Dressing rooms aren't always the most body-positive places—a phenomenon that Susan Albers, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland witnessed firsthand last month. While trying on clothes in a dressing room, Albers overheard two young women talking while they looked at themselves in a full-length mirror. Their words weren't so empowering.
"I could hear them chattering back and forth, and one woman just was talking terribly about herself," Albers tells SELF. "She was using all these degrading words, and what was even more shocking was the woman who was with her wasn't that helpful."
On Facebook, Albers recounted the experience and said she didn't want to repeat exactly what the women said. The psychologist understands that dressing rooms—with their wonky mirrors, unflattering lighting, and, you know, clothes that don't always fit—aren't exactly primed to be body-positive spaces. The experience can test a person's self-esteem. But Albers is hopeful this can change with the help of what she calls the "Dressing Room Challenge."
Albers created the challenge after overhearing the two women, and she took to Facebook to explain how it works. The first step: Speak mindfully in dressing rooms, taking into account how your words—even if they're about your own body—can impact those around you.
"Please remember that whether they are six or 60 [years old], everyone around you absorbs every word you say about your body," she writes. "You are a role model about the words and phrases that are 'okay' to attach to women's bodies."
She recommends women stick to body-positive talk. If a piece of clothing isn't quite right, she says a simple "no thank you" or "pass" will do—it's time we stop blaming our bodies. “Too often we’re saying, ‘Oh my gosh, my body’s so fat, or gross, or not the right shape,’ " she says. "But really, it’s a match between the clothes and you. Turn that around and say, ‘This piece of clothing just isn’t the right shape for me.' "
And she wants people to spread the body-positive love to others they spot in the dressing rooms, too. "Whenever I see a stranger who is looking in the full-length mirror, and I genuinely like what she has tried on, I don't hesitate to tell her she looks absolutely amazing," she writes. "I invite you to do the same."
Since posting her challenge on March 17, Albers says news sites around the world have written about it, proving that the "dressing room" issue isn't unique to the U.S. "This is a universal experience, not just American women struggling in dressing rooms and using this kind of language," she says.
Overall, she hopes her challenge will make trying on clothes a more empowering experience—and one without negative body talk. "It just sets the norm for how you talk about your body," she says. "That’s something we as a culture we need to change, and we can do it one dressing room at a time."
Check out Dr. Albers's full challenge in her Facebook post here.
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This story originally appeared on Self.
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