I will not claim that this is a universal truth, however- I do feel that for a majority of humans, entering into a dressing room can be a challenging and noble endeavor. I don’t know if I have ever been excited to enter into fitting room land, AND the relationship with this space has certainly grown throughout the years.
Enter in: Body Neutrality
As a therapist that is passionate about working with those healing from eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, liberation from diet culture, AND someone who is in recovery from eating disorder(s) myself, I want to share how body neutrality showed up this weekend. Yes, in a dressing room.
Now, I have been putting off shopping for some activewear for some time. And it shows. The usual items I wear interchangeably CANNOT be washed off the funk that resides within them. My clothes have been worn with love.
AND it is past time to get some new, less potent clothes to support the movement I enjoy.
So, this weekend I took myself to purchase some items. I left the store after all was said and done, not thinking much about it. When I was hit with a wave of emotion. I realized that I had not experienced one negative or cruel thought about my body the entire time I had been trying on and selecting said clothing.
For those who feel that they may never be able to land in a space of body neutrality, please know that I feel that with every fiber of my being. It is hard and thankless work. And body neutrality can exist.
If you find trying on clothes challenging, this piece is for you. You are seen.
Let’s talk about it.
Here are some thoughts and practices to take into the dressing room on your next adventure. Take what you find helpful and please, leave the rest. <3
If dressing rooms could speak, what would they share? The pain they have witnessed…The body shaming that occurs…
I want to first acknowledge that for MANY reasons, trying on clothes can be a gruesome experience.
For the function of my experience this weekend, I went in with the following mindset:
Was it giving:
Does it fit
Next, I recognized that this store did have my size(s) and was grateful to see that they did accommodate a wide range of sizes as I know this is not usually the scenario.
This should not be the exception to the rule.
I hope that the fashion and clothing industry continues to support this.
Nevertheless…I want to acknowledge the personal privilege I had in that I could find the items I needed for my body, that expressed my gender representation in said store.
I then proceeded to grab a bunch of options. Like a lot. Cause once we go in, that’s it for me- we are not goin’ back in….
I placed items on my body. I did not even approach the mirror until the item was on and I established how it felt on without seeing it first.
Immediately, some were too small and were in the ‘nope’ pile.
Some just felt odd and were discarded.
Some were ‘maybes’ and then I turned to the mirror to observe.
Key word here being observe.
I tried my hardest to not judge, but rather just observe how the items looked on my skin suit.
Some of the observational/functional questions I asked about the items included:
Does this article of clothing meet the function of what I’m needing it for or for the purpose/activity I’m engaging in?
Will it slide down and be annoying?
Do I enjoy the color? Style? (Refrained from thinking about how others would perceive me in it- did I enjoy it- period)
Is the price ok ish (hello inflation)
*Insert any other questions you may want to ask yourself from a non-judgmental lens.
Bring awareness to the internal dialogue that may begin to start as you stand there viewing yourself in the mirror- is it critical? Harsh? Is the messaging you are telling yourself something you’d tell a friend trying on clothes there with you?
Heck no, you’d be hyping your friend up!!!!! It’s ok if you cannot do that for yourself AND can we invite neutrality into the room?
A neutral voice can sound like:
I have legs and these shorts fit these legs. Sweet.
I have a back that requires a different size than this and that is ok.
I like the color of this shirt and I will grab the larger size that fits.
We don’t have to beat ourselves up for our bodies doing their thing. We can recognize that trying on clothes and clothing in general can be activating and over stimulating.
I also want to recognize this situation could have gone differently for me if I had been trying on different items such as event attire, jeans/pants, swimwear, more gendered options etc…. Way more activating.
AND the principles discussed here CAN also be used in more activating dressing room experiences.
In fact, it may actually be helpful to start with less activating clothing choice options and practice neutrality in those spaces rather than just jumping in trying on bathing suits, swim trunks etc.
Here are some pieces to think about prior to your fitting room excursions
Before even going to a store, check in with yourself beforehand. Are you in a regulated space to go shopping and try things on?
I try to go when it will be less busy, and I go to familiar ish options. I can’t do malls. Ever.
Give yourself a time limit/time frame that is both realistic and will lessen the time body checking/becoming overwhelmed with choices.
Bookending the experience
This just means to sandwich your excursion in between grounding practices. Do something gentle for yourself prior to clothes shopping and then end your activity with something grounding.
Be with nature.
Get some coffee or tea.
Visit with someone you care about or go spend your time with your pet.
I know that if I peruse and try on clothes, I am DONE for the day. Usually, I am very drained and that is OK.
Do you want to bring a friend of support/hype person with you on your excursion? Do you want to facetime/call someone if no one is physically able to go with you?
Sometimes having someone there with you can be helpful, other times it may not.
I personally went alone and do usually prefer going alone when I know what I am typically looking for.
Would it be helpful to check in with your therapist, recovery coach, trust friend before/after? Or would it feel grounding to journal about your experience?
NOURISH TO FLOURISH
I ensured I was fueled before I went. I went after lunch. Because nothing goes well if I’m hangry. I know that there may be a pull to go try on clothing before eating or drinking anything. Please don’t. Your body deserves respect and fuel.
Go with your personal preferences
Ya girl is all about functionality.
I find something I like it and then just grab it in a different color hehe.
If you enjoy getting the newest styles and updated fashions, please go for it
If you are like me, and don’t even know what the style is, that is so ok too.
You get to select what feels safe and comfy for you based on YOU, not a perceived audience. You do you. Do what fits for you…no pun intended.
It is ok to take breaks as necessary when on your clothes shopping excursion. I typically find that I dissociate/disorient easily when in larger stores and become overwhelmed easily with the various options, fluorescent lights, environment in general…
I personally like to wear headphones, these can be noise canceling or you can listen to music through earbuds, whatever you prefer!
EDM happened to be my genre of choice this particular day as it calms my neurodivergent brain- and is perfect for a dance party in the dressing room if ya want!
Bring something to ground you if desired.
Pause and pick a color, any color, and find five things that are that color-
Attune to your surroundings- What can you hear? Smell?
I am a touch person; tactile sensations are my jam. Truthfully, I will only wear the things if it feels cozy on my body. Nothing pokey, itchy, uncomfy etc.
I like to bring awareness to how the items feel and sensations they bring up.
Remember to breathe as sometimes we hold our breath if anxious/overwhelmed. I like to sigh it out for several counts right after I get into the dressing room prior to trying anything on. Sometimes bringing attention to my breathing specifically heightens my anxiety, so sighing supports my nervous system in regulating. Again, do what works for your nervous system as everyone is different.
Lastly, please leave if you need.
There have been countless times I’ve gone into a store with every intention of trying stuff on and ya girl needed to abort mission. I simply put everything away and just left.
That’s ok! Take care of you!
Remember clothes are created to fit bodies, our bodies are not meant to be forced into the clothing.
Patience and practice as again, neutrality takes time. If you desire more support or find this topic fascinating, please connect with a provider who can talk with you more about body neutrality. Maybe next time you enter a dressing room, you can try some of these practices and leave just 1 percent less activated. You got this!