The utter despair of shopping at Macy’s

I’ve been doing a bar or bat mitzvah service every weekend, and a lot of my nice outfits don’t fit that well anymore. I bought them years ago, when I was skinny. My mom and I were going through my closet, and I was tugging on pencil skirts. I have three, and all of them were too small.

“I don’t think you’re a pencil anymore,” said my mom mischievously. “You’re more of a pen now, or a marker.”


We laughed a lot, but it’s true. My silk buttondown blouses look like they’re about to burst open. I feel like I’ve just gone through puberty, now that I’ve gained weight and learned to wear a heavily padded bra.

Luckily, Macy’s was having a sale on Saturday, so my mom and I went in the evening. I was already tired. I’d done a bat mitzvah that day (an amazing girl with a gorgeous singing voice who has Tourette’s Syndrome and speaks at schools to raise awareness about the condition), and I’d stayed up half the night before, reading Game of Thrones and feeling restless, existentially confused, and mildly disturbed. But I thought I could probably handle Macy’s.




The doors slid open and the clothing displays went as far as the eye can see. The mannequins cocked their hips spunkily and leaned back, their legs impossibly long, cold, and shiny. There were walls of purses, heaps of hats, towering stacks of sweaters in every jewel tone. And bright pink sale stickers decorated a generous number of racks. There was almost no chance that I would not be able to find a pencil skirt, a silk blouse, and a modest dress that could be paired with my new electric blue stilettos without scandalizing the congregation.  Actually, I was pretty sure I’d be able to find a few other things, too. A cute faux fur vest, maybe. A flowy, hippie-chic top. A clingy maxi skirt in a bright color. Endless possibilities! Maybe there’d be time to look at the bags! Maybe I’d go crazy and get something with fringe.

My mom and I split up, and I headed for the young, hip people section, and she walked towards the boring clothes. Everything was more expensive than I thought it would be, and I kept trying to calculate 25% off in my head, and I kept remembering this math class I took in college—it was the remedial one for kids who have forgotten how to add and subtract—where the professor told me I’d need to learn this stuff if I ever wanted to go shopping, and I told him that I was going to get really rich so I never had to think about any of it, and he didn’t think that was funny, but I laughed at my own joke because I was trying to have some self-esteem in the face of my own inability to add and subtract. He was right.

I told myself that 25% off was a going to be a lot off and I took a heap of really cute clothes back to the dressing room. Full of naïve hope, I pulled the first flowy top on.

My reflection appeared to be mocking me. I leaned closer, perplexed. Did I really look like that? It was like the yeti had helped itself to Taylor Swift’s closet.

(“but it looked so pretty on the hanger!” source)

“OK, no,” I said, cheerfully enough, and tried the next thing. A silk blouse that could be good for work. It looked like a sack. But then again, I’ve been reading a lot in bed, squinting at the little glowing rectangle of my phone, riveted by scene after grotesque scene of intestine-spilling medieval war. My eyesight is probably going. I’m probably seeing sackcloth everywhere I look.

The first pencil skirt was shockingly translucent. The line of my underwear looked like a vein crawling across my butt, and above the waistline, my stomach, doughy and pale, pooched out. The double mirrors, angled cruelly, gave me an explicit rundown of what was going wrong in the back.

My mom came in and started trying her stuff on in the same dressing room. We were wearing the same underwear and bra (except mine was really padded), it turned out. We had chosen the same dress somehow, and she looked better in it.

I caught myself trying to fix myself every time I tried a new article of clothing on. I’d suck my stomach in, try to strain my neck longer, fluff my straggling hair. Suck, strain, fluff. Suck, strain, fluff. Over and over, going through the motions of a losing battle.

And suddenly it all came rushing back.

A lifetime punctuated by the horror of my reflection in the dressing room mirrors at department stores. Almost always with my mom, shopping for work-appropriate clothes. There was a sale, so we had to hurry over, last minute. And then I had to suddenly find out what I really looked like. It came rushing back: A lifetime of oaths sworn hastily in the hard bluish light– I will get that nose job. I will lose the weight. I will never slouch again. I will never go outside again.

All of this stuff that I write about body image, forcing myself to think it through, making myself make sense of it, refusing to allow myself to slide down that chute into effortless self-loathing or endless self-criticism. All of it—and I am defeated by Macy’s. By the dressing room. By the double mirrors and the sight of my own pale, exposed flesh.

(shortage of self-esteem? Where were those loss prevention personnel when I needed them? source)

I tried to pretend I wasn’t beginning to sink into a pit of bottomless despair. I tried to pretend I was just trying on clothing. No big deal.

But a familiar terrible suspicion was gnawing a hole in my brain. And into the hole seeped a gooey, poisonous certainty that this was The Truth. That this was the word of God, here in the Macy’s dressing room. This face, with the sorry, thin, mousebrown hair and the thick, domineering nose, this lumpy body with the scattered, lingering back pimples and chubby upper arms and dimpling thighs and pipsqueak, forgettable breasts—THIS was the real me. The true me. The me I’ve been hiding from. The me I’ve been hiding under thicker clothing and poorer lighting. The me I’ve been trying to ignore. The me I’d have to squint at sideways, in the dim, in order to ever appreciate.

I have learned that when you’re presented with a few options, the worst one is probably the truth.(Where did I learn that? It’s not right! It’s a myth!)

And then what?

I’m OK with being ugly sometimes, I told myself. Remember?

It wasn’t one of those days.

Bending over, I was embarrassed. My stomach folded over itself, lapping, packing tighter. I felt as though my body was escaping me, spilling over, uncontrollable. My profile was surprisingly beaked, unavoidable. I usually pretend it isn’t, because I can’t see it, but in the angled dressing room mirror, I couldn’t get away from it. I looked like a different person from the side. A more difficult person. Someone I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. Someone I couldn’t imagine mastering.

