Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sting Operation Results Part #1: Hollister

Life's Big Question #283: Why don't the models
in clothing ads ever wear any clothes?
Well, as I sit here in the gentle glow of my brother and his girlfriend playing through a stack of new video games (Santa brought me a Chuck Norris t-shirt and feminist literature!*), I would like to wish everybody a very happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, or whatever the heck it is that you celebrate. If your family is anything like mine, today should consist of comfy pj's and incessant snacking . . .

Anyway, it's taken me long enough, but I've finally summoned the strength to write about last Saturday's sting operation. I am, however, realizing that if I want to do this thing right it's going to take a lot more than one post.

For those of you who didn't scroll down a few notches to read my last post, the girls from Real Beauty Revolution and I conducted a little sting operation at a nearby mall last Saturday. Each dressed as a different stereotype (see below), we infiltrated several stores (that sounds cooler than "walked into") to see how the workers would react to us. We wanted to see how blatant discrimination is in today's society - be it against sex, physicality, economic status, or otherwise - and while I can't say that we got any 100% conclusive results, it was a very eye-opening and, strangely, empowering experience.

I've decided to go about this one store at a time. I apologize if I'm keeping anybody on the edge of their seat (anybody?) but I've got a lot to say, and I don't want to glaze over anything just to keep a modest word count. So, what better way to introduce Operation: Anti-Discrimination than to recognize the lovely ladies (or better yet, kick-ass chicks) who made it possible:


From Left to Right: Lacee, Carrie, Jenny (eating Lorrie's head),
Lorrie (having her head eaten), Holly, Tia, Saundra, and Tamara.

If you look a bit closer, we're loosely divided into three categories:

  • The Rocker Chicks: Tamara, Saundra, Lacee and I (though I'm not in the picture) were somewhere in the goth-to-rocker spectrum.
  • The Preps: Lorrie and Holly suffered from what one might jokingly refer to as "preppy-princess-itis."
  • The Normies: Tia, Carrie, and Jenny were dressed normally . . . though "normal" easily passed for "grubby" in some of the stores we went into.

In a pre-operation meeting at a nearby Krispy Kreme (that pretty much felt like we were planning a bank robbery), we devised a brilliant plan to enter our targeted stores in three waves. First, two or three girls would enter a store and plant themselves near some workers without being too conspicuous. Next came the stereotype "operative" who was different depending on the store (i.e. the person who would look most out of place). And finally, a second round of "observers" as we called them would meander in to play extra sets of eyes and ears. It was the stereotype operative's job to wreak a little havoc - ask questions, seek help, simply exist - but it was the observers' job to mentally log everything and anything that was going on around them.

In all the weeks it took RBR to plan Operation: Anti-Discrimination, I only had one request:

"I want Hollister."

Meaning, of course, that I wanted to be the stereotype planted in the blasted place because I've heard too many horrific tales of discrimination and abuse not to want to check it out for myself. And going into that skinny paradise as a PLUS-SIZE WOMAN who's been the victim of understocked and sizist stores her entire life (and who also warrants capital letters to contain her fabulosity*), I felt like some kind of crusader for every girl out there who's been told her thighs were too big, her boobs were too small, or . . . well, just think up some misogynist crap that's been fed to you.

*Did I really say "fabulosity"?

If you want to know the truth I was quite happy with my get-up, but only because it was what I wear on a daily basis. Donning a slightly worn Dream Theater cap, Iron Maiden t-shirt (with "Best of the Beast" printed on the back in bold, red letters), old jeans, fuzzy striped socks, messy locks, and a mocking expression, I felt like a warrior geared up to face her demons.
Lorrie was a good partner in crime for
our first stop! I have more pictures of
The Girls to show in future posts :)
I was nervous up to the second we stepped inside the store, which was dimly-lit and smelled as if it had been fumigated with cologne, but thinking back, I don't know why I was so worked up. Maybe because I had never been in there? Because my brother and I have always made "snooty" comments when we pass it in the mall? Because I half-expected the place to look like some "beautiful peoples' nightclub" where I would be the freak attraction? I dunno.

Life Lesson #4,313: the Teenage Girl mind isn't always rational.

Anyway, I slithered into Hollister with my new friend Lorrie in tow (our established "preppy" stereotype). Our million-dollar idea was to act like we were trying to find a shirt for her mom. Now I know what you're thinking: a prep and a rocker joining forces? But I knew finding a shirt for me, a plus-size girl in an old Iron Maiden shirt, would be a stretch. And besides, stereotypes suck.

"So, Lorrie, you're looking for a shirt for your mom?"

"Yeah, she likes blue."

"What size?"

"Probably XL."

"Don't you mean 2XL?" Wink.

"Oh, yeah!"

*Hypnotic voice* I am a young, attractive,
white female. You want to be me . . . and
even though you'll never come close, Hollister
clothes might help. A bit. *Demon voice*
BUY THEM!
We searched for a tag that didn't say XS, S, or even M, but (unsurprisingly) came up empty-handed. Holding up those shirts that were purportedly medium made me feel either (a) that I was a size XXXXXXL by Hollister standards, or (b) that I had cast some wacky spell and everything was shrinking around me. The shirts were so small.

"I dunno Lorrie, I've never been in this store before" I said in my best acting voice, yet remaining entirely truthful, "they must have a plus-size section in the back somewhere."

