Hair & Fashion

A Reason To Hate Communal Mirrors

Image by Deric Bownds

I stood in my minuscule dressing room in Nordstrom’s Marshall’s, looking at the dress I’d put on thinking, Not bad for $49.99.

I ventured out to find the large three-way mirror located all the way at the other end of the long hall of individual stalls.

I know the psychology behind communal mirrors.

Stores want shoppers to come out because they are hoping you will get a compliment from a stranger.

According to an article in Real Simple Magazine,

Such praise doesn’t just make you feel good about yourself; it also helps forge an attachment to the product. Once someone gushes over the top you’re wearing, you’re more likely to “become emotionally invested in the item and have more trouble leaving it behind.” 1

As I twirled and inspected myself from all angles, a woman standing outside the changing rooms decided to give me her unsolicited opinion.

“That dress makes your ass look fat,” she said.

I felt like I had been zapped by a taser.

I stared at the woman but, for the life of me, I can’t provide you with one descriptive characteristic about her.

I tried to imagine how devastating an unsolicited comment like that could be to someone in a fragile place. I thought about all the young women suffering with eating disorders or low self-esteem who could’ve come in contact with this woman. I thought about how a woman who’d just had a new baby might have received her words. Or someone battling depression.

I decided to say something.

“You know, I feel good about myself these days,” I said. “And I’m pretty sure there were ten ways you could have told me that you don’t like this dress rather than criticize my body.”

I expected the woman to apologize profusely.

I expected her to be embarrassed.

I expected her to look down at the white-tiled Marshall’s floor in shame.

That’s not the way it went down.

“I drank a lot of coffee today,” she said. “I was trying to help you from making a expensive fashion faux-pas.”

I know all about toxic people.

I can usually hold my tongue, but I chose not to.

“I hope you don’t have daughters,” I said as I slipped into my dressing room to change.

I never saw the woman or her friend again. They disappeared.

But another woman in an adjacent stall knocked on my dressing room door. I peeked my head out.

“I heard that whole exchange,” she said. “Are you okay?” Her brows arched with concern.

I assured her I was fine.

“You are really brave,” she said.

“Not really,” I said suddenly feeling guilty. Because I’ve never really struggled with my weight. Or my self-esteem. I was channeling someone else. “Thank you for checking on me.”

The woman smiled.

I thought about The Golden Rule.

You know: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I know I have my own personal rules regarding etiquette in dressing rooms.

I’d love to hear yours.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I bought the dress.

And my ass looks fine.

I think.

1 Durante, Kristina qtd. in “Communal Mirrors.” Real Simple: 151. April 2012. Print.

What do you think about communal mirrors? What are your rules regarding giving advice in the dressing room? Is buying new clothes fun? Or is it torture for you?

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71 thoughts on “A Reason To Hate Communal Mirrors

  1. Okay! Number one that was totally mean and nasty. Who says that to another person. With that being said, she probably has low self esteem about her own body image and decided to be nasty to you. I agree with if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all! I am sure your pooper looks fine in anything you wear. Loves to you <3

    1. Thanks Melissa. I don’t know if she had self-esteem issues. I don’t know WHAT was up with her, but I was surprised. As a general rule I never say anything negative to strangers in dressing rooms. Ever. Especially if no one asked for my two-sense.

  2. We live in a society that has forgotten the rules of courtesy and kindness in exchange for the snarky remark — as a teacher, I’m sure you see this every day among your students and your colleagues. I would suggest that our tolerance of and participation in this phenomenon leads to over-sharing our unwanted and possibly hurtful opinions, even to strangers in a dressing room.

    Thanks, Renee, for presenting this issue in a humorous way.

  3. I hope that insulting you made her feel better. It sounds like she doesn’t have much happiness in her life and feels it’s her duty to spread the ugly. The upside of this whole exchange is that it happened to a strong, self confident woman (you) who can handle lifes b**ches in the most amazing ways ever! That could have been devastating for some of us. And for the people who don’t know you personally…Renee has never had so much as a fat lip! You go girl! Love you!

