Why Do I Look Fatter in Store Mirrors?

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woman in a store mirror wondering why she looks fatter

I have been out clothes shopping more than once and needed a second opinion. We all know that shopping for plus-size clothes comes with its struggles, but one of the biggest might be that it’s hard to imagine yourself wearing something when you put it on under those harsh, unflattering lights of the dressing room.

The only good news here is that you aren’t alone. Women of all shapes and sizes (and the men, too!) struggle with imagining themselves in clothing when it looks so unflattering in the dressing room mirror.

Are you wondering, “Why do I look fatter in store mirrors?”

You look fatter in store mirrors because of the harsh, unattractive lighting. While good lighting does have the potential to make you look thinner, too much harsh lighting shows every dimple and wrinkle on your skin. Plus, the downward angle of typical dressing room lights is unflattering and creates shadows in the wrong places. 

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the reasons you look bigger in dressing room mirrors and what you can do about it.

Why Do I Look Fatter in Dressing Room Mirrors?

For the ladies (or men) still struggling with confidence, the good news is that the unflattering image in the dressing room mirror is not what you look like. While most of us prefer how we look in the mirror to photographs when we see them, this doesn’t necessarily apply to mirrors in department store fitting rooms.

The reason certain dressing room mirrors are unflattering comes down to the lighting, which is harsh and usually shines down from above. How the dressing room has the mirror mounted and whether it’s a completely flat or a semi-curved surface also makes a difference.

How Light Angle Affects Appearance

When lighting shines parallel to your body, it creates shadows underneath any dimples, cellulite, or blemishes. These minor imperfections that everyone has don’t really change how great you look in the outfit, however, the lighting in most dressing rooms brings them into greater focus and makes them harder to ignore.

Lighting also affects how tall you look. With light shining down from above, it’s more likely that your legs are going to be overshadowed by the rest of your body. When a lot of us associate being longer with feeling sexy (that’s one of the reasons women wear heels), it makes sense that the shadows making us look shorter would be off-putting.

Harsh vs. Soft Lighting

How harsh or soft the lighting also plays a big factor in how you look in a fitting room mirror. Just think about the way that lights in public restrooms or offices make everyone’s skin looked washed and unattractive. It works the same way in a dressing room.

Even the walls in a fitting room affect the lighting. Some colors reflect light and add to how harsh it appears, while others absorb light and make shadows appear darker. The key to getting an accurate portrayal of how you look is having the right type of lighting paired with the right colors on the walls, and most fitting rooms don’t have that.

Curves and Angles of the Mirror

Something else that may make a difference is how old the mirror is and the way that it’s mounted. Dressing rooms don’t always spend the extra money to put fitting room mirrors in frames, particularly if you’re shopping around at a department store or thrift store where they aren’t worried about convincing people to make the big purchases.

Older mirrors without frames can bend slightly at the edges over time. If the center of the mirror bulges outward (as it often does), then you appear shorter but your midsection is brought into greater focus, making you look bigger than you are. While the distortion won’t be the same as curved mirrors at a fun house, it still exists.

Additionally, if the mirror you are looking at is sitting against a wall or angled in any way, this affects your appearance as well. Any body part displayed in the part of the mirror closest to you is going to look bigger than body parts that are farther from the mirror. Some department stores even angle their mirrors intentionally to make people more likely to buy clothes.

Your Own Perception

Your own perception of yourself also plays a big role in how you look in the mirror. In a way, our brains are responsible for everything we see. When we look at something, our eyes communicate what we are seeing in front of us and our brains interpret that information before communicating what we see.

With our brains in charge, there is a chance that you look different in the mirror because of your own perception. If you are looking too closely at flaws or worried about how a dress looks on a certain part of your body, your brain is going to hyper-focus on those areas. This makes them look worse to you because you aren’t focusing on the bigger picture.

Our perception is capable of having the opposite effect as well. If you start going to the gym to lift or do calisthentics like push-ups or pull-ups at home, then you might feel more muscular. This could trick your brain into seeing more muscle definition when you look at the mirror, while the difference isn’t going to be noticeable to someone else.

The Clothes You’re Wearing

Continuing along with the way that perception effects the way that we see ourselves, it is possible that the clothing you are trying on actually does make you look fatter. This is especially true of clothes that cling to the skin, have an unflattering, baggy shape, or that are improperly sized.

I’ve found this happens a lot when shopping for bigger clothing. Some plus-size clothes are just ugly– and that has nothing to do with you.

The reason that fashion matters when you want to feel confident is because certain clothing also plays with perception and changes your overall look. This is the reason some pleated skirts flatter your hips and waistline, while others make your tummy look big. It’s also the reasons horizontal stripes actually make you look smaller than vertical stripes in most cases.

Why Do I Look Fatter in Some Store Mirrors Than Others?

While dressing room mirrors are generally known for that unflattering glow they give your skin, this doesn’t mean that all fitting room mirrors are created the same. You will notice that you look more attractive in some mirrors than others and this all comes down to the lighting and the position of the mirror relative to where the lighting is coming from.

You are definitely more likely to find flattering light and mirrors in stores with more expensive clothing. After all, who is going to rush to spend more money on clothes that don’t look good on their bodies? Some of them even tilt mirrors away from you to give you a leaner, longer appearance and making it more likely that you’ll buy.

Why Are Fitting Room Mirrors Unflattering?

Dressing room mirrors are unflattering because they don’t offer the same flattering lighting and angles that you are used to from your mirror at home. Every mirror is different and things like how it is mounted, how flat it is, and the lighting used play a big role in what you see when you look in the mirror.

There’s also something to be said about how the lighting and mirror offered in the fitting room just looks different from what we are used to when we look in the mirror at home. Like that difference that exists when taking pictures vs. the mirror, it just happens because our brain doesn’t necessarily like that the image isn’t exactly the same.

That being said, not every fitting room mirror is unflattering. A lot of higher-end stores (think Bloomingdales or Chanel) actually have soft, flattering light in the dressing room. Instead of shining from above, the lights surround you and make what you’re wearing look better.

The reason these stores make a little more effort is that higher-end clothing costs more. They know they need to keep customers happy about how they look in their clothing. Otherwise, they won’t want to pay the higher price.

How to Shop When You Hate How You Look in Dressing Room Mirrors

Something that’s important to remember while shopping is that the mirrored image isn’t necessarily an accurate portrayal of how you’ll look in those clothes off the rack. This is good news if you, like most of us, hate the way that you look in fitting room mirrors.

A better alternative is to bring a friend along with you, try on the clothes, and have them snap a few photos with your phone. Of course, be sure to tell them you want an accurate angle of the clothes, not one that’s snapped from the top down and makes you look thinner than you are. Alternatively, prop your phone up somewhere and take a video of how you look.

I’ve also found that as a bigger woman who has trouble finding plus-size clothing in some stores that shopping online is a good choice for me sometimes. Rather than looking at myself, I tend to choose clothes that have been reviewed by other bigger, gorgeous women so I can get an idea of how they’ll look on my body. It’s always a bonus when they share my body type, too!

Final Word

Hopefully, this article has answered some questions about, “Why do I look fatter in store mirrors?” Usually, it’s a combination of poor mirror choice, bad lighting, and your own perception of how you look in the clothes.

While you can’t necessarily change how you look in the mirror, you can be aware of how dressing room mirrors distort images and keep an open mind when you shop. Try clothing on at a higher-end boutique- you’ll definitely see the difference!

Fortunately, being aware of this, it makes it easier to realize that what you see doesn’t always reflect how you’re going to look when you get home. Hopefully, some of these tips have made it easier to shop for your curvy body, too!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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