“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
– Maya Angelou
Several weeks ago, I was asked to be a model at a local bridal fair. Several boutiques were going to show off some of the high end dresses they offer and they needed the models to be tall, because they weren’t about to hem the stock dresses, and I fit the bill in that regard. However, I was a little skeptical about the rest of it… I’ve lost weight sure, but I’m not a small person. I can’t remember a time when I was able to wear an ‘event’ dress without alterations. When I was in my brother’s wedding, I ordered something that looked like a black potato sack and then paid for it to be nipped and tucked when I needed it to be.
I know some women would jump at the chance to try on dresses, but I’m not most women. I don’t get super excited or emotional about wedding dresses, just like I didn’t get super excited about my prom dresses. (My senior year it was “$40, on sale, hell yes, shopping done!”) I guess I agreed to do this event because I thought, here’s another opportunity to do something outside your comfort zone – and that’s always a good thing. If you’re not uncomfortable, you aren’t growing.
I had to go for a fitting, to see which dresses I would wear during the show. So after work one night, I found myself in the beautiful bridal salon with a warm, kind woman named Sandy, saying, “We’re glad to have you! What size do you wear?”
I guessed, and she reminded me that bridal gowns usually run small. I told her my waist and hip measurements and then said, “I lost some weight this year and really don’t know what size I am, I haven’t tried on clothes much.”
Cuz I don’t. Even though I know my body has changed, I still feel a little panicked when I go into dressing rooms.
What if nothing fits? Too many years of grabbing the biggest size the store, carrying it to the dressing room and not being able to get it on, or zip it, or button it. Trying to shimmy out of whatever it was without ripping it. It’s a horrible feeling and I’ve lived with it since I was 12.
As I waited for the nice woman to return with dresses, I stood in the dressing room, looking at myself in the mirror. I had never tried on a wedding dress before and I thought, well if nothing fits, at least this isn’t the real deal and none of your friends or family will see how embarrassed you are. And then they won’t be able to put you in the show. Then I realized, maybe nothing will fit. The zipper or the buttons might not close. I might rip one of the dresses. I might get stuck in one. And if I do, there’s no one here to help me get out of it. Well, if that happens, I told myself, you will not cry in this store. That’s the only rule.
I had been in this exact store once before, last year, when one of my best friends was planning her wedding. I was to be a bridesmaid. I had attempted to try on different styles of bridesmaid dresses, so the others in the group could get some ideas of color and style of the dresses, but I could barely fit into any of the samples in the store, even with the zippers open. I remember going home, laying in bed and crying, for a long time. I had never felt more ugly. I wanted to be happy and excited about the wedding, but all I could think of was how much I didn’t want people to see me, and how much I didn’t want my picture taken, because I didn’t want a record of how I looked – and those things are all integral parts of being a bridesmaid.
It has been a struggle at times for me to see that I actually look different now. I have to look at myself every day after all. I have always looked in the mirror and seen someone who was a certain size, a bigger size than most, and I still see that. When I think of old pictures of myself, I am always taller and wider than everyone else. I’ve been 5’11 since I was 12 years old and I am not fine boned. I have never felt little; it is the last word I would use to describe myself. I remember playing in the ball pit at Chucky Cheese when I was 7, and having another, littler girl look at me and say “You are too big to be in here!” (I can kinda laugh about that now, I’m pretty sure she was my age.) And one thing about losing weight quickly, is that your mind doesn’t exactly catch up with your body. I don’t remember what I looked like a month ago compared to 9 months ago when I was at my all time heaviest… unless I look at pictures. And I avoid looking at pictures from late last year. There are not that many to begin with, but in the few that do exist, I can see how unhappy I am. And how hard I’m trying to convince other people that I’m not unhappy. Being unhealthy was exhausting and that charade was exhausting, and I can see it all in my face. I was the physical manifestation of one word: miserable.
Back to the beautiful dressing room with the white fluffy curtains…. So there I was, preparing my speech in which I would graciously (and with a little self deprecating humor) tell the nice lady that if she couldn’t find a dress to fit me, I understood, no hard feelings. I wasn’t planning on starting a modeling career at 30 anyway, pretty sure that’s when they are required to retire! …when in she marched with a lace fit and flare dress, with a type of boat neckline I have always loved. A classic, timeless dress, with buttons all the way up the back.
Well, I thought, trying to look on the bright side, if for some reason you ever do need a wedding dress, and this thing looks like a total disaster, then you won’t have to waste your time trying one on again!
“Just let me know when you need help!” said Sandy, and she shut the curtain.
I got into the dress as far as I could. Which was pretty far. But would the back close? I called Sandy back in.
“Oh! So pretty.” Sandy said.
“Yes.” I said, “It’s a beautiful dress.”
“But you look so good in it!” She paused to examine it from another angle, then continued, “So shapely, it cuts you in just the right places!”
My first reaction was to think, she’s lying to make you feel better. So quick to dismiss a compliment… in that regard, I am like most women.
She buttoned up the back. And everything was fine. No alterations needed. It kinda actually fit like a glove.
It is hard to describe how I felt in that moment. I looked in the mirror and I guess, I sorta didn’t believe that it was my body in that dress. I know that sounds silly, but it didn’t seem possible, that I could fit into a standard, fitted dress without the fear of ripping out the seams. It might have just been luck, but five wedding dresses she had me try on, and five wedding dresses fit. Different styles, different fabrics. Plus a bridesmaid dress. And they weren’t even the biggest size in the store. In fact, one she had to scrap because it was too big. I can’t remember when that’s even happened to me.
So the dresses I would wear in the show were lined up, I walked out of that store, and this time I didn’t go home and cry. I had no reason to. My hard work had paid off and I didn’t have the same body, and more importantly, I was not the same person I was the last time I left that store.
Last Sunday, the show happened, and I walked out on a stage and let total strangers take pictures of me in fancy dresses. And no, my body isn’t perfect. That’s not the point I’m trying to make at all. My body used to represent regret, disappointment, shame, my lack of self control – it used to be something I hoped people would look past, so they might see who I really was. Now, flaws and all, my body portrays the pride and respect I have for myself, it represents a mountain I climbed, a fight I won that was just as much mental as physical. I fit into those dresses because I worked hard, I ate healthy things and I repeatedly made good decisions. I now walk around every day with the physical manifestation of this truth: change is always entirely possible.
**On a side note – for anyone who finds numbers interesting, know this. I weigh 20-25 lbs more now, than I did at my smallest weight I can remember, when I was 16. However, I’m a full pants size smaller now. I can currently wear shorts and jeans that I bought when I was 16. It just goes to show that size and weight are two different things, just as muscle and fat are two different things. In my experience, it’s not very helpful to focus too much on one or the other. ****