In February 2020, I got engaged to my love. We planned our dream wedding in early March – just the two of us in County Clare, Ireland. We were to be married in August.
And then the world shut down.
We didn’t get married. Paul immediately suggested that we marry the following August – wait a whole year. I was disappointed but quickly agreed that this would be the best choice. Certainly, all would be well by then.
As you know, the world got much worse as the months dragged on. My hope for anything positive waned daily, and I delayed taking any action for the wedding. I managed well with online classes, zoom, pizza, ice cream, and chips.
Then we were all vaccinated.
The world began to open. We rebooked a similar trip. Our officiant has been vaccinated. Our venue finally reopened.
And shit. I don’t have a dress yet.
So, I scrambled. First – I brought my expert coaches to mind and thought about what I wanted out of the experience. I asked for help from a friend – and, thankfully, an expert seamstress. I reached out to my sister-in-law and asked for a shopping buddy. Finally, I set my intentions. 1) To go out into this new world and shop in a store. With people. 2) To go to lunch with my sister-in-law and spend time together. Inside a place. With people. 3) To enjoy the day. Oh, and 4) to maybe find a dress.
Well, my sister-in-law pulled out all of the stops and made it special – a gift bag with a tiara, sparkly mask, bride-to-be cup, mimosa fix-ins, and Irish cream-flavored white chocolate hand-dipped strawberries, and gluten-free Oreos. Ooh, let’s not forget the shirt she wore – a green a white (Go MSU!) “Team Bride” t-shirt and matching shamrock face mask. She loves a theme even more than me and knows how to rock it. I enjoyed the lack of maize and blue for a day. (U of M for those not in the know). With my tiara on – we hit the mall.
Macy’s had dresses, and I took a breath and grabbed two to try on, only to find that all dressing rooms were closed. I was saved. All I could think about was my weight and potential dress size.
I put a dress on over my clothes to step a toe into the process.
A thorough walk through the mall delivered no new options but satisfied my first intention – we had shopped. With people. So, we went to lunch. Inside. With people and no mask. I don’t remember a salad tasting so good. And the unanticipated soda refill shocked me. We asked the waitress if we were doing it right. She laughed, and we swapped stories. I tipped her well, and we left for the piece de resistance – David’s Bridal. Intention #2 satisfied.
From the moment we entered David’s, I grew nervous. Our stylist greeted us and shared that she had two brides. I was unaware that I would be sharing my appointment. The store was filled to the brim with skinny, young giggling prom-goers and age-appropriate brides all crammed into a mirror-lined semi-circle of fitting rooms. We will call her Nan, directed me to the casual dresses, and left me to peruse. I felt overwhelmed and old looking at dresses and remembering my first time doing this, 28 years ago. Stacia assisted beautifully, and we ended up with a few on the rack. Nan gave me a small fitting room and said she would be back. I went in - and put on a dress. There was no mirror.
I already knew I looked awful, but I had to step out to learn anything, ugh. I did this for a handful of dresses – zipped, if I fit the dress, and clipped if it was too big—every time with no positive feedback from Nan.
And my mind said, “you are old, ugly and fat”.
A teenager approached me and asked if we had a smaller size in the dress she liked. She didn’t see my casual clothes and tiara. My mind said – “Mary, you are not supposed to be here.” I eventually took a dress that was too small because I liked how it felt. Nan told me it wouldn’t work and forgot to have me ring the bell to announce that I had found my dress. She knew I hadn’t.
I was convinced, by my virtual bridal party, that a do-over was in order. I scheduled 3 boutique bridal appointments and began anew. I stepped into the first mid-day and shared with the stylist that I felt “old, ugly, and fat and needed to feel beautiful.” This young twenty-something looked at me over her mask and said, “that’s what we do here.” Maddie cheerfully directed me to scads of dresses my size, all different and gorgeous. I tried on 5 and found each nice in one way or another. As I stood on the pedestal wearing the fifth dress, I told Maddie that I didn’t know how to choose. I carefully sorted them on the hooks provided – mind you, hooks in front of two huge mirrors in my beautiful changing room – in order of preference. Each was good enough. I could feel good in them. My friend, Bev, would make me feel even better when she fitted it to me.
Then I tried on the 6th dress. Maddie had to step away for a moment, so I stepped onto the pedestal alone. I looked myself over for ugliness. And then a slight glance to the left, and I had a moment of joy. A quick thought that I looked beautiful. It was so fleeting that tears came to my eyes. When Maddie returned, I told her I had figured out how to pick. I sent pictures on my phone to my virtual bridal party. My sister-in-law said, “you cries, you buys.” So I did. And then I asked Maddie to take my picture with the “I said yes to the dress” sign that I had seen on their Facebook page many times.
This is the story about how I found my wedding dress. The one I get to wear when I marry my love in our dream location. The one that makes me feel beautiful enough to greet him at the altar.
But this week has taught me how hard it is to find myself beautiful. To say yes to my body and my own personal beauty. I do feel old, and ugly, and fat. I feel unworthy. My nose is too big, my belly bulging, my thighs too heavy, my butt too jiggly, and my bones too large.
But what does it take for me to see that I am beautiful?
I never stop and appreciate what I love about this body of mine.
I am trying.
My eyes are strikingly blue at times. My skin is porcelain and is rewarding me after years of acne. My hair is thick and full. My belly and hips are strong and carried a child. My heart is wired incorrectly but beats consistently. I have run half-marathons, completed sprint triathlons, and built up popeye-ish arms. My body took that Lupus diagnosis and chose a less dangerous autoimmune disease over time. My back aches and needs surgery, but yoga loosens it and gives me more time. My body rocks. My body deserves to be dressed up and shown off.
If only my mind would agree.
There is no perfect beauty. Society made this up. I know that. The beautifully skinny teenager who asked me for the smaller dress probably had her own concerns. Nan may feel the way I felt … every .. single.. day at work.
Let’s say yes to the dress and more. Say yes that we are beautiful and should be treated as such.
Let’s start with you and me.
What makes you beautiful?