Reader Nancy e-mailed this question to me:
I think it would be great if you would write an article about shopping with others. I have problems with this, stemming from shopping with my mom as a teenager. I have had more body issues from those awkward times than from most other experiences. What made me uncomfortable were the comments about clothing that didn’t fit or flatter. If I tried on a pair of pants that didn’t fit, she would say something like “your hip to waist ratio is off, those pants make you look out of proportion”, or if a shoe made my legs look stumpy, she would tell me I should go for a narrower shoe so I don’t look so short. Those ways of saying certain garments looked terrible on me did quite a number on my self-image when I was a teenager. After I moved out of my parent’s house and started to shop by myself, I realized I am completely smokin’! I look great with my own personal hip to waist ratio, and I don’t have to be tall with long legs to be pretty.
My question is this: How do I offer my opinion on a garment that doesn’t fit without denting the person’s confidence? I go shopping with my friends and little sister, and I’m not quite sure how to give my opinion if something looks bad on them. Eventually I want to have kids, and I don’t want to insult a young girl who might be uneasy about her new lady-body and make her feel like there is something wrong with the way she looks.
Constructive criticism is never easy to dole out, and there are some people who will end up feeling hurt no matter HOW diplomatic you are. But here are a couple of techniques to try:
- Never blame: Part of the reason why Nancy’s mother’s comments hurt was that her descriptions of Nancy’s proportions and body shape may have felt judgmental and accusatory. When offering an opinion, avoid any language and phrasing that involves blame. People can’t change their basic body shapes, and there’s nothing wrong with a figure that isn’t tall, thin, and/or hourglass-shaped.
- Find positives about everything: Even a dress that doesn’t fit has its upside. Is it a great color? Does the neckline totally work? How’s the length? Does it bring out eye or hair color? Before you discuss the negative, highlight some positives. “I ADORE that pattern on you – so chic! – but I wonder if a different hem length might work better …”
- Use “I” phrases: It’s an oldie, but a goody. “I’m not sure about those on you,” is a better bet than, “Those don’t work on you.” Couching things in terms of your own views makes it clear that you’re expressing opinion, not fact. And bear in mind, too, that your opinion isn’t gospel. If your shopping buddy disagrees with you, that’s her prerogative.
- Offer alternatives: If something isn’t working, don’t focus on that … see if you can find a different piece that WILL work. If a skirt is a strange length and fights your friend’s figure, grab a longer or shorter one and say, “Why don’t you try this one instead?”
- Share anecdotes: If things are just spiraling out of control and you sense your friend is starting to lose confidence, share a story about a crappy shopping experience YOU’VE had. Commiserate and encourage. Take the focus off your friend and make things feel mutual.
Image courtesy Artbandito.