I love my job. I really do. There are aspects that are more challenging than others, and of those there are some that aren't directly business-related. They're challenging on a personal level. Like most folks I know, I didn't have the greatest self-esteem in high school. My self-image, at least in regards to physicality, was not very positive. In grade school I was always more comfortable around the girls. I was neither athletic nor aggressive, so those quiet ones that played off to the side by the swings with their hand games and jump ropes were definitely the ones I felt more comfortable around.
In the Navy I had the pleasure of serving aboard a submarine. That sounds more generic than I intended. I had the pleasure of serving aboard the USS Hyman G. Rickover, SSN-709 out of Norfolk, Virginia. This boat, like many submarines, had a crew without a single woman as a part of the team (or a married woman for that matter). Being in a male-dominated environment was new to me, especially being raised in a house under matriarchal rule.
The gender-role-imploding shell shock I experienced was amplified after I was discharged when I began a period of time where most of my time was spent in bars, mostly for work but also because it was a bar. I'm not proud to admit it, but in this period of time between the first time I got my heart demolished after boot camp and around when my time spent in bars was being phased out by time in the theatre, I didn't respect women as much as I could have.
I was surrounded by plenty of negative influences, but remained in contact with enough people who were grounded and just flat out nice that I finally made my way into the clear.
College helped me back onto my professional, respectful feet, and realizing how off the deep end I was as a single sailor, a traveling Army contractor, a bartender, and a karaoke DJ, it became clearer that I was finally heading in the right direction.
Once I started at Old Navy I discovered a great opportunity for improvement in my interpersonal communication: how I communicate with women in regards to their physical appearance. From a traditional background (some may call it "old-fashioned") I was raised to never ask a woman her age, weight, or anything that may require her to divulge information about her body shape, size, or general opinion about her self-image.
Today I broke through a wall.
Two woman were in the fitting room area while I was at work today, the slimmer one, "Jane" we'll call her, with a couple pairs of shoes in her hand as moral support for "Jenny," the other, as she was looking for new jeans. Approaching them to help them out, Jenny was blunt in her request, asking if she could "possibly find jeans to fit this"--at which point she turned around and lifted her sweater to show her butt (still clothed of course). She said she had lost some weight recently and had no idea as to even what size she would start with.
I admitted that I felt like guessing her size would be as awkward and possibly as offensive as guessing someone's age, but she said I couldn't offend her if I tried. Luckily, she told me that the men's jeans she was wearing were a 32 or 34, and she had no way of knowing this, but having tried on some women's pants the other day (Day 7: Fly) I knew exactly what size a 34" waist would translate to being that was my size.
I told her that I wore a 34" waist and that perhaps a 12 would be best. She cringed at the number, and without hesitation I replied, "people won't be commenting on what number they think your jeans are, they'll notice if they fit you or not." To which her friend Jane turned to me and thanked me for my encouraging words and a good point. But it's really true. Take a wedding dress for example. Say you purchase a 12, but you need it altered as the wedding gets closer, or for an extreme example, you need a new one in a size or two larger or smaller. Guests at the wedding won't be sitting out there saying, "OMG she used to be a 12, but now she's in a 16," they'll be focusing on how good you look in whatever size dress you wear. (However, if your "friends" are guessing your size and criticizing that, then maybe you need to rethink your circle of friends.)
Over the next 20 minutes or so, I brought Jenny different shirts to go with a couple of pairs of jeans I was able to strategically suggest, and without realizing it until later this evening, I got over my apprehension for constructive criticism in the fitting room and was able to help Jenny go home with some new jeans that she didn't think she would find.
My point is this--we obsess over numbers. 14, 16, 2, 0, oh, the unattainable 0, or 6, whatever you were before. Or another example, benching 150 vs 120, running a mile in 9 minutes vs 8:30, or eating four slices of pizza versus 3.
Who's holding you to a certain size? The fashion industry? Magazines? Musicians and actors who have personal trainers and spend more time working out than you do working to pay your bills? So, I ask you again, who are you trying to impress by attaining a certain size? Who's putting that pressure on you?
One of the many things I've come to realize in the last seventeen months I've been with Old Navy is something very simple and in plain sight for everyone to see...
Clothes are made in multiple sizes for a reason. And that reason is that people come in multiple sizes.
Stop obsessing about what size you wear and pay attention to how it fits you. I don't care if you could fit into an 8 in high school, you aren't in high school any more. Or maybe you had a 30 inch waist a few years back and now you're a 36.
THEY MAKE CLOTHES IN ALL SIZES SO YOU CAN FEEL COMFORTABLE IN A SIZE THAT FITS YOU PROPERLY.
I know I'm just one guy. One man. One person at an Old Navy in Indiana, but hopefully more than a few people will read this.
This scale is in my bathroom at home. I don't use it often, and whenever I do I think to myself exactly what I was saying above, "Why am I targeting a specific weight when I could be focusing on just being healthy and being comfortable with myself?"
Well, today I've broken through a wall that will help me provide better customer service to Jennies in the future. And maybe I'll mention to a few more when I notice a cringe or hear a groan whenever a size comes up. I know it isn't in my job description to help someone feel better about themselves, but it is in my job description to provide excellent customer service. If I can do that by ensuring they leave with a new outfit that they love and that she feels great in, then yes, I'll keep providing great customer service.
The numbers of sizes and measurements are there to help us find what we can use. They aren't there to trap us or make us feel bad about ourselves. I took a big step today with this, and it may only be one step, but it's a step. Maybe I can help alter the perspective of a few people here and there. Or maybe just one. I wish I could see a time when there people stop obsessing over their sizes, but that day seems so far away.