Bad Lighting? Bad Mirror? Body Image and Department Store Fitting Rooms

Image description: Tracy, a woman of colour with blond hair, stands in front of the Centennial Ferris Wheel at Chicago's Navy Pier. She is wearing a black and white skirt, black tank, black shoes with white soles, and a back pack.

Tracy in Chicago at Navy Pier in front of the Centennial Ferris Wheel.

I’ve been in Chicago for a few days celebrating my friend Diane’s fiftieth birthday. We’ve been close friends since the day we met on the first day of grad school nearly 30 years ago. Since she lives in Iowa City and I live in London, Ontario, Chicago is an excellent place for us to meet. An awesome city that we can both drive to in a few hours.

We do all sorts of different things here and one of them is shopping on the Magnificent Mile. Now I’m pretty solid with my body image these days but I had an experience at Nordstrom the other day, trying on sleep wear of all things, where I was like: no way.

I don’t know if it was the lighting in the fitting room or the actual mirror, but whatever it was I took one look at myself in these things and that very old reflex of “ew” kicked in. And there’s where I became aware of an amazing shift. Instead of sticking with that old narrative I immediately went to “it must be the mirror or the lighting.” In fact, when I left the fitting room and met back up with Diane I said to her “with fitting rooms like that I don’t know how they can expect anyone to buy anything. For a department store of this calibre they should be able to do better than that.”

That this interpretation of what went wrong came so quickly and naturally after the initial voice in my head is a function of many, many years of letting go of negative self judgment about the way I look. And since Monday I have made successful purchases that I felt good in when I looked in the mirror. Better lighting? Better mirrors? I’m not sure but I think this has something to do with it.

That’s not to say that every single thing I tried on in those better fitting rooms was a winner. But generally I felt good when I looked in the mirror, unlike that first fitting room in the lingerie and sleep wear section that first day. I don’t think I’m making it up that some fitting rooms are better than others for helping us feel good about what we see. I don’t mean they have trick mirrors. I just mean they have the right lighting, maybe the right paint on the walls, and good mirrors.

What do you think? Are some fitting rooms more friendly than others? Does that sort of thing affect your body image?

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

5 thoughts on “Bad Lighting? Bad Mirror? Body Image and Department Store Fitting Rooms

  1. klyse3 says:

    Isn’t it interesting how we see progress in small things? Excited for you!

    I don’t shop very often, so I don’t encounter many problems with fitting room mirrors. I do, like most people, struggle with certain positions–thighs when sitting, stomach rolled over–and I have to work to remind myself that my body doesn’t always have to look amazing. It’s for function and it functions just fine.

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  2. TheOriginalPhoenix says:

    I just want to say I’m proud of you for having such a positive body image. I’m not sure if fitting rooms are better or worse than others honestly. I tend to just stare at the clothes on my body and see who’s wearing who

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  3. tlryder says:

    I also dread fitting rooms because often the mirrors are indeed terrible fun-house things that combined with bad lighting can make one feel like some sort of troll doll version of oneself. Weirdly, my local Target has really great fitting room mirrors and lighting. The other day I got the pleasant surprise of seeing that my back is not as fat as I believed that it was. The flip side for me is that good fitting room mirrors can be helpful, especially if I get a surprise view that I wasn’t expecting, with a clear view that for an instant is free of self-criticism.

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  4. BoldandBusy says:

    ABSOLUTELY, there is a science of how to light dressing rooms to drive purchase. You were obviously in a retail store that has not invested in this knowledge. From your picture, I think you look amazing, and don’t need a mirror to tell you that.

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  5. Speaking of bad mirrors….did you see the whole thing about Jennifer Lopez and the mirror smudge on twitter? Funny how some people react to their own mirrors and lighting and others are always looking for a way to down others in their own mirror or because of lighting.

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