    1. Gina, I’m strong, but it was still embarrassing. You know me — I’m usually like “What’s her problem?” rather than, “Omigosh, I know there is so much wrong about me!”

      But you are right: as a person who has never struggled with my weight (but who remembers how hard it was to lose those last 10 pounds of baby weight), I was just stunned by the audacity. That woman could have really injured someone with her words. I’m glad she picked me for her punching bag.

  4. Your ass looks smokin’ in the dress! I’m not allowed to say the things I want about that woman because I was raised better.

  5. I don’t think the communal mirrors are the issue – it’s the toxic people (as you mentioned). Seriously. If that woman thought YOUR ass looked big, she probably would have passed out if she saw mine. 🙁

    She was probably just jealous and reflecting her self-esteem issues back on you. People who are that nasty usually have their own issues.

    I would never give unsolicited advice to a stranger. If I have to buy something special I usually go with my mom or a friend who I know will give me kind, but HONEST opinion.

    1. I’m with you on the not giving advice to strangers. I only dole out positive words. Like if someone looks great I will totally tell them to “buy one of those in every color!” Anyone who has ever gone shopping with me knows I do this. But criticism? NO WAY!

  6. I can’t believe the nerve of that women!! You handled that exchange very tactfully and well. I’ll bet she expected you to agree with her like many women would. I hope she’s still thinking about what you said to her. Maybe she’ll think before giving unsolicited advice to someone else, or maybe she’s just an idiot. As a mom of two daughters, and as a human being, I can’t imagine saying anything negative to someone about their body.

    1. Sprinkles: It was quite the shocker. And I’m with you, I will praise all day — but unless someone asks me my thoughts, I clam up. And even then, I might say, “I love the dress, but there’s something weird about the sleeve.” I would say something about the garment NOT the wearer! Gah!

  7. Thank goodness she didn’t see me in a dress. I can only imagine the “helpful” advice she would offer me. You have a perfect figure. Great blog post and insights into unsolicited advice.

  8. Firstly, you tried clothes on in a store.
    I am so very impressed. My car has a big basket filled with returns in bags, still waiting to return to their retail homes, because why? Well, because i will not brave those mirrors, with or without commentary.
    When my kids were younger, my babysitter loved me for all the stuff she would acquire from my shopping choices that leaned towards the unflattering.

    1. I have a friend who does this — but then she never makes the returns. I am too frugal to chance that. Plus, I like my husband. I can’t bring home 97 outfits to try on. He would have a heart attack. Or divorce me. 😉

  9. Bravo! I think you handled yourself just fine. Maybe your words had more impact on this woman and her friend than you think. I am with your other readers on the whole self-esteem factor with this lady. She must be very insecure and must feel the need to deflect that off onto other people. Hopefully, she finds a filter for her mouth as well as some help.

    1. Honestly, I don’t think she got it at all. She was super defensive, and – as she said – she thought she was doing me a favor. People like that don’t see the other side of things.

      Or maybe she will. Maybe I changed her worldview. You know what. I’m going with that. 😉

  10. Shopping psychology is fascinating. Aisles in women’s sections are wider, because if someone brushes against a woman while she looks at an article of clothing she’ll put it down most of the time (unconsciously thinking she’s so big no one can fit by her in the aisle).

    Men? I think might actually be more likely to be something if someone brushes their butt while they look at it.

    1. So if you were holding a pair of purple boxer briefs and a woman brushed up against you and said, “Those are hot!” you would consider buying them? I must know the answer to this because if you say yes, I’m TRYING this as an experiment.

  11. I hate buying clothes, and I hate trying them on at the store.

    My toxic neighbor did something similar on Sunday. She came over furious because she felt wronged about something (her children couldn’t play in our yard at that time) and proceeded to inform us that we were dishonest and ridiculous (I blogged, in very vague terms about it, just yesterday)


    I will never ever understand people.