My mom found two dresses. They looked awesome.

If you lost weight… said the voice in my head, always ready to offer the same suggestion, no matter what. Because sometimes that seems like the only thing I can actually control. Two nose jobs have not saved my profile. My neck will not get longer. But I can lose weight. I can be thinner.

I looked away from my own eyes in the mirror. I was at the bottom of the pile of clothes. Nothing looked good. Instead, everything looked like a sad little joke.


And I found myself wondering about those women who say things like “I don’t care about that stuff. I just don’t worry about my appearance. It just doesn’t occur to me.” Women have said that to me before. Women comment on this blog to tell me that they don’t understand me when I talk about all this beauty stuff, because they just don’t think that way. And I think, “That’s cool. Good for you!” But in the dressing room I felt like they were impossible. Like they couldn’t really exist. Like they were lying. Do they shop mail order all the time? What is the trick?

Or maybe they are thinner than me. Maybe they are prettier. Maybe they have better faces. I’m often surprised by how beautiful women are. Sometimes I think the majority of women are beautiful, and I am in the complicated, unfortunate minority.

I went back for a second round. Nothing looked good again.

I bought two things, anyway, out of defeat. Things that only looked marginally better than other things. 25% off did not seem like that much, in the end.

I was starving and also didn’t want to ever eat again. We stopped at the grocery store and all of the prepared food had been cleaned out except for baked goods. The rugelach looked amazing.


“Should I?” I asked my mom. “Would you have some?”

“No,” she said. “I’m trying to lose weight.”

“I don’t want to gain more weight,” I said.

“Then don’t eat them.” She walked away, in search of healthy things.

I stood in front of the cookies for a long time.

The next day, back home in the city, I was going out to meet a friend in the village. I put on hand-me-down jeans, an old peasant top, slouchy boots. I looked good. I looked closer. Good enough to be true, too? Was my flat, ordinary mirror lying to me? Was the lighting not glaring and fluorescent enough to expose my tragic abundance of unsolvable beauty problems? Would I blithely imagine myself somewhat acceptable—even reasonably OK—until that time when fate swept me up and deposited me back in another Macy’s dressing room?

I pivoted, kicked up a foot to show off a slouchy boot. Sexy! Why did I look so good? How was it possible? Something was wrong.

Nope. Wrong again. 

Something was right: “You look great!” said my friend, when we met at W.4th and 6th. “So New York City!” The biggest compliment, from a girl born and raised here.

We found a café and I ordered rugelach.

It was delicious. I decided not to try to lose weight.

I decided not to go back to Macy’s. After all, truth is relative. There are probably a lot of real me’s. I like the one who lives outside of Macy’s. And Express always has pencil skirts. A few of them may even come in marker size.

*  *  *

How are you with department store fitting rooms? Is there a trick?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in jeans. Thank you, god, for normal jeans. If only I could wear them to synagogue with my blue stilettos…

This post is dedicated to the About Curves LLYC Charity Blogathon for Self Acceptance. Check out the stuff About Curves is doing with NOW to raise awareness about body acceptance this week.

Find out how to support the cause for plus size acceptance


Kate on October 23rd 2012 in beauty, body, fear, weight

70 Responses to “The utter despair of shopping at Macy’s”

  1. teegan responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    I like to be positive. I like to think well of myself.

    So my opinion is that there is no trick. When you walk into a fitting room, it’s actually a portal into one of the most terrible circles of hell. The mirrors add 248934 pounds in all of the wrong places. They make your skin look pasty and blotchy. I hardly ever go shopping, and fortunately the fitting rooms at my local thrift store have somewhat more flattering lighting than those in more expensive stores.

  2. Erin responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    ohh, the damn fitting rooms. i’m pretty sure all bigger girls loathe them. i don’t think other [thinner??] girls understand the anxiety and crushing defeat that some of us go through in picking out simple clothes. every time i’m in there, i say to myself, “i’m going to lose weight so that I can pick my ‘size’ off the rack and go home with it, and just avoid the fitting room all together.” that day has yet to come.
    but this might be because grad students can’t really afford clothes anyway and visiting the dressing room is a rarity to begin with! ;)

  3. Kate responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Yes. This is the right approach.
    And I’m going back to thrift stores. The clothes are also nicer there.

  4. Kathryn responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 1:19 pm #


    I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t matter how small you are, the dressing rooms are always hell and I was never able to avoid them, because of the drastic differences between labels and actual sizes between brands. I was dangerously thin for a few months, and I had just as many teary, self-esteem destroying moments in the dressing rooms as I do now in my curvy, healthy size.
    I’ve just concluded that dressing rooms are where you’re punished for any (real or imagined) sins.

    Also, Kate, wonderful post. I love reading your blog. I’ve seen the pictures of yourself you posted in some of the entries and you’re so gorgeous, yet you have the same insecurities that I (and many other women) have. It gives me hope and lets me know I’m not alone. :)

  5. Sarah S responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Wow, this one hit home. You can’t win a dressing room. I remember being enmeshed in the worst of my eating disorder, in tears in front of the mirror because I looked so sick. Now I’m reluctant to go shopping for the opposite reason; I’ve regained my health and weight, and like you (all of us?) start to get hyper-critical of my body in a dressing room. I’ve worked too damn hard on my body image to be taken down by retail! But I still refuse my mom’s offers to take me shopping for nice clothes that fit. I like my yoga pants, or cotton jersey a-line dresses (with tights, a hoodie, and Converse) if I’m feeling like looking a little fancier (hardly qualifies as dressy!). I’ll return to waistbands and fitting rooms someday, but not yet. :)

  6. Mikayla responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Fitting rooms are the pits!! I feel like I have to emotionally and mentally bolster myself for the worst of the worst: jeans, bras and heaven forbid swimsuits!

