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Forgiveness in the fitting room

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On a spring Saturday, the fitting rooms in a suburban women's clothing shop are filled with customers updating their wardrobes for a new season.

But for at least one woman here, shopping for clothes is a sobering experience. Emerging from the fitting room, she pauses in front of a three-way mirror and looks at the stylish jacket and pants she is trying on. Then she says, to no one in particular, "I hate my body."

That harsh self-criticism startles a customer nearby. But to Karen Clift, owner of the Barry Bricken shop in Wellesley, Mass., it's simply a variation on an all-too-common theme.

"We hear comments like that every day," she says. "Women are basically, by nature, critical of themselves. They zero in on the part of them that they don't like."

Ask Ms. Clift and sales associate Judy Isroff what else women say, and they reel off a sampling of typical remarks:

"My hips are too big."

"I look so broad."

"My rolls show."

"My arms are so flabby."

"I want liposuction."

"I'm so short I can't find nice clothes."

"I have gorilla arms."

"Oh, I'm looking so old."

"My hair looks lousy."

"This makes me look fat. Well, maybe I am fat."

"I need to lose five pounds."

Now and then someone even adds, "Maybe I should get a face-lift."

Too short, too tall, too big, too small. On and on the self-deprecating remarks go in stores across the country as women play an unforgiving game of "Mirror, mirror on the wall." Longing for a figure more like the "perfect" ones portrayed in ads, fashion magazines, and entertainment media, we become our own worst critics.

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