  12. Sigh. Good on you for speaking up for yourself. The fact that you don’t remember a single description about the woman is very telling. Your brain told you not to give her anymore time than necessary. Not to see her. Because she obviously wasn’t seeing you.

    1. I’m not sure that was it, El. I think she triggered something for me: a rime when I was less confident. I felt a little stunned — like a deer in headlights — so I went on auto-pilot. I can do that. I can react and be strong and then cry later. (I didn’t cry later for this one.) But I wasn’t really looking at her. I was looking through her. Weird.

  13. Wow. Just wow. I’m proud of you. Knowing my defensive personality, I’d have said some stuff that would not have been appropriate, but I’m betting would have embarrassed her.

    I have to shop soon (all my clothes are too big YAY!) and I’ve been putting it off for months…this sounds like another great reason to procrastinate!

  14. I am not sure if it is all the crap on TV or hormones, but it seems as though people have gotten very disrespectful. I think it may be a reflection of how unhappy they are. I probably wouldn’t have said a word since “those” people are just looking for a fight.

    1. She was a narcissist. I could feel it in my bones. It is a personality type of which I am painfully aware. It was all about her. She was right. She was trying to do me a favor. I was not appreciative. Whatever.

      I’m sure she thinks I was the terrible person for confronting her with her own words.

  15. Whaaaaaaaat? I can’t believe someone would say that to anyone, and especially to you! I can’t imagine any article of clothing making any body part on you look fat. But I guess if she was going to say it to anyone, it’s probably best that she did say it to you and not to someone who does struggle with body issues. Because you can take it. And because you let her have some of it back. Not by retaliating, but by trying to point out that her words could be very damaging. Good for you! I’m sure I wouldn’t have said a single word to her.

    I would never give unsolicited advice in the dressing room. I’ve even been asked for it by strangers a few times, and am uncomfortable with that. That’s why you bring a friend, or you bring it home and try it on for people there 🙂 And I hate shopping as much as you do, probably more! The only time I like it is if I come out with a fantastic deal.

    1. I have a feeling she THOUGHT she was being helpful. She thought I was friendless and was offering her help. Maybe she can talk to her friend like that, but not to a stranger. And um… not in this town. Watch, I’m going to start running into her all over the place now! Sheesh!

    1. I kind of wished the FLOOR would have swallowed her up. Stupid solid tile floors. I ran into an acquaintance on the way out, and I told her what had happened. She had JUST left the dressing room. How I wish she had heard the entire exchange. I think she would have had my back.

  16. Well, now I have another reason to be wary of those dressing rooms! That’s insane! I’m impressed at your composure and ability to come up with a response. I really do hope she doesn’t have daughters. Wow.

    1. Right? Honestly. I wish I’d stuck around to hear her answer that question, but I just wanted to escape. I had thought she was going to apologize. I didn’t want things to escalate any further. But yeah, I really hope that lady doesn’t have daughters. Can you imagine: “Good job on that speech, honey. I hope you weren’t wearing that shirt.” That second sentence undoes all the good stuff in the first.

  17. Wow Renee- looking at the comments and what you said- I agree with you. I thought it was really nice of the other lady to knock on the door- brought out the nice in someone else. And you handled it very well! Gold Star! I`m afraid I would have been sent to the office.

  18. Ugh. Is it weird that reading this post made me a little misty? Probably because as much as I hate to admit it, I have body issues. And if someone said that to me, I would hope that I would have kept it together and told her how insensitive (and unhelpful) her statement was, rather than laughing it off to cover my own horror and embarrassment.

    I’m good at speaking out in behalf of others, but myself? Not so much.

    Glad you did.

    Let this be a lesson to those who like to “keep it real”. There is a line. Keepin’ it real is NOT always helpful.