    I generally try not to look at myself until I have whatever apparatus I’m trying on, on. However, I still walk a way a little bruised and miffed.

  7. San D responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    My trick is to wear something I know I look good in. Something that makes my heart sing when I put it on. So when I go into the dressing room and try on things, if they don’t meet up to the standard of what I was wearing, then I don’t buy it, but I still leave feeling good about how I look. It makes me feel like the clothes in the store were illusions, look good on other people, look good on hangers, look good on models, but were not meant for me. I buy my clothes from an artisan on Etsy. Over the years I have donated my store bought clothes to the Salvation Army and wear only Secret Lentil’s work. I think of my clothes from Secret Lentil as homeschooling for fashion, something uniquely just for me, and not like public school (GAP, MACY’s, etc.)

  8. Emmi responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    I actually really like Macy’s, because they have damn awesome Fat Lady clothes. The one near me has their plus size section on the basement level, which sort of amuses me – we must be tossed in the dungeons! – but it’s huge with lots of clearance racks and it’s totally revolutionized the way I dress. They always manage to have a good selection of flattering clothing for all Fat Types, so I pretty much grab everything I like and try it all on. I am amazed at how often it looks great!

    Maybe dressing room mirrors don’t bother me because I already know I’m fat and lumpy and don’t care about hiding it? I couldn’t if I wanted to, I take up space! I just look for what I think looks nice and makes me feel good and is comfy. Sure, there will be plenty of items that SAY they’re my size but won’t even begin to fit, but there is also usually a fair showing of things with the same size listed that I end up drowning in. I have a general idea of how much fabric I need in a garment and just use my number size as a guideline, really.

    I can either go into clothes shopping feeling lousy, and end up spiraling down even further – or I can go feeling great and optimistic and suddenly there is so much possibility on the racks! And if there’s not much – oh well, saved some money, try again another time.

    Rugelach! I haven’t had that in an eon. Yum :)

  9. Manda responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    I hate going into a certain store here…i am 5′ tall…when i go to try something on i feel/look more squatty shorter than ever…and my thighs look so white and dimply and my stomach…lordy my stomach….so i start sucking it in and nothing….i walk out of there with nothing every single time…when i look at the article of clothing on the rack i think “i can wear this”…ugh….I love your blog…its good to know there is actually nothing wrong with me and that many women feel this way about themselves..on one hand knowing we are wrong and on the other believing what we see in the mirror….xoxox

  10. Marga responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I’ve learned through the years of clothes shopping is to buy what I think will work, take it home to try on several times and return whatever doesn’t work. The stores don’t complain because this way I have to come back to the store, and most likely will look for something that might fit better.

    At one point years ago, I went into what is now a Macy’s store to buy a bathing suit before a trip. I was wearing workout togs before or after a workout, which was the trend for the young women in the “hood” to wear on a daily basis. I think the older sales woman had lumped me in as a hood-girl and I found her trying to peek through the louvered doors to check on me and possibly prevent me from stealing. I purchased a rather costly suit in fact, probably more to spite her, but that experience has caused me to steer clear of dressing rooms. Besides, dressing rooms are uncomfortable, poorly lit, messy, sometimes don’t have a place to sit and take off your shoes, or they don’t have enough places to hang things and they always have the worst lighting, so they never have made me enjoy that process at all. I pretty much stick to my shopping/returning technique, it works for me.

  11. lik_11 responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    There are people in my life who will take me shopping and pick out some random clothes for me, that I would NEVER choose on my own, and the clothes look fantastic. When I shop on my own, I pick out things that I want to look good in, but never do. Shopping alone- I almost always end up in tears.

  12. Allyson responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    I hate department store fitting rooms! I’m pretty no one, regardless of size, looks good under those lights. I do a large chunk of my shopping online; it’s a win-win, as I get to try the clothes on in the comforting light of my own apartment, and instead of fighting crowds at department stores, I get to do my shopping during slow times at the office. I like Rue la la, because they rotate labels regularly, shipping is only $9.99 for 30 days of unlimited orders, and you get free return shipping for website credit.

    When I do actually go to stores, I go to local boutiques (I’m happy to provide my favorites if anyone is looking to shop in the DC area). They usually have more comfortable fitting rooms with better lighting, more personalized service, and I like supporting the local community, rather than huge chains.

  13. Janet T responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Kate- great post as always, my only commnet is to ask why are dressing rooms always so hot? It is hard enough to find something that might fit without sweating through the entire expereince- a little air might be nice- heck it could be just me. I consider it a failed trip if I can’t find shoes I like, but finding clothing is another matter entirely. Rather than have high hopes, I’m grateful if I DO find something
    @Emmi- great comment

  14. Kristina responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Department stores have fun-house mirrors! Don’t believe for a many the reflection they show you. I have a BAAAD habit of buying cute dresses that are one size too small and somehow in my brain I think this will motivate me to become thinner. It never works, the dress just sits in my closet and I hate myself for being weak( eating yummy cakes). Recently I began to buy dresses in a bigger size, and they make me feel skinnier than I really am because they fit loosely. It took me a while to mentally get over the fact that it wasn’t the “right size” but F*** it! Life is short, eat the damn cake and wear the damn dress in a bigger size. Buying clothes online is my savior, I can try them on at home and ship them back if they don’t fit. No fun-house mirrors to worry about.

  15. Rachel responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    So, how do we design flattering dressing rooms that stores can install? We’ll make a killing!

  16. Mia responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Only thing worse than trying on clothes with an unforgiving mirror is getting your hair cut with an unforgiving mirror.

  17. Amanda responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    “A lifetime of oaths sworn hastily in the hard bluish light– I will get that nose job. I will lose the weight. I will never slouch again. I will never go outside again.”

