?  I put on something that doesn’t trigger me quite so thoroughly– a colorful blouse with black pants.   I opt against the full-body scan.  I look myself in the eyes and stand up a little taller.  My mind, unable to spit out some soothing new narrative like you’re a beautiful woman, remains blank.  But that’s a miracle considering all the negative things that have marched through it over my lifetime.

It’s not a new narrative, but it’s a start.



53 thoughts on “The Dressing Room Narrative: Changing the Story

  1. Progress…where would we be without it? May I offer a little “if you could see in yourself what I see”? You always look great. I love your sense of style and while you’re worrying about the mirror, I’m thinking I’d like to be a little more like you. Damn mirrors. But I like this notion of changing the narrative. I also like to shop with honest friends. They can see what I can’t.

  2. Baby steps! At least you are aware and trying. You should be proud of the progress you’ve already made. I can’t wait to read the post when you finally buy the dress 🙂

  3. Hmmm, two realizations I have come too. No matter how thin I am, (and if you had my ex-husband, you would understand why kid 2 called me “Skeletor” 😡, he’s now lost his ranking), I always see the 5ft overweight women in the mirror, even though, I am clearly not. Second, I too will be 40 this year, there is something to be proud of stretch marks, loose skin etc, I had four children. My youngest will be 11, be proud you carried your children in your body. Even skinny, stretch marks and loose skinny stay with you!! Remember Jaws, only realistic beach movie I have ever seen in my life! Quit beating your self up! It’s clothes! You want the perfect dress. Give me a sec I find it and it looks good on everyone.

  4. I’m not sure I’ve recovered from my last clothes shopping experience. For now, I chalk it up to lack of cash, but part of it is the misery of facing down those mirrors in the changing rooms.

  5. Sending lots of love your way from someone who read this whole post with a knot in my stomach because I know. It’s hard to change how we talk to ourselves, and even harder to believe the things we say. But you are moving ahead, and I admire you for it!

  6. You gotta start somewhere right? This is also the reason I NEVER try on clothes in a store. I’ll buy them and take them home and only cut off the tags in a fit of desperation when I have to wear the item.

  7. Stop crawling inside my brain will ya? This is me and so many woman. Trying to figure out how to be gentler to ourselves. Small steps for women, big steps for womankind. We will get there together.

  8. Why are the lights always so bright in dressing rooms? Don’t they know we would all buy more with some dim lighting where we can’t really see how we look? Great post. I’ve been there too. Some days I’m still there. Small victories always count.

  9. This is why I only shop online. Also, these changes are huge. The key barrier to a new narrative is hearing the old (and its harsh lies) loud and clear. I love this for that reason.

  10. whoa. this is a powerful piece. i especially like the phrases “gnawing need for compassion” and “desperate for distance.” well written.

    and props. it might be a small step towards self acceptance, but it’s a step. God crafted and designed you with a purpose, for you are ‘beautifully and wonderfully made’… hope that with each day, you come to see that too.

  11. Although this was difficult for me to read, because I see so much of my own personal struggle in your story, I somehow found it comforting. Does that even make sense? “Something about the here-and-nowness of my body makes me want to look with something darker and more acrid than love.” Wow – so powerful, and perfectly articulated. Sending strength. Karen

  12. I’m no fan of dressing rooms either, and they always have the worst lighting. It doesn’t help that I’ve moved to Japan and all of the sizes (for me) have changed from S/M to XL/hahanicetryloser. I appreciate the underlying message of this post though, we should all be a little more compassionate towards ourselves!

  13. This could be me, but much worse ever so much worse. I remember the first time I had to try on clothes after my forced weight gain I sat on the floor of the dressing room and wept, great huge gasping sobs that carried throughout the store. I had been in tee shirts and yoga pants for a long while, knew I was fat but didn’t really understand how fat until I had to actually try on clothes with numbered sizes.

    If I could just have my body back. If I could just be thinner, someone would love me. Yes, I get that.

  14. Not to mention those lights make you see all the stuff you aren’t supposed to see on your body. Stuff you NEVER see unless you are sitting under those lights and I swear those mirrors are just a wee bit wavy causing objects to appear bigger than they really are. Sigh. We are our worst critics. Though I’ve never seen you in person I can tell that you are beautiful. Your spirit tells me so!

  15. Love this post. Thank you for sharing such a real, deep space.
    On a Mary Tyler Moore episode rerun Monday night, Rhoda looked into a magnifying mirror and said, “These things should come with a pre-printed suicide note.”
    That line made me laugh and I felt much better. Hope it makes you laugh too.
    Hugs coming your way.

  16. Nicely written piece, although I’m sorry that you were able to do so. I hate dressing rooms, I am convinced that they make us all look bad even though that really makes no sense. I don’t brother trying stuff on either. I take it home, then eventually return it if I’m not being too lazy.

  17. Fantastic piece. I love the whole concept of “change the narrative” – it applies to so many things, not just dressing room body image. I’m going to spend the rest of the day contemplating how I can change the narrative of my own insecurities. Thanks very much for that!

  18. I’m at a point right now that I just think “Not bad for a tent!” and go with it. I’ll bounce back soon…as in a year or two from now.

    I really liked the narrative and the honesty in the journey.

  19. I still don’t fully understand this inner dialogue that some women do, I mean, like you describe.

    And then I remember vanity sizing has invaded boys and mens’ clothing. Damn.

  20. Good for you for trying to change that dynamic. Dressing rooms and I do NOT get along at all. We are always at war, while the mirror silently but loudly mocks my attempts at finding something that will fit over my enormous and ever growing body. I hope you found something fun and flattering in that room.

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