    1. Aw, Amber. We all have our issues. I never meant to imply I am in love with all of me *kisses self* Not. At. All. Just I’ve been blessed with some genes so weight has never been an issue. That doesn’t mean I’m enjoying what time is doing to my skin or my boobs! You know?

      But I think you are right, that whole “keepin’ it real” thing has somehow overshadowed civility. It is okay to withhold information especially when no one asked you for your input in the first place.

      I recently saw a girl trying on prom dresses. She put on a simple blue dress that was fabulous, but people kept bringing her more and more dresses. She started getting overwhelmed, and I could tell she was struggling. The first one that was so much better than the others. I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Do you want an unsolicited opinion?”

      She did.

      And I gushed about how fabulous the blue dress made her look and that I thought she needed to try it on again.

      She did.

      And she started to cry.

      I kind of freaked out, thinking I had hurt her feelings. Or she didn’t like blue or something.

      But she agreed that the first dress had been the best and she was just so relieved that there had been one. Because she had liked that one, so she didn’t understand why people kept bringing her dresses.

      I felt good that day.

  19. Did she really use the words “ass” and “fat”?!?! Wow…wonder who pooped in her breakfast.
    I’m sure you looked absolutely stunning and she was incredibly jealous. Jealousy and insecurity are usually the main reason’s people put other people down.

  20. Never experienced anything like that. Guys, for the most part, neither look at one another around the dressing room nor comment on how the next guy looks. I suppose it could happen but if another guy decided to make a comment about how I looked in something I was trying on.. I’d probably just laugh out loud and then ignore him completely. The only one I worry about who might have something to say about my clothes is my wife. For her, I try not to make my butt look big.

    1. #4! I haven’t seen you in these parts in forever! How are you?! Men are different about this stuff than women. We are sensitive as the world judges us by our size. We even judge each other apparently. Not. Nice.

      1. How am I? Just getting older and uglier. haha
        I still pop in once in awhile to see how you are doing. I still post blogs once in awhile. I’m still ornery and opinionated. Keep up the good writes!

    1. Oh Kelly O! How I wish I had that confidence. I don’t think she understood what she said and how it hurt me, or could have. She was pretty snarky. One day I’ll meet her when she’s trying on bathing suits. And I’ll tell her how beautiful she is. Or something.

  21. Way to go… I’m don’t that Tammy or I would have handled it with such class. Hahaha…

    You post reminded me of a very moving and powerful song by Sixx A.M. called Skin. It brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it…

    Cause they don’t even know you
    All they see is scars
    They don’t see the angel
    Living in your heart

    Let them find the real you
    Buried deep within
    Let them know with all you’ve got
    That you are not your skin

  22. My goodness. I can’t believe she had the guts to say that, especially unsolicited. It doesn’t surprise me, given that we live in a world today where people are more vocal with their opinions than ever. However, her word choice is truly disturbing, given all the issues surrounding body image and self-esteem.

    I’m proud of you for standing up to her and trying to hold her accountable for her comments. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to register with her that not only were her comments inappropriate but they were flat out hurtful. However, I hope that anyone who is reading your post today will certainly think twice about making a comment about someone’s appearance, whether solicited or not and truly understand that sometimes it is better not to say anything at all.

    I personally, can’t stand shopping. I dont love the way I look in clothing that I like and it is very frustrating for me to find things that fit my body style. I know there are things that I can do to help my situation, but there are something’s I can’t do (at least not right now). So if a person like this woman had made a comment like that to me, I’m not so sure I would have been as tactful in my response, but I do know that it would have already personally stressful situation worse for me.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you still bought the dress and I’m sure you look fabulous!


    1. Thank you for sharing that Rish! I hate shopping as much as any other woman. And while I may not have weight issues, there are plenty of things I don’t live about what I see in thevmirrorvthesecdays.


      I keep them to myself. So when someone makes a comment, it smacks in those tender places.and while I did buy the dress, I did call my neighbor to come and take a look. Just to be sure it was okay.

      Because she did make me feel like a three-legged table, a little unstable.

