I sit cross-legged on my daughter’s bed, breathing in the scent of her. The palm trees rustle gently in the wind while the warm sun shines through the single pane window in our Manila home. I close my eyes and I’m transported to the outdoor staircase in Tokyo where, ten years ago, I would perch myself in the morning sun and struggle to find some semblance of self-worth. I return to the present moment, feeling reassured by the very essence of my daughter, which proves to me that I have come so far from those doubtful days on the secluded staircase.
My eyes shift towards the closet in Cali’s room. She and her younger sister Elle love dressing up. If I were to open either of their closets, I’m sure to be consumed by an avalanche of tulle and tutus. My own closet is sparse in comparison and consists of simple styles in neutral hues of ivory, grey, sky blue and blush — a mix of jersey, silk and cotton pieces. A stack of well-worn denim takes center stage; at 43, this fuss free, accessible attire is a reflection of the woman I’ve always wanted to be. Years of self-doubt are erased when I pull on a pair of jeans, pull on a crumpled soft tee and slip on a pair of leather slides — this is who I am. I take a deep inhale and feel my chest tighten as my eyes shift right.
In the far back right corner hangs a plastic bag in which my most expensive, embellished and dreaded item of clothing resides. It is my wedding dress. As I unzip the bag, an overpowering odor of mothballs emerges. With the smell comes a crushing sense of sadness. I mourn the memories of the person I was on that day — lost, sad, and angry — and feel relief at the woman I’ve become since that June evening nine long years ago.
My fiancé and I had envisioned a beach wedding in Mexico. We would be barefoot and watch the sunset as we indulged in a simple feast of tacos washed down with cold tequila and mango ice cream. Some guests didn’t want to travel to celebrate our union. We caved to the pressure and instead planned an intimate outdoor ceremony in a public park. But the emotional cost of the traditional wedding we didn’t want added up. In place of “the dress” I had made in Vietnam — a delicate cream-colored bohemian tunic and lace design with bell sleeves — was a more formal structured bustier and ankle grazing skirt combination — someone else’s vision of a bride. The dress I had intended to wear was laid out in the musty cloakroom of the cottage and would not be worn until after the cake had been cut. The moment I slipped it on, the simplicity of it made me feel my most beautiful. And in it, my new husband and I danced under the summer solstice stars.
Looking back, I’m not surprised by the immense sadness that consumed me on what was to be the happiest day of my life. But like most decisions at the time, I was too easily swayed by the opinions of others. I alone had allowed this to be the anthem of my life. Unzipping the bag in which my wedding self resides unleashes a past I’d prefer to forget. But I need to acknowledge that woman who was so terrified of what others would think. She is a pivotal part of me and is who drives me to move forward towards the woman I am today — sensitive in soul and strong in spirit.
I spent too many years questioning my self-worth. Only once pregnant with our first daughter, Cali, did a shift occur. Perhaps it was hormones or a wake-up call after decades of denial. Or the six miscarriages I silently suffered through while consuming various costly fertility concoctions that wreaked havoc on my mind and body and almost broke my marriage apart. Finally, after years of feeling undone, I listened to my gut and learned how to say no. No to the fertility specialists, no to my parents, and no to friendships I had outgrown. I started to think about what I wanted and needed to be happy and healthy. A few months before Cali was born, I left teaching and started to write — a career I had envisioned for myself but for which I believed I was incompetent. The doubt melted away over time as I explored and wrote on various topics of interest. Personal essay came easily to me. After a few years of self-reflection, I wanted to branch out and share the stories of others. It is here where I found my groove and the genre, which best reflects who I am — a self-declared introvert who shies away from the spotlight but who is happy to see someone else shine through the power of her words.
It’s been seven years since I began the journey towards this person I now love and embrace — myself. My closet is a direct reflection of that self-love and increased awareness and ability to be happy with who I am — a woman who loves, writes and lives a passionate life in denim, t-shirts and buttery soft leather slides, which allow me to glide through the days feeling like the best version of me. I don’t adhere to trends, but appreciate a variety of looks on others. I’ll be the first to complement someone on something they’re wearing that stands out and marks them as special. My friends and family joke about my rotation of seasonal denim and gold hoop earrings — because that’s all I wear. And I’m okay with that.
As a mother of two girls, I’m hyper-aware of how impressionable they are and the impact the words of others have on them. My promise to Cali and Elle is that I will give them the gift of choice. And if that means they will be sporting flip-flops and jean shorts for a beach wedding in Bali, I will be smiling standing beside them with my toes squishing into the soft sand.
Top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Emily May
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