April, being awesome
The Dress with the Radishes &
Beauty in Disrobing
When I was about thirty years old, my mother called me on the phone to tell me about some clothes that my aunt had given her. “I’ve got a dress that Gail saved for you!” she boasted. “It’s your style, you know--vintage. I think it might be old. I know you’ll love it. It looks like something Marilyn Monroe would wear.”
“Sounds great!” I responded, but my inner enthusiasm was curbed. Mother was notorious for collecting beaded butterfly blouses with transparent sleeves, chunky high heel mules with clear plastic straps and wedding dresses that were three sizes too large or small. (Forgive me mom, it’s true.)
Therefore, months later, when she arrived for a routine visit with a crinkled TJ Maxx bag full of goodies, I was pleasantly surprised to find the modest halter dress, which was, as touted months ago, quite darling, though it wasn’t truly vintage. It was made of sky blue cotton, and covered in an adorable ruby radish print that was bold and quirky. It was just the sort of thing I’d wear.
I scanned it over with my eyes, estimating that it might be snug but would probably fit (that horribly, terribly disappointing thing that girls tend to do when they see a dress that they WANT to fit them so badly). Naturally, it was sleeveless, and I was already concocting plans of how I could pair it with a cardigan or something else to cover my arms (a body part that I felt terribly insecure about revealing at the time). I hung it in the closet and admired it from afar, daydreaming for a few weeks about how I would style it.
Until the day I tried it on.
It almost fit. Almost. The waist and the skirt, though they didn’t fall perfectly on my plump shape, weren’t the biggest problem. No, the real obstacle was that it wouldn’t zip. The dress was definitely NOT going to zip, any time soon. In a maddening mockery, it went halfway; maybe even 3/5 of the way up. And then, the tired little white zipper stuck, threw its hands in the air, and said “Screw this!”
At that point, I could have squatted, gnashed my teeth, and flexed--splitting the fabric in half, Incredible-Hulk-style.
Instead of doing that, I held my breath like an Elizabethan housewife. Ignoring the fact that my breasts had found new spaces in the dress to occupy (other than the chest area), I ruminated over how I might get this dress to fit. Embarrassingly, I settled on the idea of adding elastic straps to the back where the zipper wouldn’t close. Why not? I knew that I’d never wear the dress without covering my arms, so no one would be able to tell, anyhow.
I sewed a few white strips of elastic over the gap and permanently fastened the zipper where it had “given up”. I wore it more than a few handfuls of times.
Yet, every time I sported the dress , I felt badly about myself. No one could see the ramshackle trick I had used to make the garment wearable, but I could feel it, and it made me uncomfortable, as if I was living a lie.
“HEY EVERYONE!” I thought I should probably yell from the street. “I’M ACTUALLY TOO FAT TO WEAR THIS RADISH DRESS!”
I hung it in the back of the closet, with the shameful elastic pieces out of sight. Every now and then, the radish fabric would peek out from the sides of another vintage cocktail dress or pair of dress pants, mocking me. It stayed there for years.
Then, one afternoon, I took the dress off the hanger, but it wasn’t to wear it. I turned the article over and carefully pulled the elastic and stitching from the back, undoing the seams around the zipper that had held it in place. I zipped it all the way up, for the first and final time, and drove it to corner where a World Mission clothing donation box was located. I hoped that a radish print cocktail dress would be the sort of thing someone in
Kenya would wear.
I thought of this experience this last fall when I visited with my friend April (who is a brilliant dietitian and founder of Choose to Change Nutrition). April has done tremendous work in the field of eating disorders and been absolutely inspirational to me in my own quest for body image acceptance, as well as a beacon of knowledge for feeding myself properly. She also happens to exude energy and is wonderfully comfortable in her own skin.
It was late afternoon, and I was shooting her professional portraits next to an abandoned school house near the very high school that we had both graduated from, nearly twenty years prior.
One of April’s outfits was based around a black shift dress, and I showed her a few previews from the LCD screen of my camera. “I don’t like the way this dress is making me feel,” she said. “Let me take this off.”
She pulled some of her clothes out of my backseat and threw some jeans on, and much to my surprise, ripped off her shirt in broad daylight next to the road, smiling. “You know I have to photograph this, right?” I teased. “Of course!” she laughed, and smiled brilliantly. “I’m serious!” I continued. “I’m going to have to blog about this!”
Once she was dressed, we began to chat about the wardrobe change. Why, as a society, were we always inclined to blame our bodies for the discomforts or insecurities we felt (in photos or just in general)? Perhaps we should blame the clothes a little more often.
It made me ruminate over all of the times I had stood in front of the mirror in an impossible pair of stretch pants, fuming at my pooched belly. All of those awful moments I had spent in the dressing room at Target, spitting with anger over my own reflection and the terrible way that a pair of ill-fitting jeans encased my meaty thighs like Jimmy Dean sausages.
YES—why had I never blamed the clothes? Not once!? I immediately cursed my body—“You horrible, terrible vessel, you! You never look the way I want!”—when I could have easily said, “You wretched little pair of skinny jeans. FOUL, dastardly dungarees. I hate you and I will most definitely send your sinister ass to the return rack.”
It seems like a hilarious notion, but in all actuality, it’s brilliant. There is NO TIME in life for ill-fitting clothes or outfits that make you feel less than superior. Yet, there is immense energy in the articles of clothing you have that empower you, lift you up, and make you feel beautiful or comfortable. And it only takes a moment to sort between the two.
Therein lies the challenge: wade through your closets, raid your dressers. Find your radish dresses, and pack them up—throw them out! Disrobe—in the middle of the street, if you have to—but don’t allow the fabric of negativity to dissuade you from your own, true, spectacular self. Your body is the gift. Cover it in only the finest cloth.
What can you clean out of your closet today?