    This. That is how I am with dressing rooms. I have no trick except to buy all my clothes online in multiple sizes, try them on at home, and return in person the ones that don’t fit. No florescent lights, no skinny mannequins, no having to show off how horrible I look to whoever accompanied me to the mall.

  18. Val responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    I’m so with you.

    All the times I’ve stood staring at my reflection in unflattering fluorescent light, wearing stupid looking tube socks, static in the hair from pulling things off over my head—it all came rushing over me while I read this.

    Ugh. No wonder I hate shopping, especially for clothes.

    You speak for all of us, lol. love, Val

  19. Christina responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Ugh. Macy’s fitting rooms! The first time I ever tried on a dress in Macy’s–in the actual big one at Herald Square–my friend, against my protests, urged a clerk to come over and judge me in the dress. (And this was back when I was 20-something and slim.) The clerk looked me up and down, scornfully, and then said, measuring out each word, “Well. The DRESS looks nice.”

    Needless to say, I didn’t buy the dress. And the remark lives on in my internal soundtrack that constantly reminds me that I’m ugly.

  20. Meg responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I’ve had this exact experience in stores so many freaking times. I hate it. And it wasn’t until very, very recently that I realized that my wise boyfriend was right, and wasn’t just feeding me a line of BS, and that it was *the clothes* and not *my body* that’s the wrong size/shape/proportion.

    And why in the hell do they put fluorescent lights in the dressing rooms, which make everyone look awful? Shouldn’t they put lighting in that flatters people, and actually makes someone want to buy the clothes? Sometimes I flip off the mirror and mouth “I hate your lighting”, just in case that’s where their hidden security cameras are.

  21. Kate responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    LOL!! I love that image, of you flipping the mirror off and telling the hidden camera what’s up

  22. Joy responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I have been there! I was so excited when I lost a bunch of weight and decided to go shopping for a smaller ensemble. I can’t tell you how discouraging it was to watch those cursed sizes go up and up as I continued to try to find something that fit. I am smaller than I was before! What happened?

  23. Lixxi responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    sigh….this is my experience in every fitting room ever….the voice in my head saying “It’s not the jeans that make your butt look huge, it’s actually just huge”

    …”THIS was the real me. The true me. The me I’ve been hiding from. The me I’ve been hiding under thicker clothing and poorer lighting. ” – yup – that suddenly the yellow light in the fitting room is exposing what I truly look like and all other times I’m just kidding myself. The irony is that when I was a good 8kg lighter, trying on clothes 2 sizes smaller, it still felt exactly the same. Its unwinnable. So I just dont buy clothes that often, anymore.

  24. Finnle Mae responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    I can’t shop at department stores…I stick to thrift stores. If the clothes don’t fit, I chalk it up to sizing inconsistencies.

  25. Cait responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Ugh, I think everyone’s been there. Strangely, there’s something about Macy’s (and maybe other huge department stores) in particular that I have always found really horrible for shopping. Something about the sheer volume of merchandise making it so much less likely to find something you like (which makes every item that doesn’t work that much more frustrating).

    I know sometimes it helps to just vent about these things without getting a ton of suggestions, but I’ve been through a similar evolution and I have a few suggestions if you’re interested.

    For conservative but still stylish and flattering clothes you can wear to work and church at a low price point, keep an eye on Target and Old Navy. They change inventory constantly and have good looking pieces with some stretch (stretch is the ultimate necessity if you want to feel better about your body). At a slightly higher price point, revisit eShakti’s site often (or sign up for emails); I know you did giveaways with them in the past but they also change styles frequently and have really cute skirts and blazers this season.

    You might not like how your body now looks in clothes you would have worn without a moment’s thought before. That’s not a reason to dislike or change your body; it’s a reason to think about the clothes that do make you happy and change your wardrobe to fit that vision. Unless your favorite casual look is a body stocking, you will be able to find work/church clothes that reflect the fit and style details that you think look best on you in your meeting a friend for dinner outfits (think about where the waist is on your tops and dresses, shoulder detailing, skinny vs. bootcut pants, pencil vs. A-line skirts, etc.).

    I really hope you continue to be kind to your body (it does a whole lot of cool stuff for you) and good luck with the temple wardrobe shopping!

  26. daphne responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    I completely agree that somehow, the clothes at the thrift store fit better and the dressing rooms don’t make me want to kill myself. Why is that? Maybe because the clothes are already broken in, and you know that SOMEONE looked good in them once, and maybe you do, too. And Macy’s is the house of the devil. Also, shopping with my mom is also a recipe for tears. My mom has thinner legs/hips than I do and always looks great in pants, which makes me instantly depressed. I usually have to combat clothes shopping with a round of shoe shopping. Shoes always fit and always look good. Then I hit the thrift store.

  27. Sheryl responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    I have a couple of shopping rules that I use to avoid fitting room hell. (Because oh is it so possible to fall into that!) First, I avoid department stores as a rule. Sure they have a huge selection, but that also means that every different brand they have has different sizing and it’s too easy to get mad at the sizes on the clothes not fitting my body. With smaller stores, where I know the clothing lines, I know what I’m getting into and it’s not as intimidating. Secondly I won’t go shopping unless I’m in a good mood, because unless I’m in a decent mood to start with I know I’m going to beat myself up over everything, nothing’s going to look good, and I’m going to buy something just ok because I feel like I need to find *something*.

    But could stores seriously just get rid of the terrible lighting and fun store mirrors? It doesn’t make me want to buy clothes when just walking into the change rooms makes me feel unattractive before I even put something on.

