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Monday, February 17, 2014

A Dietitian Goes Shopping. Spoiler Alert: It Does Not Go Well

Forgive the following rather personal post but I need to share an experience I had that hopefully will be enlightening for many of you.

Recently I've come to realize that I need some new clothes and like many other "typical guys" out there, I don't care much for shopping.  First of all, it takes a long time.  Secondly, I hate trying on clothes.  Thirdly, it's expensive and I hate spending money on clothes, and last but not least, I have really very little sense of style.  I haven't purchased new clothes for years so when I decided to embark on this endeavour, I knew I really needed a whole new wardrobe.

So like any other married man, I decided to bring my wife along and we headed off to Nordstom. Since my wife was with me and I was doing this of my own free will, I was honestly sort of excited for the adventure.  We walked in to the Men's department and the salesman comes up and I begin to tell him what I need.  He starts to show me some clothes (in my size) and I say, "But I heard I shouldn't have pleated pants...is that true?"  I figure he must be a scientist like me and he's read all the latest peer-reviewed fashion journals on pleated vs. flat-front pants and there must be a definitive answer on the matter and he says, "No, you can wear whatever you want."  My wife sort of glares at him and I trust he knows what he's talking about so I go and try on the pants.  They fit but not perfectly and I ask, "Do you have other pants?" and he answers, "I don't have many choices in your size. It's these or those."  I try the others and they fit worse than the first so I settle for the lesser of two evils.  Then I ask about shirts and he has a similar answer, "In your size you have a choice of these two styles," both of which I don't think scream fashion at all.  They wimpered, "Take my lunch money please."  Not the message that I wanted to project or that I normally feel, but it's exactly how I felt in that moment.

At this point, I've gone from excited completely dejected.  Nothing in my size looked appealing. Having been much larger than I am now, I knew that I shouldn 't even go close to some stores because they wouldn't have my size, but I figured a size 40 waist was not too much to ask for a large department store like Nordstrom to carry.  So I return to the dressing room to try on another of my pleated pants and as I am trying on clothes in the changing room, a tear comes down my face. An honest to goodness tear!  I was not expecting that tear and I think it really caught me off guard.  Having been heavier before, I was used to feeling horrible about my body but I hadn't had that feeling in so long.  After all I lost weight but  more importantly I learned how to listen to my body.  It was years ago that I felt so weak.  I mean it was just one year ago that I finished my first marathon--somthing I thought I could never, ever, in 100 years do.  But in that moment, I was ashamed of what my body was and I was surprised at how strong and quick that feeling came on.

Feeling horrible about myself, I changed back into my original clothes and left the store with my wife. I told her, "I need to get out of here," and that's what we did.  I was angry, sad, and upset.  I didn't just feel bad about the shopping experience, but I was upset because I thought all of that body self-loathing was behind me.  I felt like a fraud.  Who was I to be teaching and helping others with Intuitive Eating and body acceptance, if I didn't accept my own body?  What kind of hypocrite was I?  All that advice I gave to people.  All the insights I helped them make.  Had it all passed over me and was I just living a lie?  If I was really this ashamed of my body, then what am I doing with this career of mine and why would anyone come and see me in my practice?

That feeling took a while to go away and after some more tears and a very open conversation with my wife, I felt better.  Not great but better.

But the story doesn't end there.  The very next day, I had some free time and I decided to head back to a different Nordstrom to see if I could do better.  I went right up to Customer Service and I said, "I heard you have personal shoppers here.  Is there one available today that could help me because I need help."  I waited while the lady called to see if anyone was available and in a few minutes, Jerry came up to meet me.  Jerry was a listener!  I told him about my experience the day before, my job, what I wanted, what I needed and then I let go and gave Jerry control.  He was great.  He showed me a ton of different clothes but what I noticed most was that he never said anything referencing the size of my clothes.  He never said anything about having limited options.  He just brought me clothes and I tried them on.  After 2+ hours, I had done considerable damage on my credit card but I felt great with what I had purchased.  I had a whole new wardrobe that I could wear, that fit me and that I'm sure my wife will love seeing me in.

As I was paying, I had a very interesting converation with one of Jerry's other clients.  The three of us were talking, I was making jokes (as I usually do when I'm in a good mood) and he said, "Are you a writer?  You should write comedy!  Maybe you're a lawyer."  I said, "Nope, none of those.  I'm a dietitian" and he says to me. "With a body like that?  Come on.  Serioulsy, what do you do?"  "I'm really a dietitian." Now maybe because I was joking before he thought that this was just another joke but it wasn't and without him even thinking about it, he tried to shame me for my weight.  But here's the interesting thing, I didn't care about his comment.  It was interesting from a weight-stigma point of view but I was not offended.  The comment literally rolled off my back, onto the floor and evaporated into thin air.  No self-loathing, no anger, no sadness.  Just me, my new clothes and his judgement.

What a difference a day makes.  Maybe it was my mindset going into shopping, maybe it was Jerry, maybe it was a the fact this store had more options for me or maybe it was all those things but this experience left a much different feeling.

As I sit here writing this blog I can see so many lessons for all of us in this:

  • We are not perfect and we should never try to be.  If you have body issues, some days, weeks or months may be better than others but remember, just because we have risen from a deep valley, doesn't mean there won't be another one in the future. 
  • Having support is so important.  Without my wife, that feeling of loathing and self-hatred would have lasted much longer.  We all need that champion to help us.  
  • The fashion industry does not believe in size diversity!
  • I am not a fraud or a hypocrite.  My issues are my own and nobody is perfect.  But the fact is, I've been down the hole that many of you are in right now and I can help you out!  My own issues don't make me a liar or a hypocrite, they make me authentic and empathetic to where you may be right now.  It reminds me of a story that is told in The West Wing (best show ever by the way).  Watch the clip below to see what I'm talking about.

  • Don't ever judge someone by their body size.  Telling someone that is thin that they should, "eat a cheeseburger," is no different that telling someone who is heavy that they should, "just push away from the table."
Intuitive Eating is a process and progress is not linear.  There are good days and bad days but the hope is through it all, we continue to listen to our bodies, honor hunger, honor fullness, honor our body and enjoy the simple pleasure that is living life as authentically as possible.

Also, I'd like to thank Jerry and Nordstrom for such a great experience.  I can't wait to wear my new clothes.  Maybe I'll add some before and after pictures when my clothes return from the tailor!  

As always, I'd love to read your thoughts and comments.

UPDATE 2/23/14
I thought I would update you all about what happened after I published this article.  Through the power of social media, Nordstrom became aware of my experience at their store.  I've heard of their amazing reputation for customer service but I was surprised at how quick their Twitter account manager contacted me and how soon they got word to the store managers at the locations that I visited.  The store manager from the first store, Hossey, called me and we had a great conversation.  I elaborated on my experience in her store and like any good manager, she listened to my concerns.  As expected, she was very apologetic but I wanted to be clear with her that I was not looking for anything to happen to the salesperson that I worked with. I explained that I wrote this piece as a way to share my experience but also as a catharsis to help me process the event.  Hossey said she wanted my permission to share the post at her next staff meeting and I of course agreed.  I am so happy with how Nordstrom responded. Maybe this experience will help them be more conscious of the words and attitudes they use with their future customers.

5 comments:

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the feedback Calvin and I'm glad you liked the article.

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