A few months ago, I poured myself a glass of red wine, turned on Shakira, and danced around my kitchen while I made a pot of chili and ordered a wedding dress online. I was beating the system. I’d seen the wedding shows: the bridesmaids holding sparkly numbers to rate their selections, I’d seen the tulle and the lace and the tears. It was not for me. Online I’d found a wedding dress I loved, and it could just be sent to my house, no three mirrors and a pedestal, no giant electrical-clip looking contraptions holding things together. I bragged to anyone who would listen about my conquest, how easy and uncomplicated it was, how silly the whole wedding dress ritual is. I’m not like other brides, I’m a cool bride.
Two weeks later, a box showed up at my door and I locked myself in my bedroom to carefully remove its contents. From a clean, white garment bag, under a mountain of pink tissue paper, I pulled out my dress. But where did all those beads come from? Had there been sequins in the picture? I pulled the dress on anyway but immediately my heart sank. In the yellow light of my messy bedroom, I did not look as blissful and carefree as the bridal model on the website, with her head thrown back, her mouth slightly open in a gentle laugh. My hair was not cascading down my back like her blonde waterfall of curls. But worst of all: the dress looked terrible on me. My hips looked huge. I looked somehow embarrassingly short. I suddenly noticed a large amount of fat in my armpits I’d never thought about before.
Of all the wedding things I didn’t want to do, wedding dress shopping was at the top of the list, followed closely by throwing a bouquet. I once cut my finger open trying to dive out of the way of catching a bouquet to avoid an uncomfortable conversation with my not-ready-to-get-married boyfriend and spent the rest of the wedding trying to remind myself not to wipe blood on my bridesmaid dress. Bouquet-throwing is barbaric, but wedding dress shopping is worse. It combines all the things I hate most about weddings: Sentimentality, the word “princess” being thrown around, and people looking critically at my body. But after the disappointment of the online dress, it seemed inevitable. I had to make an appointment.
I’m not a big fan of trying clothing on in general. I think my naked body looks remarkably like human-shaped pile of cream of potato soup and I’d prefer nobody to see any part of it in any clothing that hasn’t passed a vigorous, and very private round of my my own judgement. But when you’re shopping with friends you can slip away unnoticed to a dressing room, barricade yourself behind the heavy door, and yell “Oh this one didn’t work” when they knock to check on your progress, while peeling the article of clothing off your body as fast as physically possible before the mental image of your stomach lumps aren’t eternally etched upon your brain much less inflicted upon anyone else.
But wedding dress shopping: there’s no escape. It’s about the bride: standing in front of a crowd and having that crowd then comment of every area of the dress, every curve that isn’t working, every piece of skin that doesn’t oblige, what “works for her” a.k.a. if whatever I am wearing makes my already lopsided boobs look squished and my areas of back fat especially apparent.
It shouldn’t be this way. A wedding is about marrying the person you love, not worrying that the dress you chose isn’t flattering, but guests leave a wedding saying, “What a beautiful bride,” not “What a bride who delivered that joke in an extremely timely manner,” and being beautiful is not exactly one of my strong points. I’m not overweight, but that’s not the point. I don’t like the way my weight is placed upon my body and then how my body is arranged. I love being the center of attention when it is about my wit, my words, but when it is about how I look, I’d rather be dead. Except I’ve literally had the thought, “I hope I don’t accidentally die before I lose ten pounds because I can’t suck in at my funeral”.
So my aunt Bou, Lilly, my cousin/maid of honor, and mother and I trekked to Anthropologie on Christmas Eve morning so they could look at my weird armpit fat in three different mirrors and a stranger could see me naked in unflattering fluorescent lighting.
We pulled the dresses we liked from the show room. My consultant Ama took me to the dressing room where she hung them outside the door in a giant lacy, white heap. I looked at them with dread, thinking about how nice and flowy and perfect they looked hanging on the hangers, the beautiful smooth skin models I’d seen wearing them online, and how I would slowly ruin each and every one as I tried them on with my weird wide ribcage or strangely conical thighs.
“What are you looking for in a dress?” she asked and I shrugged. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t looked at dresses. I’d been looking for dresses, perusing websites while watching Netflix with my fiance Matt, snapping the laptop closed when he walked near my side of the couch. I just couldn’t exactly say which kind of dresses I liked. All wedding dresses are beautiful and completely impractical at the same time. There is a universal truth about wedding dresses: They are the most expensive article of clothing you will ever buy and you will never, ever, wear it again. You can’t dye your wedding dress blue and wear it to a different wedding. You can’t shorten it and wear it again. You can maybe resell it if you are very, very careful or have a very, very good dry cleaner. But otherwise, it’s a one time deal.
“Are you more interested in fitted or more of an A line kind of thing?” she asked. Ama, my consultant, was about 6 feet tall and a size 4. She looked like the kind of person who could walk into a bridal store and leave with three free dresses and a modeling contract for Vera Wang because everything just looked so nice on her.
“I don’t really know,” I said. Then added, “Sorry.” I’d only been there five minutes and I’d already found myself apologizing profusely, earlier when Ama had introduced herself to Lilly instead of me, assuming she was the bride, and I’d apologized for looking so young, so unbride-like. When she asked if I could pick more dresses than just the two I’d selected before the appointment, I’d apologized again.