  28. birdy responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    I am somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, and this is my theory on dressing rooms:
    They make you look bad so you will feel bad about yourself, and buy something in desperation to make yourself feel better.
    In other words, they’re forcing you to need retail therapy, so they’ll make more money.
    LOL, I have no idea if that’s true, but at least its funny and it helps me fight back against the feeling that I am the most mutant looking creature on earth! lol

  29. JessB responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Oh man, I love Macy’s! When I visited New York a few years ago, I loved going past their windows, because they looked so beautiful! I think it was their 100th birthday or something, because they had balloons and cake (cake!) all set out, and it looked divine.

    I only went in once, and didn’t try anything on, but I agree that dressing room mirrors in general are awful. I’m glad you find a way to look good and feel good, Kate.

  30. Rapunzel responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    FYI, if you’re super confused about all the characters in A Game of Thrones, google “illustrated guide to a game of thrones” and the first link will have maps of character- & house- relationships that will be enlightening for you (they’re designed like family trees).

    I don’t really understand why dressing rooms always have to be so mean and greedy–aren’t they supposed to be trying to get you to buy the clothes? Just doesn’t make sense….but that’s how it is anyway.

    I’ve stood in front of the wall of cookies and/or debbie snacks and/or candy bars for 10+ minutes more than once before, and walked away with nothing but anxiety and self-loathing, despite not caving in on them. If I’m going to loathe myself either way, why not eat the damn cake? Or cookies, as it were?

  31. Esther responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I am delurking just to comment on this, because I love your writing and this whole blog makes my soul happy.

    My trick is to go to thrift stores for almost everything. Because that way, if something looks great on a hanger and weird on my body, I can wear it anyway, and be like, “Pfft, whatever it’s vintage/designer/supposed to be weird” if I feel I am being judged (even if it is neither vintage nor designer nor actually supposed to be weird). And because, when I go to, like, Beacon’s Closet, I find I am surrounded by unbearably hip outfits I would never wear, which makes me feel very comforted by my ability to wear a plain black dress with confidence—like I am flipping the popular girls the bird.

    And also what Meg said above, because that is so wise. I wish someone had told me that when I was sixteen. It’s not a problem that I have no boobs at all. Even though most of my life, I have thought that this is a problem. The problem is that this stupid shirt has oversized darts. Because the design is bad. Of the shirt. The design of the shirt is bad. The design of my body is just fine.

  32. Brittany responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    “The Utter Despair of Shopping at Macy’s” is one of your best posts. Who hasn’t felt this kind of overstimulated stress and shame while standing under florescent lights in a poorly sized and pricy outfit? The women who contact you to say they haven’t experienced self esteem issues with their bodies are a) truly blessed b) from another planet c) LYING. Thank you for being honest; your readers count on you for that.

  33. Beth responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I’ve got another theory about dressing rooms – You see yourself in the “worst” light – and if you find clothes that you look good in, then they are worth taking home. I think it’s good to have a filter in place, so you avoid all the crap – it’s the same as my theory about jerky people – if someone says really rude or horrible things to you, then they’re not worth spending time with.

  34. Alicia Cumming responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    @birdy: haha, perhaps, but wouldn’t they want you to look GOOD so you’d buy whatever you were trying on?

    Aside from this point, I have this thing where I can’t waste time shopping if I’m not going to buy something. But I’m remedying this by sticking mainly to bargain stores and thrift shops. Which leads me to this: You cannot go wrong with thrift stores. The clothes, if you pick and choose carefully, are better and if they fall apart you wouldn’t end up as screwed over as you’d have been if you spent 60 dollars on an even cheaper made piece of clothing-which leads me to this point: Clothing is made so, so very cheap. Threads are always sticking out, fabric like those on dresses from H & M can easily come undone if you pull on threads (like I always do). And then you’ll be paying a price intended for a piece that is well made and won’t fall apart within a couple of years. I’m slim, but dressing rooms always make me feel gross in general, and on the occasions with smaller-made clothing in “my size”-chubby, which adds to the feeling of being gross (the other factors are body sweat and my dark stomach hair).

  35. Lisa responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 2:06 am #

    You know, my reflex with clothes that look bad on me, make me look fat, etc. is just to say “damn, these clothes sure are badly made”. I just plain don’t wear anything that’s spandex/stretchy nylon, because it clings! Sure, I like clothes that show off my curves, but not my rolls ;-)

    I notice you say you went to the younger people’s section. I’m not sure what you mean by that but for me I had to learn to get out of Junior’s and go buy adult women’s clothes, because those are more likely to be made to make YOU look good. Also they use a lot less of that stretchy nylon stuff.

    It’s also easier if you aren’t trying things on alongside someone else, I think. Because you all have different bodies and different clothes are going to look good on you. Some super-skinny people can just wear something because it is a pretty dress, because they’re shaped like a hanger and their body won’t get in the way. But I think one of the results of that is that you say, “What a gorgeous dress!” rather than “Wow, you look great in that!” – which is something that can happen when you find the clothes that really flatter your body.

  36. Nina Potts responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 3:01 am #

    I know it may sound strange, but I noticed about 4 years ago that some of the freaking out I did in various places were actually panic attacks. One of those places is dressing rooms.

    They’re small, I get stressed out from shopping, I start to sweat (which is possibly the grossest thing ever when trying on various clothes). The truly evil ones that take the mirror out of the dressing room and put it in the hall, so you have to parade in front of everyone. Depending on where you’re shopping, the crazy crowds. I’ve learned with the various panic attack coping mechanisms, and a xanax 20 minutes before any shopping, I can actually get through it without a total breakdown.

    I will agree about thrift stores for some clothes. I can’t do them for bras (I fall into the overly busty category there), but for jeans, they are a life saver. The jeans are already broken in and they have tons of different brands, so you can get various sizes even in different brands. I have a terrible memory of buying jeans in a store and breaking down, crying, as sales girls and my girlfriend passed me in five different sizes. I don’t even remember how it ended, my mind tends to black out sometimes when I have really bad panic attacks.

