Woman’s Instagram pics removed by boss who claimed she was too big to model

Feb 4, 2016 at 6:05 p.m. ET

True story: Most of us aren't models and never will be. Yet we all still have to wear clothes, and most of us would like to look good in them. One young store clerk understood the value of showing how real clothes fit real women. Unfortunately, the store owner didn't, and that's when things got crazy.

Sherene Zarrabi, a 21-year-old college student in Oklahoma, was just doing what lots of young women love to do — snapping pics of herself in cute outfits and posting them to Instagram. As a bonus, she worked at the Dainty Hooligan, a boutique clothing store found in the South, and so had access to all the latest fashions. Her manager loved Zarrabi's snaps so much she posted some of them to the store's own Insta.

But her stint as an unofficial spokesmodel quickly ended — and in the most humiliating way possible. Store owner Jessica Issler yanked the pictures and sent this email to Zarrabi and her manager:

"Something I want to make sure you keep in mind. I want size small, the stereotypical 'model' to model our clothes. Please use our pictures of our models if Stillwater store can't find someone who would be considered 'model material.' This is not to put anyone down but to communicate expectations of presenting our brand. Don't take it personal, all I ask for is really good representation. In exchange for the freedom, I ask you to take down all pictures of anyone that doesn't fit the criteria."

Zarrabi rightly took exception to this and quit. But instead of going on a crash diet or crying over her "not model" body, she showed confidence and courage, explaining her feelings on Facebook: 

"I am fully comfortable with who I am and the way I look. I have recently been attacked and discriminated against by the owner of Dainty Hooligan. She went on our stores Instagram and deleted all of the pictures where I was modeling the clothing and then sent this email to my manager. I do not want to represent or support a business that has such archaic values and beliefs. THIS is the reason young girls have body image issues. This is disgusting. I quit immediately and I suggest that my friends and family do not support Dainty Hooligan. Love yourself, no matter what you look like."

Her honest response struck a nerve, and women everywhere celebrated her body positivity and unwillingness to take any crap.

Issler, on the other hand, doubled down on her policy, saying, "I'm not apologizing for the unsaid fashion rule." Then she added in an interview with O'Colly, the Oklahoma State University paper, "My No. 1 priority is the safety of my staff, so the evil and lack of positivity is terrifying. This girl has now created a hostile work environment because she has a sad body image of herself." She even added that she thought Zarrabi was not "mentally healthy."

Yes, we live in a world where a girl is being called mentally ill for loving her body the way it is.

An outcry against Issler and the Dainty Hooligan erupted all over social media as people rushed to Zarrabi's defense. As more and more called for a boycott of the store, Issler finally sent an apologetic email to Zarrabi, saying she doesn't wish her former employee any ill will and thanking her for a "humbling experience."

While that is nice, unfortunately the Dainty Hooligan's backwards model policy isn't the problem. The real issue is that this type of "You're not worthy if you don't look like a model" message is pushed on girls and women everywhere, all the time. And most of us don't stand up for ourselves. We accept the poison and let it infect us until we hate ourselves, until we believe that our bodies really are the problem instead of our greatest gift.

This is so much bigger than a small-time clothing store.

Which is why I want to give @OKStateProbs the last word, who tweeted:

"Props to Sherene for being confident. I love that. But my stand isn't for Sherene. It's for the girl in the gym trying to lose weight to feel better. It's for the girl who eats lunch by herself because she's self-conscious. It's for the girl who goes to these boutiques or stores because she loves their clothing, only to embarrassingly find out they don't have their size. My stand is to say you're beautiful no matter what you look like. Because beauty is not your appearance, it's your interests, love for others, and who you are."