Earlier this week, we introduced you to our 2013 writing interns. (Pop over and say hello here if you haven’t yet! Let’s give these ladies a warm welcome.) And today I’m delighted to bring you the introductory first post from Elisabeth, a Brooklyn resident and APW’s first queer intern, who is planning a September wedding that might secretly be my dream wedding (CLAMBAKE WHAT). When we received Elisabeth’s application for our internship program, this was the piece that I read first. And it blew me away. You guys know I’m passionate about having healthy conversations about body image on this site, and Elisabeth just nails it on every level (plus humor!). And now, I’ll leave the rest to Elisabeth.
After a particularly sweaty workout the other day I trotted into work in my 5 College Pride t-shirt, only to realize I’d forgotten my clothes at home. Curses.
Thus began a series of panicked phone calls for sympathy to K (who was working on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts but graciously listened to me howl) followed by a subway ride, a taxi, and finally a sprint thru the Columbus Circle TJ Maxx that was worthy of Supermarket Sweep. Ultimately I ended up with a pretty decent outfit, although my boobs looked curiously like anteaters in my new Delta Burke bra. Still, I managed to slide into my 10:00am meeting with a jaunty ponytail and five minutes to spare. Total success, right?
This is funny now as I remember it, dashing through the Teej to find the praxis of cheap and acceptable sweater dresses, championed by a kind, slightly bemused employee cheering like it was overtime of an intramural hockey game. But at the time, I was near tears. “There’s a Gap right near my office,” K suggested, “Can you pop in there?” “I can’t,” I answered curtly. “They only sell plus-size clothing online.” At the time, when I opened my gym bag and saw only the dregs of a Luna bar wrapper, this didn’t seem funny or even manageable. My first thought was, “There are no clothing stores anywhere near here with anything that will remotely fit me. I’m doomed.”
I’m prone to exaggeration, yes, but this is mostly true. When you’re between an 18 and 22, you’re out of luck at most mainstream stores (not to mention many bridal salons). All the work I’ve done over the years to accept my body for its good work of showing up for me every day, of staying healthy and strong, evaporates in moments like these when I think, “If only I were thinner, this wouldn’t happen.” And then I hate myself for thinking it.
This logic model, of course, goes exactly nowhere. Conflating weight loss with happiness is a dangerous road of self-loathing, shame, unhealthy eating, and worse. Most days, I’m pretty damn good at acceptance. My friends and K confirm what I generally believe, that my body is banging. Just last night at dinner, even, my friend C appreciatively asked me to take an extra spin in the pencil skirt and secretary top I was sporting (seriously, my rear deserved its own talk show in that get up). Over the years, some folks have thanked me for being such a role model for larger women, which makes me feel a little like the Ani DiFranco line about “the thanks I get is to take all this shit for you” (incidentally, I solemnly swear to use Ani DiFranco lyrics in as many blog posts as possible).
But wedding planning has thrown a new bump in this long and, frankly, tiresome journey of self-acceptance. I’ve spent a lifetime believing, then questioning, then unlearning the messages mainstream media send flying at us. I’ve worked really hard to feel good about myself. So why am I preemptively sad at how I’ll look at my wedding? Isn’t that the exact opposite of how I should feel? Oh my god, I’m failing at being a bride. Rationally I know that it’s a myth that the perfect bride is waiflike and too excited to eat at her reception and holy hell, that’s not me. (For one thing, we’re having a clambake. Mollusks everywhere! I plan on being so excited that I slurp my share, and maybe K’s share, of those delicious bi-valves.)
So even though I’m already having a reasonably non-traditional wedding, made more non-traditional by the fact that I’m marrying a woman, my theoretical wedding outfit is giving me heartburn (truth: I’m looking at a roll of Tums in my desk drawer right now). I don’t want to wear a big ploofy white dress that could make me feel wider than I am and thus feel badly about myself. I don’t want to wear complicated underwear that makes me feel constrained and again, bad about myself. (Also, you know what you can’t do when you’re constrained? Eat clams.) I feel bad about myself enough without seven layers of tulle heaped on top.
I do want to be beautiful, radiant, the prettiest girl in the room, but I’m stuck on where to shop, what to look for, and how I’ll know what outfit is right—when the outfits aren’t even in my size. Several friends have said, “Just start shopping! Check out bridal stores, just for ideas!” I know they mean well, but it often feels like a reminder that most of those bridal salons don’t carry dresses I could wear. Even when I’m sitting right next to my future husbutch as she busily researches gender-non-conforming bespoke suits, this stuff is still around. And some small, shameful, unforgiving part of me keeps saying, “You want to be pretty? You know, you’d be so pretty if you only…”
Lo, all these years I’ve spent rejecting, abusing and ignoring this body, wishing it would change. What a waste! Those years aren’t coming back! One of my most fervent hopes for my wedding is to feel the way K sees me (on that day, and every other day, but I’m picking reasonable goals for now). I can see it now, even, how she’ll duck her head slightly and give me a little smile. And hot damn, is she going to look good in that custom-made suit. I can do this for her, so why can’t I easily do it for me? When Mary Oliver asks what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life, let my answer not be, “Wishing my body was different.”