  37. Jiminy responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 8:14 am #

    I KNOW!!!! sorry for the yelling :) , but yes, this is exactly how I feel every single time I go shopping in one of the larger stores. Lately though I’m very happy with taking three things home and bringing two back, I’d much rather take the extra trip to the shop than suffer in the dressing room anymore.
    I do have another one though. All the apparently enormous time before my 27th I used to be reasonably photogenic (and yes, weigh less, but that’s not the only thing). So I used to like my own pictures. At some point a few years ago, it just went away. I can’t seem to get any photo to look like… well, like what I see in the mirror. And this week I needed ID pics. So I took my time and put on makeup I hardly ever use, managed my hair in a reasonable way, went to the booth and stared confidently at the camera. The reflection in the screen was… recognizable, in a comfortable way. The three pictures the machine took were a monster i wanted to stamp on. And indeed, the horrid feeling is always the `but what if that IS the reality, what if what I see otherwise is just a figment of my imagination?`
    (I’m curious about the electric blue stilettos, by the way).

  38. Rachele responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 9:59 am #

    I’m no help at all. My avoidance is so epic I started making all my clothes. Everything fits me perfectly now, though, and that feels amazing. No more pants an inch too short, empire waists that try to sit on top of my ample chest, or skirts too tight in the waist to button but somehow hugely saggy in the butt.

    There are a small handful of department store brands I know will fit straight off the rack. If you can muster up the courage to give that dressing room another chance long enough to figure out which brands pattern for your body shape, you’ll know exactly what to look for come sale time. I have had NO luck with thrift stores, but that might be a regional thing.

  39. em responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 11:49 am #

    This might go a little off topic but is something I wish I could understand.

    When I am slightly starving myself, everything fits. I can walk into anywhere and look great in anything, and the clothing also fits all my shape and proportions perfectly nearly always.

    The rest of the time, the experiences I will have are like this post. My chest is too small to be in proportion to the rest of me, my upper thighs are too big or my bottom isn’t shaped quite right, everything is tight somewhere it shouldn’t be and bagging somewhere else, I am long and gangly for the clothes and everything in the world is wrong.

    What is hard to understand then is why it should be so angsty over food/eating and everything. It seems so simple – just eat less, walk away from the food, do not put it in your mouth, what is the gluttony demon that makes any piece of FOOD more important than having wonderful experiences in clothing, shopping, feeling comfortable with all the shape of my body?

    I think the entire part of the industrial revolution that forced factory clothing on us over custom fitted garments is horrible and useful and understandable. (And actually I kind of wish we just draped ourselves in various sheets for clothing…) I think ultimately we need to just CHOOSE and find peace with it – the food and the body it creates, or the food denial and the body IT creates.

    When do we reach the day we have suffered enough?
    I want mine with the next sunrise.
    It’s in my control. No more.

  40. Jenn responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 11:59 am #

    I have this weird thing where I feel guilty and awkward if I return ALL the clothes to the dressing room attendant, so even if I don’t want to make any purchases I retain one thing and put it back myself. Why? Beats the hell outta me.

  41. Kande responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I go shopping with my two young daughters ( when they are in a good mood of course, and not frequently … ummm I mean I don’t shop for myself frequently, not that their good mood is infrequent! lol!). I highly recommend it for two reasons (1) I will not insult my body in front of them as do not want them to replicate that behaviour themselves (2) I will talk to the eldest about not impulse buying, and how different clothing fits different shapes differently – so she learns it is ok if something looks awesome on her different-figured friend than on herself and (3) no matter what I try on, they both exclaim ” oooh Mommy, I like that! You are so pretty!”. Not that the dress/clothes are pretty – that I am pretty.

    How can I complain?

    And please note: even in Canada our clothing store dressing rooms suck just as much as in the USA … and even if they didn’t, I am a totally averge to below average looking woman. So please don’t think when I say my kids call me pretty that I would be to the averag joe, as so in’t the case. No supermodel aspirations here – I just know which critics to listen to, and try to keep their voices louder than the rest ( including my own!) ;)

  42. Kande responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    And apparently when I say “2″ reasons what I mean is “3″. I can’t do simple math either. And I was educated in a school, so take that homeschooling critics! ;)

  43. Michele responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Honey, it is NOT YOU… It is the clothes. You need to find another place to shop besides Macy’s. Seriously, Macy’s sucks… None of the clothes ever fit me… They are just poorly constructed and cheaply made. I walked out of that store I refuse to shop there anymore – i won’t even go in to the store. Find a store and a brand of clothes that really fit you. White House Black Market has been my recent go-to store. Not cheap, but not ridiculous, classic clothes that fit and are made well. Ann Taylor also works for me, but not as consistently as WHBM. Try Lord and Taylor – I do pretty well there sometimes too. Trust me on this…

  44. Melanie responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    I shop only at Macy’s woman and Lane Bryant pretty much. I haven’t stepped in to a fitting room in over a decade. I try on all clothes at home. I find a fit of slack/jeans I like and I am fiercely loyal to that cut until they discontinue it.

  45. zoe responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 3:58 pm #


    so after i gained a bunch of weight i decided to get to know my new, unfamiliar body, which meant trying on a bunch of clothing. initially i cried in front of the mirror allthetime. i doom and gloomed everywhere, cursing this roundness i never agreed to.

    then, i found something nice. and another something nice. eventually, i stopped caring about it. my reflection, imperfect in clothing not suited for my shape, made me laugh. if i came away with nothing, i came away with nothing. clothes suddenly did not define me or my happiness and contentment with my body. somedays, yes, the dressing room feels impossible. the lighting, the mirror, the pulling on and taking off and endless critiquing — it all becomes too much. but over all, when i decided to start looking at my body in the mirror without an evaluation, good or bad, i saw it for what it was: this beautiful thing i get to exist in.

    finding clothes that compliment your personal figure can be frustrating but the process is really, really worth it.