  23. OK, this post is crazy! Kudos to you for buying the dress– I’m sure you look awesome in it. As for the bizzaro lady…like Annie said above, people like her are usually trying to overcompensate for some insecurity.

  24. I can’t even begin to imagine such an exchange. And I never would have responded to the woman, so good for you. Maybe (hopefully, probably not) it will give her pause in the future.

    But. Off topic?

    Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful” will always transport me to one of those moments in my teaching career I’ll never forget.

    A somewhat quiet, overweight, under-the-radar young woman in my senior English class was whispering about that song with a friend seated next to her. This was years ago, when it first hit the radio waves.

    This girl was not what anyone would call “beautiful” in the traditional sense of the word. But I heard her say, “I love that song. I sing it in my room all the time.”

    I (who have always dreamed of being a singer) piped up with, “You do?” She said, “Yes. I’ll sing it now.”


    I couldn’t even imagine having the bravery to do something like that. Spontaneously. In the middle of class. Surrounded by 40 other students.

    But DAMN if she didn’t sing it. Loudly. Perfectly. And it was A-MA-ZING.

    She was so freakin’ beautiful in that moment, I cried.
    And I will never forget that day. That song. That girl.


    1. Julie:

      We teachers are so fortunate to have those moments.

      Mine was with an African-American student. He sang Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” I will tell you we were all weeping. It was the last day of the semester, and he just started singing it a Capella.

      A teacher from the next room came over to tell me to turn down my music.


      When she saw him, heard him, she froze at the threshold, three fingers pressed to her lip.

      He reads this blog. He knows who is. 😉

  25. Um. I’d wager your ass looks FY-INE in that dress. Not fine. 😉 THANK YOU, on behalf of someone who has struggled with weight her whole life, for speaking up. That woman was completely inappropriate, and when people like that don’t even CARE/realize how rude they are, that’s when my faith in humanity really starts to waver. The Golden Rule is my bubbykins. Inside and outside of the dressing room.

    1. Jules, I ended up returning it. Itvwasnt right for what I needed it for so she had some effect didn’t she? But you’ve seen me in a bikini. So thank you for the kind words. And I love the word “Bubbykins”! It sounds Yiddish. 😉

  26. I would have loved to start fake crying and make up some story about just having a baby or something. I know I wouldn’t have thought that fast, but it would have been fun. Good for you for saying something. I don’t think I would have recovered from the shock.

  27. I would always try to phrase it tactfully! But I try to keep my opinions to myself anyhow unless they’re fished for. Except when it comes to my mother, who I tell things plainly and whilst she hates me for it, she does know that she can trust my judgement whatever she puts on. I think you handled it beautifully and wasn’t the other lady sweet? 🙂

  28. I would die inside if someone said that to me. I admire your presence of mind and your strong sense of yourself!

    Your post reminds me how much I appreciate the little shop where I buy most of my clothes, “In Full Swing” in Oakland, CA. The first time I was in there, I tried something on and it was fine in front but the back was really awful. Before I could get to the big mirror, the proprietor said to me, “That dress doesn’t do you justice — let me get your something that will.” I insisted on going to the mirror anyhow, and was pretty horrified.

    Later, I was trying on something else, and handed it back, saying, “I just don’t fit it right,” and she countered gently, saying, “Your’re right, it isn’t cut right for you.” I swear, shopping there is like therapy. Over the 12+ years I’ve been a customer, she’s trained me to say that something is wrong with the CLOTHES, not me.

    I’m a slow learner, but she is a healer! (And now she has a fanatically faithful customer.)

    1. There used to be a store like that here in Rochester – CHOHOES – it closed several years ago. It was filled with Jewish grandmothers who sat on their behinds back by the dressing rooms. I swear, you would come back, and they would knell or cluck their tongues and say, “Lemme get you something else.” And they ALWAYS found that perfect something else.

      Sounds like you know where to go.

      Nice to meet you!

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