New research in body-image science (which exists) says that women are more judgmental of their figures when trying on bathing suits in a store fitting room, than they are "while walking past others on a public beach at midday." But women are more likely to feel "ashamed" of their bodies if they feel "watched by others," regardless of how they're dressed.
The researcher-psychologists say that to solve this problem, clothing stores should avoid “displaying mannequins and posters of only very thin women," to help deter the stress women feel in "harshly lit" dressing rooms.
It's an odd issue. Though they're ostensibly in the business of making people look good, the stores have no obligation to make people feel good about themselves — they're not running Free Confidence Emporiums. You can't expect the Gap to solve your body-image problems and provide you with blandly tasteful vintage-inspired jeans. But should stores take this to heart and try to create a more comforting fitting-room experience? Granted, the harsh lighting in a lot of those places throws me off, but it doesn't make me feel more judgmental about myself. But then again, I'm a dude, and I usually just grab things off the rack, so maybe I'm not fully empathetic to everyone else's fitting-room experience. I have found that some stores play loud, obnoxious music, but that makes me judge them, not myself.
I've thought about this issue a bit, and I think I can agree with this study. I don't necessarily think it's the mirrors or harsh lighting that causes an increase in judgmental thinking in dressing rooms; I think it's the isolation. Generally, when I'm left alone with introspection as my only entertainment, that's when the true self-loathing occurs. So while I don't go bikini shopping (anymore), I can totally empathize with this.