    (but, to be honest, i sometimes wish we didn’t have to wear clothes :) )

  46. Katherine responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    Thank you! I went shopping with my mother just yesterday and inevitably found myself in a fitting room, trying on a bra of all things. I wasn’t going to, but when I saw my b cup sized mum look more like a d cup because of this particular push up bra, I got this crazy idea that I would be able to finally get some cleavage from this miracle bra…As soon as I peeled of my protective layers, and stared at my naked self, I felt all the confidence I had slowing built up drain instantly away. Despite me being a ”healthy weight”, those mirrors made me see all the little odd bumps and lumps and my skin seemed to have turned translucent and loose everywhere…I just felt like crying! Anyway, as usual, my chest remained stubbornly small, no cleavage what so ever. I have never liked fitting rooms, ever. Even when I was down to 47kg and underweight, those mirrors never let me believe for a second I actually looked ok. After thinking I had finally beaten my insecurities, I felt an utter failure yesterday. So thanks kate, for being so honest, you made me feel so much better about having a little ”setback” yesterday. I don’t feel so much a failure for being beaten yesterday by the fitting room demons :)

  47. Kate responded on 24 Oct 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    I’m so glad this helped! You are SO very much not alone in this.
    And I have to say, a bra has never performed a miracle on my breasts, no matter how many times I think it might. But sometimes I’m OK with my chest anyway :-)

  48. Cinthia responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 1:03 am #

    OMG, don’t ever try on swimsuits at Sports Authority. The mirrors and lighting are evil. Trust me on that one.
    I loved this post, Kate, think it’s one of my favorites, and that’s saying a lot.
    What I don’t understand is why department stores don’t use the same type of lighting as in expensive restaurants, you know the kind, where you look at yourself and you suddenly appear not only lovely but beautiful, every feature perfect, every flaw hidden, and so you go back out to the dining room and order extra dessert, just because you can.
    Why don’t stores have such lighting?
    P.S. I think you are stunning, regardless of what you think the mirror might have said. (Like in Snow White–we all hear our evil stepmother when we see our own reflection. So damned sad.)

  49. Katherine responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 1:47 am #

    Aw, I work at Macy’s and all of the negativity about the dressing rooms on these comments really really bums me out.

    I’m so sorry your trip didn’t go well for you. Maybe you should come shop at the Macy’s in Ohio rather than the Flagship at 42nd and it would be a better experience with less florescent lighting.

    Seriously, so bummed! :( :( :(

  50. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 2:04 am #

    Oh no!! I’m so sorry!! I feel awful about making you feel bad. Plenty of people love Macy’s, though, and I totally registered there for my wedding and got awesome stuff. This is much more about how fitting rooms are designed and how self-esteem works than anything else, I promise.

  51. Dot responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Once again, you’ve managed to describe just about every single shopping experience I’ve ever had. The suspicion that about every other woman is beautiful except for me – I have that myself, to the extent that I think I’m some kind of freak of nature, letting down womankind by failing to be as beautiful as expected.
    And what is it with mirrors? At home, in my own bathroom, I sometimes catch myself thinking, Damn, you look good! But as soon as I step into a fitting room, it all goes downhill. I haven’t figured out how that’s possible yet.

  52. melissa responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    I’m AWFUL with clothes shopping, it’s so pathetic. When I was a teen, I never got new clothes. My family just passed around a trash bag full of rejected clothes from house to house and whatever fit was what I got to wear.

    So I had a lot of ugly clothes, and usually only owned one pair of pants at a time. It sucked balls.

    But anyway, I never learned how to put outfits together or how to shop so every time I go into a shop, I won’t feel comfortable unless it looked like a trash bag full of clothes.

    Like… walmart.

    But I have the same problem you do in which things from crappy department stores just don’t fit right. Ever. I have a typical shape now (size 12 with fairly balanced proportions) and things still hang weird or pull in strange places. It’s definitely a problem with the clothing itself.

    I admire other people’s clothing, but other people shop in nicer places. When I enter a nice place, my eyes bug out at the prices (remember, I’m used to getting everything for free lol) and that’s only if I can get through the door. Usually I feel so unfit for nice places that I can’t even go inside. Like I’m not worthy of pretty things. I’m just overweight and boring with no social skills and a bad job… why would I need a nice shirt, right?

  53. melissa responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    The worst places are the ones that put the mirrors on the outside of the changerooms. What horrorshow came up with that??? It’s bad enough to look like a doof in a dress way out of my league, I have to perform for the long line of customers just to find out how stupid I look???? augh!

  54. Erika responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Thank you Kate for being brave enough to write this AND talented enough to find the words to describe this experience. I loved reading it. It helped me.

  55. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Oh god, wow. Thank you so much!

  56. Link It Up: Must Read Posts on 10.26.2012 | poise in parma responded on 26 Oct 2012 at 8:06 am #

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  57. clarksteph responded on 26 Oct 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Ladies – there is no trick and no matter what your shape, body size or mood when you start shopping, we all leave feeling defeated.
    We all have slef doubt, and loathing in the bright lights and angled mirrors of the fitting room.
    The little voice is ever present under the watchful eye of the loss prevention pervert who sees us act out our self loathing like a bad sitcom on permanent rewind, they can’t escape either. Poor guy, I bet he goes home, hugs his wife and tells how beautiful she is every day…
    We just have to learn to love the person we are and treat our own self with the love we do our girlfriends. Pretend the person you are seeing in the mirror is your friend and give her kind advice, and don’t let her buy the pencil skirt when she needs a marker skirt.

  58. Anonyvox responded on 26 Oct 2012 at 11:40 am #

    As my body matures, I find I have much better success with A-line skirts, and wrap dresses in a fairly busy pattern. Also? I totally wear bike shorts under all my skirts and dresses because the chafing I get from my thighs rubbing together. :-) Whatever, right?