By this time - with secret agents planted all around me, falling from the rafters even - I worked up the gumption to trot over to the counter to a wide-eyed, perfectly trimmed employee. She had pale skin (shock?) and curly brown hair, but I made a mental note that she probably still fit Hollister's "beautiful employee" requirement.

"Hi, we're trying to find a shirt for her mom . . . but I noticed the sizes only go up to Large."

"Yes . . . our largest size in women's clothing is 11."

Mock disappointment.

"Will you be getting a plus size section any time soon?" I asked, chuckling a bit and trying to seem personable. "It just seems funny to only go up to size 11 when the average person can't fit into that."

Blink, blink. I guess whatever the heck I said didn't compute. The girl looked at me - my senior by only a few years - and said she "wouldn't know the answer to that."

I thanked her for her time and left, muttering disappointments about the store to Lorrie as I shook my head like a reproving grandmother. I hadn't felt overtly discriminated, but one of the observers, Jenny, noticed that the oh-so-lively store clerk "grimaced" as I was walking away. When I asked Jenny what that meant she said "It was a why-would-you-ask-that sort of look."

Now, is that enough for me to convict Hollister of any sort of crime?

*Sigh* No. And I was so ready to sue any sucker who looked at me funny.

But that was only the beginning of the epically-titled Operation: Anti-Discrimination. We also went into Hot Topic, Torrid, Gamestop, Macy's, Nordstrom, Abercrombie - and I even stood up to annoying, holier-than-thou idiots at Spencers when I called one of their sexist shirts into question.

More about that later! So stay tuned!
_______________________________________________

*Santa, being the wily fellow he is, brought me The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti! I mentioned the book in an earlier post but haven't had a chance to read it until now. It's pretty freaking amazing, considering I lapped up the first 80 pages in about twenty minutes. It's all about the ridiculosity of a juxtaposition women face each and every day: pressures to be sexy on one side (think: pornography, 15-year-old sex icons, padded bras for children), and pure on the other (think: crazy idiots who blame sex education for promiscuity and measure womens' worth by their hymens).

It just amazes me that people could be so closed-minded about sexuality, propagate an archetype in which girls (i.e. pretty, young, white girls) are only worth something if they're virgins, and find a way to blame feminism for virtually everything.

My eyes have been bulging like crazy reading the book, and I'll look up and begin to rant - but then I realize it's only my brother and his girlfriend there, and they don't appreciate a good fem-rant . . . *pouts*

P.S. If anybody's looking to get me an early Christmas present for next year, the next "Valenti gem" on my list is He's a Stud, She's a Slut: And 49 Other Double-Standards Every Woman Should Know!

6 comments:

  1. And I actually am on the edge of my seat a bit. I've never thought of Macy's as a sexist store before. I guess the majority of people in the stores are though. Shame. Or in German, "Schade."

    I picked up The Purity Myth just recently too! Do you know any other good feminist books, preferably with Jessica's style--dry-witted, informative and sassy, all the while interesting enough to keep reading and listen to what she's saying?

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  2. Great recap--I'm looking forward to reading more about the Operation. I haven't read The Purity Myth, but I did give my stepdaughter a copy of "He's a Stud, She's a Slut" as a gift before she went off to college this fall.

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  3. I have never seen better than this site.

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  4. Ugh, don't you hate when that happens? When people act really helpful about how oppressive they're being? Just giving you the information and expecting you to accept it as if you were talking to her about the weather.

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  5. I'm new here. This is a great project. My way of getting stuff to wear is online shopping, or sending my mother. I'm a tomboy in appearance, so I get my stuff on the men's side. I was at a sporting goods store, when a friendly salesperson came up. "Can I help you?" I told her what I was looking for.
    "For you or someone else?"
    Of course I knew what she meant. I stood silently then explained that I wanted a men's shirt for myself. I'm normally a staunch individualist, but I felt like I had to justify this. I muttered that I'm too tall for women's stuff. This is true, but not the real reason.
    She helped me and later my friend. We even had a nice little chat. But she kept subtly mentioning it. Maybe it made her nervous.
    Another time, I was in the footwear department at the same store. I would consider women's shoes, but I wear D-width and they only sell that to men there. I left my friends on the women's side to explore my choices. A salesperson accosted me and asked, "You know you're on the men's side, right?"
    How could I not? There's a sign. Men trying on shoes. No bright, or godforbid PASTEL, colors. And besides, I was wearing men's clothes.
    It's sad. I mean it's a sporting goods outfitter, but everything for women is small. The fabrics aren't as hefty. And when do you see princess seams for men?

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  6. 13 year-old skinny white girl.April 6, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    I appreciate what your doing here, exposing predjustice and sexism, but I think your being harsh to the point of lies when it comes to how you imply being white and skinny as a bad thing. It's not a bad thing to be white and skinny, nor is it bad to be hispanic, black, or plus-size. If your going to speak out against stereotypes you should be unbiased and speak out against ALL stereotypes instead of only fighting against the ones that are most common. It's not someone's fault if they were born skinny and white, so they shouldn't be judged as racist or stereotypical because of it. They should only be labeled such if they prove themselves to be racist and sexist. I really hope you don't feel angry at me for voicing this, I just felt someone needed to. I really do like this segment besides that.

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