How ugly can retail get? There are uglier chain stores out there than Wal-Mart, but not a whole lot. Perhaps a Marshalls. Or a Dollar General. Wal-Mart is likely to remain forever the epitome of the gargantuan box store. It comes replete with lots of garish florescent lighting, narrow aisles and overflowing merchandise.
As far as us shoppers, apparently, I am not the only one to notice a certain lack of standards among many of Wal-Mart customers. Way back in 2003 I wrote about Wal-Mart:
I don’t hate its customers, but they don’t appeal to me a whole lot. They make me itchy. I know I paint with a wide brush here (and I’m certainly not saying that all their customers are this way) but they seem to me to be a lot of overweight and over-hassled looking people. They seem to disproportionately represent the lower middle class. I don’t hold it against them for shopping there. If I were living from paycheck to paycheck I might be shopping there too.
It’s not that finding stylish customers is impossible at a Wal-Mart, it’s just unlikely to be someone other than Sarah Palin. Of course, most of us avoid dressing stylishly unless the occasion commands it, which Wal-Mart certainly does not. Still, a certain amount of decorum is expected anywhere you shop, isn’t it? It’s hard to find a store, except perhaps along a beach, that does not require you wear shoes and a shirt. Apparently, it was not my imagination. We really do need to add the ubiquitous Wal-Mart to this list. In pursuit of the almighty dollar, it appears that Wal-Mart will let virtually anyone in the store. I guess I have to give the company an A for being egalitarian, but frankly part of the reason I avoid Wal-Mart is because some of their customers frighten me (and I’m 6’2”). When I see some of these types on the street, I hurriedly cross over to the other sidewalk to avoid them. In a Wal-Mart, they tend to be in your face whether you like it or not.
The theme of PeopleofWalmart.com seems to be, “Don’t be afraid of these eccentrics; celebrate them.” Wal-Mart customers much braver than me are apparently snapping unflattering and amazing pictures of other Wal-Mart customers and putting them on this web site for us to gawk at. While I am unlikely to ever shop again at a Wal-Mart unless they start paying their employees a living wage, I can at least observe the Wal-Mart customer spectacle from the safety of my computer.
Frankly, I spend much of my time on PeopleofWalmart.com guiltily laughing. The site is hilarious as a nadir of bad fashion. I say this as someone who has almost no sense of fashion. I frequently end up wearing clothes that, in the opinion of my spouse, are mismatched or uncoordinated. So when someone with as little fashion sense as me finds himself appalled by someone else’s dress that truly says something.
On PeopleofWalmart.com you can see many examples of horrendous fashion every day. Just a couple of these photos would make Robin Givhan (the Washington Post fashion editor) go blind. Truly, in your wildest imagination, you could never dream up some of the combinations of clothes that actual people are wearing at your local Wal-Marts. Some of their clothes are so bizarre, so Technicolor and so haplessly uncoordinated that even a hippie would recoil.
See the same person wear too much clothing on one part of their body and too little on another. View guys and ladies with plumbers’ cracks big enough to insert your local telephone book. See people wearing animal skins mixed with garish polyesters. See people wearing florescent colored clothes with pastels. See bare feet. G strings. View ladies in swimsuits that leave nothing to the imagination. See people wearing what I hope are bizarre costumes rather than their regular clothes. See people who look like five minutes earlier they were cleaning shit out of a public sewer. See people who make Swamp Thing look fashionable. How I wish I were making this stuff up, but I am not. Go see for yourself. These kinds of pictures leave me wide eyed with my mouth hung open somewhere near the floor. It is often followed shortly thereafter by bombastic laughter and tears coming out of the corner of my eyes. Could it really be that we share the same forty-six chromosomes? Just the idea is frightening.
At the same time, I feel sad by the overwhelming number of beyond morbidly obese people in these pictures, many of whom are completely happy to let it all hang out. Huge rolls of fat bulge out from jeans five sizes too small for them. See women with fat on their backs so enormous that it dwarfs their already ample bosoms and puffs out around their narrow halter-tops as if they were the Pillsbury Dough Boy. You wonder how some of these people can even walk.
Doubtless, they are disproportionately captured on digital film but the fact that they exist at all, let alone in these numbers, is appalling. The site does suggest something that may now be the norm in Wal-Mart: the obese make up a plurality, if not a majority of their customers. Granted with the majority of Americans now either overweight or obese, they may well be characteristic of the average American in the 21st century. If so, you have to ask, what are we doing to ourselves? The evidence on PeopleofWalmart.com suggests we have been actively engaged in mass gluttony of the most egregious kind.
Perhaps this is also why I cannot be found in the aisles of Wal-Mart. If I can avoid it, I don’t want to face this unpleasant truth about my fellow Americans. Wal-Mart in general and the many examples of its customers captured on PeopleofWalmart.com make me scared for my country’s future. I hope I am wrong, but America has never seemed so infirmed, so fat, so bizarre and so dysfunctional. Everything I see in and around the Wal-Marts of America tell me that America is not just off the right track, but our locomotive has careened into the river and the water is rapidly rising up to our necks. Only most of us cannot see it.
So perhaps I laugh not only because of some personal character defect but because it is the safer alternative. What I really want to do: scream in shock, horror and pain at this daily evidence of a national problem that seems too big to solve. We appear to be destroying ourselves, our country and our national character. There is plenty of evidence available at your local Wal-Mart.