The Empire actress wrote an essay for Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s feminist newsletter Lenny where she explained that she was asked to leave a Chanel store in Chicago “in a pretend-polite way” three times by the shop assistant when she visited the store to buy some glasses after being told they did not stock the eye frames.
“She had decided after a single look at me that I wasn't there to spend any money,” Sidibe wrote. “Even though I was carrying a Chanel bag, she decided I wasn't a Chanel customer and so, not worth her time and energy.”
Sadly, Sidibe said she is used to being treated like this in stores and the experience in Chanel was not a one-off. Attributing it to her skin colour, she says she used to also face prejudice as a teenager because of the deprived area of New York she lived in.
“No matter how dressed up I get, I’m never going to be able to dress up my skin colour to look like what certain people perceive to be an actual customer,” she wrote. “Depending on the store, I either look like a thief or a waste of time. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground between no attention and too much attention.”
Sidibe also said while she assumed the prejudice and profiling to be because of her skin colour, she also wondered whether it was to do with her weight.
“ Maybe my whole life, every time I thought someone was being racist, they were actually mistreating me because I'm fat. That sucks too. That's not OK. I've felt unwelcome in many stores throughout my life, but I just kind of deal with it,” she wrote.
During the Oscar-nominated actresses’ experience in the store, the tide turned when the store assistant’s colleagues, who were women of colour, recognised Sidibe.
“All of a sudden, the woman who had pointed me out of the store let me know that even though they didn't have eyeglasses, the shades they carried actually doubled as eyeglass frames, so I should take a look at the shades I'd come to look at in the first place. Just like that, I went from being an inconvenience to a customer,” she explained.
Following Sidibe’s essay a spokesperson for Chanel apologised to the 34-year-old and said the brand had launched an investigation into the incident.
“We are sorry that she felt unwelcome and offended,” they wrote. “We took her words very seriously and immediately investigated to understand what happened, knowing this is absolutely not in line with the high standards that Chanel wishes to provide to our customers.
“We are strongly committed to provide anyone who comes in our boutiques with the best customer service and we do hope that in the future Ms Sidibe will choose to come back to a Chanel boutique and experience the real Chanel customer experience.”
A representative for Chanel declined to comment further.