When I realised that having a trickier chest to dress meant I had to go shopping more often (because I had to try more things on) I thought, “Awesome, this will be unreal! More excuses to give my husband so I can go shopping.” Unfortunately, and I guess much to my surprise, it didn’t end up being as fun as I thought it would be.
The biggest hurdle that comes with a day out shopping is ‘the dreaded change room experience’. It is nowhere near as fun as it used to be. Chopping and changing outfits used to be awesome and for me, a total adrenaline rush. The problem never used to be, “Will I find something?” It was more like, “Which one looks best ? Which one should l buy? Why can’t I just buy them all?”
Everyone experiences that moment when the sales assistant asks you how you are going. It’s never a big deal, you reassure them that you are fine and keep on trying. I know I can’t speak for everyone but when I try things on, I like to open the change room and look at the far away mirror to get a really good gauge of whether the item works or not. And this is where that awkward moment happens, the one I would avoid at all costs if I could…..
The thing is, I really want to have a good hard look at how an item looks on the chest without someone making comments. At this point, I genuinely just want to be invisible because I have these feelings of just wanting to be alone. Unluckily for me, it always seems that the sales assistants are right there every time I do this and I hate it… not because they aren’t nice but because they don’t understand.
If I am in something that is clearly no good on the chest, they are looking at me like “I’m not sure what to say here” (because they know something doesn’t look right with your body and they don’t know how to say it). You end up getting sick of looking like a fussy shopper and being offered suggestion after suggestion of inappropriate things. Maybe not straight away but eventually, you end up explaining to the shop assistant that you have had a double mastectomy. Sometimes they feel so sorry for you that they ask you about your story and really, you are not there to tell your story for the hundredth time. You just want to find some clothes! You don’t want to be explaining to someone that, ‘Yes I found a lump and No, I didn’t have any family history etc etc…’
It was interesting recently when I discussed the change room thing with one of my awesome followers Tamra. She reflected on the fact that whilst she’s only been out shopping a few times, the first time in particular, was quite personally confronting. I definitely would agree with this and I recommend to anyone going shopping for the first time, be prepared that it might be a bit emotional. Be kind to yourself.
She also talked about how the sales assistants seemed to feel sorry for her and in one shop kept bringing her things one after the other in an effort to help her. She also found it interesting that when trying clothes on in a store, two sales girls kept “sneaking looks” at her breastless chest, but didn’t comment – which made it a bit weird.
I knew exactly what she was talking about when she said how she had been very open and upfront about her diagnosis and treatment with anyone and everyone she had encountered, yet in a shopping setting she hadn’t been as forthcoming. She also made a valid point from her own personal retail experience that she would never comment on someone’s physical traits unless they mentioned them first. So it has dawned on her that she needs to be upfront with retailers and see how they can help.
The reality is, sometimes you don’t want to share your story with everyone you come into contact with. Sometimes, you just want to be a normal person going shopping like everyone else. A nice day out shopping can turn into a sob story day because you have people feeling sorry for you or not knowing how to help. This can turn an otherwise fun day out into something you wished you’d never done and I never ever wanted shopping to feel like this.
For a while and even now, online shopping has become a favourite of mine. There are awesome shops like The Iconic who offer free returns if items are no good. It allows you to try things on in the comfort of your own home and make decisions without having to tell your story or have people looking at you.
But you can’t hide away forever. The more people who see mastectomy women in change rooms, the more normal it will become. Assistants will focus less on our physical state and more on what options/styles to suggest. It’s not their fault they don’t know what to suggest or even say. It all comes back to your own personal confidence. Don’t go shopping on a day when you don’t feel good about yourself. Go on a day when you are positive and determined. Go on a day when you’re prepared to maybe share a bit of your story in order to be helped more beneficially.
The shopping day will be a lot more successful if you are open to making ‘us mastectomy girls’ normal to people and not hide away the reality that so commonly exists amongst women these days. I think really, that any woman who has had a mastectomy just wants to be treated as normal, not someone with a deformity that freaks them out. So let’s make us normal in society by having a retail presence.
On a recent shopping day at Robina, I ended up explaining my situation to a sales assistant at one of my favourite shops, Tigerlily. I was in a positive mood this day and wanted to find something nice to wear. I didn’t mind briefly sharing my situation as I wanted to make sure the sales assistant could give me as many options as possible. I knew my options were limited so I needed someone to help me find something. I took the items I thought would be good into the change room and instead of leaving me alone, this awesome sales assistant treated me so normally and actually went and got more and more items for me to try. She didn’t want to give up and she wasn’t fazed a bit by the fact that I’d had a double mastectomy. She gave me honest feedback on the good and the bad and I felt really comfortable there. I felt comfortable enough to let her know why things didn’t work and she was genuinely interested in why. She ended up showing me this one dress that I wasn’t even going to try on and here it is now in my wardrobe and I love it.
She may have gone out of her comfort zone or her level of knowledge about breastless chests but she definitely didn’t show it. She actually genuinely wanted to learn what worked or not to help me. I walked out of the store feeling beautiful and normal and that’s how every woman should feel!
Here is me wearing it at my friend’s 40th last night.
Here are some other current Tigerlily items that would suit the breastless chest….
So ladies, pick your time to shop, make sure you feel right and if you get a good vibe about the sales assistant in the store, don’t be afraid to share your story to help other people help you. We need to feel we are normal, grow awareness and allow others to help us, in order for other people to feel that way about us too.
Have a wonderful week. Don’t be afraid to share any wonderful wardrobe purchases with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am breastless and beautiful,
Love Gen x