It's a moment that many little girls dream about — standing among racks of colorful frocks, twirling in a gown that makes them feel like a princess from head to toe, and finding the perfect dress for a big life event.
In the case of 13-year-old Lexi Harris, that big event was a middle school formal. But what started as a carefree afternoon of dress up at her local Dillard's in Wichita, Kansas, quickly turned into a very delicate moment.
In a Jan. 20 Facebook post that has collected more than 459,000 likes, Lexi's mom, Megan Naramore Harris, shared the story that has led many people to re-evaluate the way they look at body image in America.
Lexi, who is home-schooled by her mother, took a trip to the department store in search of a dress for an upcoming Not So Normal Formal — an event hosted for kids within the Wichita community who are educated at home.
When her local store didn't have Lexi's size in the dress that she wanted, a sales associate called over to the Dillard's Towne East Mall in Wichita where they gladly put the gown on hold.
Upon arriving, she tried several options, even though her dream dress fit perfectly.
"When you’re a little girl — when you find the dress on the first try it ruins the princess experience. She grabbed a few more to try on and then I grabbed the red dress and asked if she would try it," Harris told TODAY. "She said it wasn’t really her style, and that she would look really old in the dress."
When she came out of the dressing room, both Lexi and her mom agreed that it was a look slightly too old for an eighth-grader. But she wanted to capture the beautiful, glowing moment in which her daughter transformed into a young lady, so she jumped on the opportunity to take a few photos.
As Lexi stood twirling around, a saleswoman appeared and had some choice words for the young teen.
"The saleswoman walked in and told her she was fat. She pointed out Lexi’s flaws and then told her, 'If you’re going to wear that dress, you would need to wear Spanx.'"
Her mother advised Lexi to go change — she was mortified to hear the way a stranger had addressed her teenage daughter.
After the saleswoman commented once more on Lexi's "imperfections," Harris told her, "It was dress up, not the dress she wants, and that she's fine the way she is."
Dillard's corporate spokesperson shared this statement exclusively with TODAY:
"Dillard’s sincerely regrets the misunderstanding that occurred between a valued customer and one of our associates. We have spoken to Ms. Harris and offered our personal apology to her and to her daughter for this unintended offense. Our associate, who has daughters and granddaughters, is understandably mortified, and has told us that she would never speak to anyone with intent to offend. We train every associate to provide people with helpful, courteous and respectful service, which is a cornerstone of our company’s commitment to our customers."
Lexi, whom her mom describes as "extremely outgoing" and "overall a happy child," oftentimes doesn't see the bad side of things, according to her mother, and if she does, can usually spin the situation to make it a positive one.
"As a mother we’re taught to be polite — especially as women — to just say 'OK that’s fine,'" said Harris. But this incident taught a different lesson, she said. "It doesn’t matter what someone tells you. If you think you look good, that’s all that matters. Even if you don’t think you do, you probably do look good."
In her Facebook post, which has since gone viral, Lexi's mom talks about the damaging effects of telling young girls that they need items such as Spanx to make them "perfect."
"Perfect should be whoever you are at your best — that’s what 'perfect' is regardless of whether you’re going to prom, work or school," she told TODAY. "In society, we try to define that by what's on magazines and on TV. But if you think you look good that day, that’s perfect. We don’t talk ourselves or other people up enough."
Harris, who has experienced her own set of body confidence issues as a recent breast cancer survivor, worries about the message that such comments sends to young girls.
"Everybody knows what their body flaws are, especially at 13. That is probably one of the worst times to be critical of yourself — girls are developing, and developing at different rates," she said. "Telling a girl that they have to have Spanx because they’re 'fat' is not a good message — it just says they’re not good enough."
Lexi is staying positive, though. On days she's not feeling her best, she wears her "messy hair, don't care" shirt as a way of celebrating her strong self-esteem.
But in the end, Lexi and her mom just want girls, and people any age, for that matter, to better appreciate their bodies — flaws and all.
"We really want to keep it a positive experience, and for girls to be able to think they’re beautiful no matter what," said Harris. "Because they are exactly who they’re supposed to be."