Commentary | Losing faith in Forever 21

How I learned to hate outlet malls and love myself

My mother calls herself a shopaholic. I know. Cringe. I hate that term too, but it certainly describes her and her sisters. As a child growing up in the Toronto suburbs, I often found myself dragged south to the glorious shopping deals just across the border. This became a yearly ritual that I grew to appreciate. Somewhere among the fervent consumerism, as corny as it sounds, we grew as a family. This is the story of the most recent of those trips and the time that I cried in a Forever 21.

Okay. Embarrassing. I know. Crying in a Forever 21 – really? Standing on the sparkly stairs and being stared at by groups of mothers and their twelve-year-old daughters walking by? Not exactly a shining moment in my life.

I’d arrived at this point because I’d been eyeing beautiful long-sleeved sheer tops on the internet all summer. I knew that I wanted one and I also knew that my local Value Village would not fit the bill for this purchase. So this trip was about finding that perfect black button down. I loaded my arms with cheap shirts and skirts and dresses (because no one can resist a sundress for $6), and made my way to the dressing room. My sister had recently come back from a year in Berlin with probably less than $10 to her name, so she had decided that she would shop vicariously through me. When I walked out of the changing rooms with my head down and handed all my items back to the garishly dressed girl at the rack, my sister was pretty unimpressed.

The thing is, I am not skinny; I never have been and probably never will be. I’ve spent a pretty long time coming to terms with this but sometimes it really blows, and trying on top after top that refused to button over my boobs was one of those times. There was my sister – the ultimate McGill hipster, the reticent victim of CampuSPOT photo shoots, and someone who sends me Facebook messages laughing hysterically about being photographed for someone’s blog – and then there’s me, the girl who doesn’t fit a size ‘large’ at Forever 21.

Walking down some stupid sparkly steps in the store, my sister suggested that we check the plus-sized section and I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. Never in my life have I seen myself as plus-sized. Yes, I always had boobs and hips and thighs, but I never thought that this meant I could never fit into what society deems a ‘normal’ size. How could I deal with the fact that I needed to shop in a ‘special’ section because I was so ‘abnormally’ large? The worst part was that I was in America – the land of the free and the ‘home of obesity’ – and I was being told that I didn’t fit into their largest size. Are you kidding me?

My sister’s response couldn’t have been more wonderful – “Fuck the patriarchy!” As much as she has the power to make me feel terribly inferior – the younger sibling complex in full effect – she knew just what to say to make me feel better. Fuck the patriarchy, and the patriarchs who run the fashion industry and choose arbitrary clothing sizes to categorize our bodies. Fuck this stupid store that told me that I was wrong and different and that I didn’t fit.

My love affair with outlet malls is far from over, but I may just have grown out of my love affair with Forever 21. I’ll place it on file with the Claire’s and Rue 21s of my tween years and say a final ‘fuck you’ before walking out those glass doors for good.

I’m moving on and deciding that just because Forever 21 made me want to crawl out of my skin for shame doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with me. I walked into that plus-sized section and found a sweet pair of leather shorts only to learn that they did not fit either. So, apparently I exist only in that weird parallel universe between what is ‘normal’ and what I have always been taught to see as ‘fat.’ I’m just going to have to let the fact that I can’t get the buttons to do up on that shirt that will surely fall apart in the wash stop defining me. I’m learning that maybe I’m not the problem. Maybe the problem is Forever 21 and their absurdly unrepresentative sizing, and a world that tells women that if they want to be beautiful they need to fit into a constantly changing standard of perfection. So I’m saying to everyone, “Fuck the patriarchy,” stop hating yourself, hate Forever 21 instead.

Hannah Sinclair is a U2 History and English student. She can be reached at hannah.sinclair@mail.mcgill.ca.


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