Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Community of Women

On a recent trip to New York, I went to the clothing store, Loehmann's. If you've never been to Loehmann's fitting rooms, let me explain. A fitting room there is generally a largish, mirrored room that can hold 8 women or more. Unlike fitting rooms in most stores, the typical Loehmann's fitting room is a communal room—the women share the space and can see each other try on their selected clothes. The atmosphere in these communal fitting rooms is a pleasure: women of all sizes, shapes, and colors creating a sense of camaraderie and sororit√® (like the French "fraternit√®" but for women).

For instance, if a woman tries on a garment with a hard to reach zipper, there's always someone happy to help her with it. Need an opinion about how a pair of pants look? Just ask, and the women will, nicely and tactfully, tell you when it doesn't suit you. Even when no advice is sought or given, the other patrons are warm and friendly. (Some women are uncomfortable trying on clothes in front of other women. Loehmann's has some individual fitting rooms. But at peak shopping times there is a significant wait for individual rooms, whereas the group fitting rooms usually don't have a wait.)

What is it about the communal fitting rooms that bring out such camaraderie among women? I think it's because we're willing to be seen by the women in the room with us, and recognize that that they're in the same position. In a society that promotes unrealistic and unhealthy ideals of beauty for women, each woman in the communal fitting room pushes back against these ideals—we are (semi)publicly acknowledging our body's imperfections, and in essence adding, "so what?"