    Remember that it isn’t you that doesn’t look good. It’s that some clothes are made for people with different bodies. That’s all.

  59. Leslie responded on 28 Oct 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    As the mom of your co-singer on the Bimah the day before you went shopping, I can only say that you were stunning that day (and every day!) – in body, in voice and in spirit! Tell Macy’s to go screw.

  60. Kate responded on 28 Oct 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    That’s so sweet. And the brilliant Bat Mitzvah needs her own website, so I can link to it!

  61. Kay responded on 28 Oct 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    I usually have good luck at Macy’s, but this post describes exactly my experience at JC Penney’s (and I do usually like them too!!) a while back when I was trying to figure out what size I am now (you and I actually have quite similar shapes). I tried on a skirt 2 sizes bigger than my previous size and it was still too tight on my thighs, the lighting made my entire body look like the glowing white cratery surface of the moon and every vein and freckle stood out… It was totally bizarre. So, I do what a lot of people here do and mostly order stuff online (Nordstrom feeds this habit by having free shipping on everything and my beloved petite sizes) and try on at home.

  62. Sierra @ Posh Meets Pavement responded on 29 Oct 2012 at 9:17 am #

    I can relate on so many levels. Sometimes I get weirdly scared to be alone in a room with mirrors and my naked body. That is not normal. Seeing my butt as I pull on a pair of tight pants is enough to send me into a tailspin and clearly, I’m not alone.

    Thanks for making me feel more normal, and reminding me that clothes are not going to ruin my day. Trying on sizes has been traumatic in the past and it’s not worth the trouble. size is subjective and happiness is a choice.

  63. Amy responded on 29 Oct 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I’m a “Uniform Dresser”. As another poster said, I find a pair of jeans/pants that fit and just buy that style over and over again. I’m plus-sized and 5′ 4″, and I’m too lazy and cheap to hem pants. So I buy…and rock…jeans from places like Walmart and Kmart that are petite/plus (fun oxymoron.) I’ve spent so much money on what I now call “Fantasy Wear”. Clothes I WISH I could wear, but know I simply can’t. I do not have attractive legs. I won’t wear a dress or skirt that isn’t floor length. And I probably attend 1-2 formal events a year, max. So…I haven’t bought a skirt in years. There’s no point. I stick with jeans and trousers in nicer fabrics for going out. A couple of years ago I bought three cap-sleeve tops to wear on a warm-weather vacation and spent most of my time feeling bad about my fat, saggy upper-arms. I went straight back to 3/4 length sleeves and never looked back. I have fun with jewelry, purses and shoes and try not to think about pretty skirts and sleeveless tops anymore.

  64. Onyx responded on 06 Nov 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    I’m with you on this! I absolutely hate dressing room mirrors and end up unhappy about my skin, my hair, my stomach, etc. But, my wonderful solution, that makes me leave actually HAPPY about the experience is to take my husband. Bless him, he does not want to spend time shopping, but he will sit there and he will be my “mirror”. I still look in the mirror before stepping out, but it’s a cursory glance to see if I outright don’t like the outfit before I step out. And it’s wonderful because I know that he LOVES my body, so I leave feeling like there was something wrong with the clothes instead of ME. The percentage of clothes I actually end up buying hasn’t changed (stupid manufacturers do not make them for people like me), but the experience feels less like torture.

  65. Eat the Damn Cake » being friends with a pixie girl responded on 11 Dec 2012 at 11:18 am #

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  66. Danielle responded on 30 Dec 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Oh my goodness. I nearly teared up reading this. Right at the conversation with your mother in front of the rugelach.

    I felt like I’d pulled out reels of film from my own life. Those visits to the dressing room with a Mother who always had a smaller waist than I did, and the iron will to say things like “then don’t eat them.” (and she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t do it as well. Which is awesome. But gosh it’s tough when you feel like a failure because you don’t naturally have the same iron will in all circumstances.)

    The desire to want to know The Truth, and the sad, depressing “realization” that all this positive “self-affirming” thought is all ear-plugging claptrap that I tell myself to hide from the elephant I am…who only really shows up in the dressing room.

    Thank you again for showing me that I am not alone and that, you know?…I don’t have to listen to the lie of the dressing room.

  67. Pixie M responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    Hi Kate
    I just stumbled across this post….and I was thrown back to being in NYC for holidays January just gone…..and a Bloomingdales changeroom with husband waiting eagerly outside to see what I would purchases (clothes are mega cheap here compared to Australia)….and then….I looked in the mirrors and saw the Beast. I have always had a phobia about changerooms and will usually buy things and take them home to try on, and then return them if they don’t fit. But I couldn’t do that in NYC, could I? And I was trying to pretend to my husband that I, too, felt very excited about trying on new clothes (I had diverted him for a while buying his own stuff but then he wised up and literally pushed me up to the ladies section) but I DID NOT.

    I am slim, I go the gym, I eat well, and I love cooking. I do treat my body well but in the end, my body resists. It has dimply god-awful thighs that will not change, no matter what I do. And there they were, glowing and pulsating at me in all their disgusting-ness. I closed my eyes, pulled on the jeans, opened up one eye to see that they were OK (they did, cause things look ok on, it’s just naked that’s the problem), threw the pale coloured jeans on the floor (because they looked hideous) and fled. Trying to hide my tears from my husband who on a daily, sometimes thrice daily basis tells me what a great body I have and how hot I am, etc etc. So we are in Bloomingdales, on our mega exciting NYC trip, it is Christmas and snowy and wonderful, and I am in tears. He is confused. We walk out and he searches for something to say, to make me happy again. He cajoles me into going into other stores, I have no enthusiasm….A day ruined, all because of my stupid MIND not because of my body.

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