When I was in second grade and I began to prepare for my first Holy Communion, I got to buy a fancy white dress. I remember shopping for it at Sears and feeling like I was buying a wedding gown. I was asked to try on so many dresses, and I loved every single one. The chosen dress had a tea length pleated over skirt and short puffy sleeves. There was a ruffle around the neck and a satin bow at the waist. Paired with my crown and veil, it was perfect. I wore white tights and white patent leather shoes and I felt like a princess. It was probably because I was (very fortunately) too little to be aware of my body being anything but this awesome thing that I owned and got to dress up. I wanted to wear the dress every day, but had to wait until the actual Communion event. There were, secretly, a few nights that I stayed up late and braved the darkness to sneak into my dress. I even used a step-stool to reach the high shelf in the closet so that I could reach my crown and veil and wore the whole shebang. It was sort of epic.
Fast forward somewhere between 15 and 20 years and I got to shop for another white dress. I wanted to capture that same feeling I had as a seven year old and be a princess in a white gown. I wanted a crown of flowers this time, and I had no preference about the veil. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to get the dress. I was pretty much relegated to one store because of my budget and getting ready to go look was pretty sad. I had just moved to Colorado and the only person I knew was the person I was going to marry. Not being willing to go alone, future Husband was forced to go with me. Saying that he and I had a different idea of shopping was an understatement, but add the stress of it being for a wedding and everything got blown out of control. His opinions about what he’d like me to look like on the wedding day and my ideas about it were pretty different, too. Still he was amazingly positive and made me feel excited and ready, so we went together to make the wedding magic happen.
Walking into the store, I was greeted by an older woman who said to me, in what I still think is the most condescending tone I’ve ever heard, “Oh hi there sweetie. Are you looking for a prom dress?” Granted, being a fat person I have a very round face and that makes me look young. I was 24 and certainly still getting carded, but a prom dress? Girl, I have an engagement ring! Get it together! Anyway, once I explained that I needed a wedding gown, she began asking me what my size was. Eventually we determined which dresses in the store would actually fit me, she asked me what I liked. I showed her some magazine photos, none of which was available in my size, this store, or my price range, and often a combination of all three. She let me look around and started to pull things for me to try on. I tried on many dresses, and wrangling myself into them brought on a lot of tears but none for the “oooohhh” moment you’re supposed to get with your dress. I picked one anyway, and pretended like hell to love it.
On my wedding day, I was insulted by a few backhanded compliments about the way I looked in my dress, such as, “Oh, you’re dress is so pretty. It’s a shame you look the way you do in it.” I had gained weight before the wedding, and so when I got into my dress in my room alone, I had to perform some ridiculous acts of acrobatics and contortion. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I had to manually shove certain fleshy parts of myself into the dress to the point that I had significant bruising that evening. Husband discovered this eventually, and I cried as much as I would allow myself at such a new time in our marriage. I hated that dress to the point that when we renewed our vows (very casually) after ten years, I wore an off white color completely away from the pristine white of my Communion and wedding gowns. I still cannot enjoy photos.
Fast forward another almost 16 years and I am a couple of days away from a simple weekend getaway with Husband. I decide to go shopping because I want something that will make me feel special for a dinner out with him. He is my love and everything I own is gross. I go to a store that has things which will fit me, and I try on every dress that I think looks tolerable and age appropriate. They are almost as gross as what I already own. I leave the dressing room and go to look again, and I see a white dress. White white, like the clouds. It is in a very 1950’s housewife style, which I love, and it looks like a simple lace. I touch it and it is as soft as a feather. It has a slight V in the back which I love, and it is rather lovely. I figure I will try it on because maybe they have it in black online. When I put it on, I am in love. I am in love with my own reflection. I cannot believe it. I take a photo and send it to trusted friend to get corroboration. “This looks good,” she tells me. “Buy it.” I do.
I put on the dress in the hotel on my trip. I show Husband. I twirl. I wear the dress to my fancy dinner. I feel like I did as a second grader. I am a princess and a bride and a girl and a woman and I am beautiful. And I didn’t even spill anything on it. My third white dress is the best dress I’ve ever had. I wish every single one of my friends their own white dress. I want everyone to feel like this, even if just an evening from time to time. I am going to try to remember how I feel in my white dress all the time, and if I can capture that feeling even just sometimes, I am going to be ok.