“That’s okay,” she said. “We’ll start with what you picked out. I’m going to leave and you can strip down to whatever you feel comfortable in. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Ama left me alone in the dressing room. I wondered what she would do if when she came back in I was still wearing my leggings and jean jacket, the amount of clothing I felt comfortable in. Instead I peeled off everything but my undies and bra and perched awkwardly in a chair.
What seemed like twenty minutes later Ama came in with my first selection. I slipped it on and she zipped me up. I looked, as I suspected, like a before picture in a Nutrisystem commercial. What had looked perfect on the model looked bunched and stretched on my wider, shorter frame, like the fabric itself was uncomfortable on me.
I can’t tell you how many events in my life that should have been fun were ruined by me hating my body. Actually, I can try: all three proms I went to, my college graduation, my brother’s wedding, every time I’ve ever gone to the beach and someone took a photo of it, my first half marathon, my second half marathon, a photoshoot we had to do at work. Pretty much any time an event I attended was documented in photos, I’ve been unhappy, gone home and stood in front of the mirror and vowed to stop eating carbs, sugar, alcohol, anything but raw vegetables and turkey burgers.
I could feel my shoulders tense up in the dress, I wanted my body to release itself but it refused. I felt so uncomfortable, like I wasn’t supposed to be here. As I looked at myself in the full length mirror, the way my sides bulged under some mesh that was supposed to lie flat, I thought about how little I felt like a bride a general. Before Matt and I decided to get married, I’d been excited to think about our wedding: what flowers we would have, the colors, the table settings, the dress. But almost as soon as we got engaged, I started feeling like I wished it were just over. Now that all that stuff were real actual things I had to take care and potentially dislike and do wrong, they didn’t seem as exciting anymore. A unphotographed wedding on a remote island by ourselves seemed increasingly appealing.
I walked out to see my family, who looked similarly unimpressed. I had made everyone promise they wouldn’t cry, but that didn’t seem to be much of a problem. I tried on a few dresses to tepid responses, and one, a ball gown-ish selection with a lacey top, to an excited crowd. But then I looked, regretfully, at the price tag.
Nothing was working. As I suspected, I maybe just wasn’t meant to be a someone who wears a wedding dress. I never wore long dresses, anyway. Wedding dresses were for other people, for real brides, for pretty brides. I felt a sense of something I’d been feeling ever since we got engaged, the same feeling I had when people told me “Congratulations!” and my brain took a minute to register what they meant before I accidentally replied “For what?” It was the same sense I had when we talked to the wedding venue we’d booked and I worried they might be able to see that from behind my computer I was in my pajamas and eating the burnt kernels of popcorn at bottom of the bowl not…doing whatever brides are meant to do: arranging flowers in a room full of very clean windows somewhere. This wasn’t for me.
A few weeks before, on my birthday, one of my bridesmaids had texted me, “This is the year you get to become a wife!” and I’d quickly pushed away the phone. How could I be a wife when I felt like such a mess all the time? It wasn’t just my body that I could never get right: it was everything. Weddings are for pulled-together people, pretty people, not people who occasionally see that their cat has thrown up and just throws a paper towel over it to deal with it later. The gashed hand on the bridal bouquet had been a sign: I’m just not a bride, I thought, my shoulders hunched and stiff in yet another lacy, long gown that made me look like I was playing dress up in an ill-fitting dress from some aunt’s wedding years ago. I’d said no tears, but I could feel them behind my eyes.
“What do you think your fiance would like?” Ama asked me as she pulled off my latest attempt: another long white gown that I knew wouldn’t be leaving the store with me.
I laughed. It hadn’t really occurred to me to think about what Matt would want to see me in. It wouldn’t make a difference to Matt if I showed up at the end of the aisle in terrycloth bathrobe. When I worried about how I looked, it wasn’t because I cared how I looked to Matt. The truth is, the whole wedding thing was starting to seem stupid, but I hadn’t lost my excitement to be married to Matt. The wedding is just a day, a moment where we have to show everyone how much we love each other, but they don’t see the stuff that actually matters: the nights we chop vegetables at the same time in our tiny kitchen, when we drink four pots of coffee and play board games on Saturday mornings, when we get up to dance around the room to the opening credits to our favorite Netflix shows every single time they come on. Flower arrangements, cake flavors, a long white dress, those aren’t real stuff. We can’t pick flailing around the room to the Death in Paradise theme song as a first dance, so whatever we choose will not really be our song.
I’d tried on all my selections. Nothing worked. I was ready to go, my mom had promised Vietnamese food from my favorite restaurant and I was thinking about how much I wanted to put my clothes back on and eat 700 spring rolls and forget this ever happened, maybe just get married in some really nice yoga pants and my R2-D2 sweatshirt.. But next to me, another woman was trying on a long, simple gown and it looked perfect on her.
“You should try that one,” my mom said.
It was really, really pretty. I asked Ama if I could give it a try.
“It’s really a reception gown, not a wedding gown,” she said. I shrugged. As it turns out, I’m not much of a wedding dress person.
I tried on the gown and came out of the room. It was light, no embellishments, it just barely looked like a wedding dress. I liked it. My mother grabbed a bouquet of dead flowers from a dried out vase on a table and handed them to me to hold. I looked good. Not like the brides I’d seen on the website, or in the glowing photos of other women I’d seen get married. Like me, in a white dress, holding a bouquet of dead hydrangeas, my little folds of arm fat and all. “Do you feel like a bride?” my mom asked. I didn’t, really. But I wasn’t hunched over this time and my shoulders were relaxed.
Image: Flickr/Chris Photography
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