“There are no atheists in an Abercrombie dressing room,” as explained by Natalie Beach in the opening piece of her work, Adult Drama and Other Essays.
At just 14 years old, Beach found herself “peer-pressured into an underlit and overcologned store, where [she’d] once again try to cram [herself] into a pair of hip-huggers, pleading that the denim would stretch just enough to allow [her] to zip [herself] into the shape of a girl.”
This sentiment is nothing unfamiliar. In fact, Beach opens her autobiography with it because of its familiarity. The majority of women remember squeezing into their friend’s size small pajamas at a last-minute sleepover, or exclaiming they’re “on the fence” about a piece sending them into a spiral on the other side of the dressing room door.
In my Junior year, I wrote a manifesto for my gender, sexuality, and popular culture class. I claimed “every body is a bikini body,” but stumbled to announce my dress size. Still, I find myself holding up pieces that barely button, insisting they’re “too baggy” for my taste.
What is a bikini body anyway?
I don’t want to make a splash, or at least not one that’s too big.
With every bite, I hear Kate Moss claiming, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Thankfully, I bought the “reduced guilt” Trader Joe’s Mac & Cheese— so I’m safe, right?
When did this begin? When will it end?
The Burden of Bigger
Thinning is winning with supermodels like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner as representations of the ideal body type. Let’s face it: bigger bodies have become burdensome to the fashion industry. Is it a fit or is she just skinny? When will my body type finally trend? He has a “dad bod,” but I’m just fat. According to the New York Times, “Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back.”
The thin ideal and glorification of female body types establish a connection between thinness and success, feeding into body insecurities.
Before the virality of the body positivity movement, stores like Hollister and Abercrombie had become notorious for excluding bodies over a size 10. In 2014, Hollister faced backlash for noticeably photoshopping one of their size 0 models to have a thigh gap.
The company’s then-CEO Mike Jeffries famously claimed, “In every school, there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
You’re “In” if You Can Fit Through the Door
Though Jeffries is no longer with the two companies, this vague sense of an invisible velvet rope lives on at stores like Brandy Melville— where one size fits small.
Brandy Melville creates an exclusive divide between girls who can fit into their clothes and girls who cannot. They don’t just sell clothing, they sell a lifestyle. Their Paris location keeps one side of the double door entrance closed at all times, leaving the opening 20 inches at the widest.
You’re into much more than the clothes if you don’t have to suck in to enter the French door.
A recent video on my ForYou Page showed a woman claiming to be “very proud to admit” that she buys all her basics from Brandy Melville. Apparently, they have the “most superior basics at the most superior price” but at what cost are these clothes really being sold?
In 2014, I posted a picture of a Brandy Melville storefront with the caption “Back to my natural habitat 💘🌞.” I had never been in the store. At that time, my friends and I would joke that the only thing we could fit into was their socks (even their necklaces run small). This was at 13 years old.
A few years back, TikTok’s platform was flooded with videos captioned “POV: you’re shopping at Brandy Melville,” which poked fun at the exclusivity of the store. These videos, though varying, always included the Brandy employees calling you fat— greeting you with “sorry, we don’t have a plus size section here” or asking if you even tried on the, obviously, too-small shirt.
Abrasive and outrageous as these videos may seem, they aren’t unimaginable. They are born from very real experiences, which is what drives their humor. Though the brand could not care less about you, you would die for the opportunity to give them your money.
Other stores like Aritzia keep their mirrors outside of the dressing room in a common space. Each store has a portable mirror that a sales associate can roll in upon request, which seems like a scare tactic more so than a sales one.
If you’re able to fit into the limited size range, it makes sense that you would want to show it off— strut proudly to the communal mirror and welcome the “that color is amazing on you” comments from the crowd.
Otherwise, this is undoubtedly a nightmare.
Are your pants not buttoning? Come check out here! Need one size up? Sorry— that’s the largest we carry!
“Shop Somewhere Else?”
Recently, I saw Mean Girls: The Musical in theaters. Aside from the fact that Regina George would most definitely not own e.l.f.’s Lip Oil dupe, I was reminded that to “destroy” Regina, Cady had to attack her “hot body.” When Regina doesn’t fit into a 1, 3, or 5 she is encouraged to “try Sears” and her “hot body” is considered dealt with.
This sense of shaming spans much wider than the big screen. Videos discussing exclusive sizing are met with shame.
Though @offtrendhq’s video says Brandy Melville wrongfully is “putting this image on every girl that they’ve got to be this size,” their comments sing a different tune.
One after another, they read, “There are many stores for fat people why don’t the fat people go there,” “One size fits all healthy people,” “Are wide doors at severely obese people stores bad?” and “I wish Brandy would make their clothes smaller ❤️”
Of course, these sentiments are illogical.
In Buzzfeed’s “Empty Suitcase” YouTube series, Kristin Chirico travels across the globe with nothing but the clothes on her back. Chirico explains, “People think you’re in a town, you don’t have clothes, you can just go buy clothes. But the issue when you’re plus size is that there just aren’t that many places you can go and purchase clothes from.”
These users hide behind a screen and urge people of a bigger size to simply “shop somewhere else” but it isn’t so easy. Every store carries a size small, but as Chirico explains, only 18% of the American market caters to women size 14 or over. Being a size 20, often less than 1% of stores in the area cater to her size.
In Washington DC, 15 of the 261 clothing stores catered to her size or above.
In Seattle, 6 of the 101.
Brands like American Eagle market themselves as inclusive, only to slowly phase out their extended sizing. It’s not uncommon to see “Find your perfect fit. Our full range of sizes is available online” on a dressing room door. Of course, the entire purpose of dressing rooms is to see if a piece fits, but go ahead and take a shot in the dark online!
YouTuber Carrie Dayton showcases her fitting room experience in a 2022 video and voices her disappointment with the brand.
She explains the brand advertises its denim from sizes 000 to 24, but of the brand’s 206 styles, only 2 come in size 24. 104 are available for 000’s.
You can shop for a fraction of the price when you’re a fraction of the size.
Brandy Melville’s “one size” branding allows them to cut down on production and manufacturing costs. A plus size store such as Torrid, carrying sizes 10 to 30, does not have the same luxury.
To put it plainly, a simple white T-shirt costs $18 at Brandy and $35.90 at Torrid. This Brandy tee has been circulating online as the best of its kind— maybe you can photoshop it on while you’re pinching in your thighs (and don’t forget about those upper arms)!
Thankfully, I can escape this terror as I wind down for the night.
After my one almond (it’s “girl dinner,” you wouldn’t get it) I can scroll Pinterest, and add things to my “thinspiration” board— I’ll wear these clothes when I drop a few pounds.
Or Instagram— who cares if Facetune gets millions of downloads every single year? I’m sure the size 2 influencers I follow, who post 5 sponsored posts a month, are #real.
Maybe I’ll message @user597192 on TikTok. He commented that “he’ll take the fat one” under my recent video.