I stood on a pedestal in front of a well-lit mirrored wall, staring at my reflection with disgust. I saw an overweight, middle-aged woman who looked really tired. Those 12-hour work days in front of the computer and almost a year of wedding planning in my “spare” time had really taken a toll. We were nearing the wedding date and it was time for me to select a mother of the bride dress. My daughter really wanted me to wear something formal, sparkly and “fancy” and as a lover of fashion, I was of course happy to comply.
I struggled to find the right gown; most stores had either frumpy, matronly gowns or the “off to the club” variety, leaving little selection in the “simple-elegance-that-makes-me-look-like-a-super-model” category I hoped to find. I finally found a gown I wanted online and had come to this store to order it. After much discussion with the sales clerk, it seemed necessary to try on gowns of the same brand, to ensure the fit.
I lamented the fact that I never got around to losing all the weight I planned to lose for the wedding, the 20lbs I had managed to lose was not enough. Still, there I was staring at myself in the sequined, sleeveless gown listening to the words of the numerous influential figures in my life, a running dialogue in my head:
“You really need sleeves, I know you don’t want to show your arms”
“Honey you know you can’t wear a straight skirt, we need to accept what looks best on us”
“You have thunder thighs like your mama”
“You have such a pretty face, but…”
I was also hearing my own thoughts, which were not exactly encouraging either:
“You should have tried harder earlier and you would have lost the weight”
“Look at you, you are going to waddle down the aisle”
“Maybe you should just wear a plain black dress, at least you won’t be as noticeable”
“You will forever look pudgy in those wedding photos”.
“Your kids will be so embarrassed at how you look.”
It was a battle I felt I always lost. Even when I lost weight, it was never enough for me or for the owners of the voices. Worst yet would be when I was told that I “may just have to accept that I will just be big like the other women in my family” leaving me feeling angry and a little hopeless. The truth is, like all the rest of the overweight people in the world, I know better than anyone that I need to lose weight and nobody has to tell me or hint that I need to do so. Like most people, I also actually have a lot of knowledge about how to lose the weight. When it comes down to it, I know those with successful weight loss experiences have made a decision for themselves. I was struggling to make time for myself and that decision.
I was thinking about those voices, as I stood there staring at my reflection. I was sure that though the gown was a gorgeous teal color, I probably looked like a busted can of biscuits encased in sequins. The sales clerk had convinced me to try on the dress, though I was embarrassed to show my arms in a sleeveless dress and my hips in a straight skirt in front of everyone in the shop. I was so focused on those voices in my head, I was a bit startled when I realized that the clerk and customers in the store were staring at me and not because of how hideous I thought I looked.
They were actually admiring me in the dress.
One customer said: “That is gorgeous on you, you have to get that one!” she was also really good at gasping and going on about how beautiful I was, making me want to take her home with me.
I immediately said “oh no, I have to have sleeves. My arms are terrible” and “no, I can’t wear a straight skirt”.
Both the clerk and the customer looked surprised. The clerk said “oh girl, that is NOT true. Seriously, your arms are just fine and you look great in that straight fit. It’s actually really slenderizing on you. I can’t imagine why you would think that about yourself!”
I was a 49 year-old woman, clinging to the positive words of strangers. I tried on several more gowns, the customers and clerk were my cheerleaders and fashion advisors. Within an hour or so, with the encouragement of my new-found friends, I had tried on many beautiful gowns-gowns I would previously would have never considered. I finally settled on the dress that I fell in love with and had originally come to the shop to order. It had sleeves and a full skirt. The voices had won, but I did and still do love the dress.
What I discovered that day went beyond my dress shopping. Like most women, I had been listening to and believing lies for most of my life. The people who profess to love us the most can often be our worst critics. They become that negative voice in our heads that deafens the positive voices. By the way, it takes a whole lot of positive words to overcome just one negative word from someone whose opinions we value. I also recognized that while there was truth in some of the dialogue in my head (I mean, it is true that I do not have the perfect figure) there were words of advice that were unnecessary and damaging. As a result, my own thoughts had become just as damaging.
This is less about the struggle with weight loss and a whole lot about how we make people feel about themselves. About learning to love yourself. The truth is, it is okay to be less than perfect. My mind knows this, but my heart struggles. I struggle with accepting who I am with imperfections and it is a daily battle for me. I have since begun to examine my own criticisms of others. I pray my voice is not echoing out there in someone’s head, spewing negative words. I think we are all guilty of blurting out unsolicited opinions on occasion, unintentionally releasing poisonous thoughts in that person or about that person. I guess I hope we can all remember that we are all on a journey and for many of us self-love is often just out of reach. May we all speak words of affirmation and be a mirror that reflects the best in those around us.