I’ve always been a curvy girl. Voluptuous. Zaftig. Plump.
But, despite the standard period of teenage awkwardness, I’ve always had a pretty positive body image. Growing up with a disabled sister taught me to appreciate my body. Yes, it goes out where I would like it to curve in. But my body works. Hating my body would just be ungrateful, given the challenges my sister has overcome. Not to sound arrogant (the ultimate British sin) but when I look in the mirror, yes I see the stretch marks and the double chin but I also see a pretty girl, that with a bit of work, could ‘make the most of myself’ as my Nan used to say.
As I’ve said before, I was never the kind of girl who dreamt of getting married. But I was sure that by the time I got engaged I would be magically transformed into one of those brides you see in the magazines. The perfect bride: beautiful, together and, most of all, thin. Ha-frickin-ha.
The venue booked, the first thing my mum and I did was make an appointment to go wedding dress shopping. I was so excited. This was, in itself, odd as I HATE shopping. When I was fifteen, I refused to go shopping for a whole year. (Remember that standard period of teenage awkwardness, that was then). My mum had to buy clothes, bring them home and show then to me while like Caesar I said yes and no. But I’ve always loved beautiful things and a bridal shop seemed an Aladdin’s cave of the beautiful and impractical.
I knew how the script went. I would try on dresses. This one was too meringuey, this one too plain. Then I would emerge from behind the curtains a radiant expression on my face in The Dress. It would fit like a dream. My mum would cry. End scene. I didn’t expect that to happen straight away, but sooner rather than later I would have that experience. The one thing I did not expect was that wedding dress shopping would make me feel so bad about myself.
I’d been warned, my aunt had described wedding dress shopping as very stressful and friends had said they found it difficult. But I was too blinded by how I thought the experience should be to pick up on the warnings. My first inkling came when my sister-in-law-to-be texted me. She had bought her dress from this shop and she wanted to warn me that the dress sizes ran very small, and she was saying this as a size 8.
The day didn’t start well. My foot was aching as if I had a marble stuck under the arch and no matter how I manoeuvred my I couldn’t get comfortable. I had a trapped nerve, not yet diagnosed, which would prevent from walking let alone exercising for months. Due to the high pollen count one of my contact lenses were misbehaving so I had to take it out. It was a hot day. So half blind, hobbling and sweaty I made my way to the dress shop.
The boutique was in my home town. The dresses were beautiful: skirts frothy like whipped cream, jewelled bodices that gleamed in the light, or long sheaths of smooth silk; and out of my price range. But it was OK, this was just research after this we would visit boutiques more in my budget. As we flicked through the racks I began to worry. For although they had told my mum that they had a ‘wide range of sizes’ this actually meant dresses in sizes 8-10. And as I later found out because of the hip to waist ratios wedding dresses run small. Gulp!
As I undressed in the changing room, I went through panic and out the other side into some clear zen place. This had no longer become something I was anticipating but something to be endured. The changing room was tiny, darkly lit with a mirror on one wall. I stripped down to my underwear as one of the girls handed a dress in through the curtain. Bridal dresses are heavy, even the deceptively simple ones have layers of petticoats and hidden corsets. I hoiked it over my head and did the bridal wiggle so it would slip down my body. Like a lady’s maid the shop assistant then came and in knelt and my feet and began rummaging under my skirts, untucking all the layers of petticoats that had ridden up. None of the dresses would even begin to do up so they were pinned in place or the lacing held together with rubber bands.
I walked out and stood on a stool (an optical illusion they insisted on so you would look taller and thinner). My mother said I looked beautiful. I looked, what I could tell through one bleary eye, like a fat girl stuffed into a dress four sizes too small for her. The dresses clung to my flab, making me look pregnant and flattened my curves so I looked flat chested.
I was the last customer so the two shop girls and the owner crowded round to rain compliments on me. I’m still angry that I didn’t say anything beyond the weak sentence ‘that it was pretty hard to tell whether the dresses suited me given that they were several sizes too small.’ Pretty hard = impossible. But I didn’t want to acknowledge the elephant in the room, me 🙂 I also didn’t want to ruin this experience for my mum, little did I know she was thinking the same thing. So I put on an act as I was tugged in and out of dresses. Yes, this one was better. I robotically replied. Yes, the belt really complimented my figure. All the while I gritted my teeth. I was not going to be the girl that cried in the wedding dress shop.
I reached my nadir in the changing room. The last dress was a fishtail style. For those not in the know, this is a style of dress that is very tightly fitted down to the knees before flaring out like a mermaid’s tail. I tried to get the dress on over my head but the fitted bottom wouldn’t go over my chest. Fine, I lowered the dress to the ground and stepped into it and started wriggling. My bad foot caught on the silk petticoat and slipped away from me. I desperately scrabbled for balance expecting at any moment there would be a horrific tearing noise. Regaining my balance, I caught a glimpse at myself in the mirror. I looked hot and unhappy. Worse of all the changing room mirror gave me a perfect view of my bottom stuck out of the zip of the dress. Flattering, not! If I’d ripped the dress I would end up spending £2,000 on a dress I couldn’t even fit over my bottom!
It was the most expensive dress I would probably ever try on: and it made me feel so ugly.
It was time to go home. Later that night I cried on HWSNBN. Manfully he didn’t laugh at the bottom story although I could tell it pained him not too. I vented to HSWNBN and my girlfriends. I listened to some uplifting music.
And I got over myself. I’d survived through adolescent without hating my body and I wasn’t going to let a bad experience make me start. And although I would preferred not to have that experience it taught me a valuable lesson about being assertive. The Dress, the one I could actually fit my bottom into, was out there somewhere. I just had to find it.
To be continued…