The first time I tried on a wedding dress with my mom, I cried.
The stylist was thrilled that I'd found a dress that brought me to tears on our first visit to a bridal salon. My mom immediately offered to pay for the dress, if I liked it so much. What neither of them realized was that I wasn't crying because of the dress — it was shiny and plain and not me at all. I couldn't hold back the tears because I'd grossly underestimated how painful the dress-shopping process would be for me as a fat woman.
When my mom booked a train ticket to New York to go wedding dress shopping with me, I knew it would be a tricky experience. We don't usually see eye to eye — I ended up caving and changing my outfit for our save-the-date photos at her request — and I figured there would be disagreements about fabrics and styles.
But what I hadn't anticipated was the fact that almost nothing I tried on could be zipped up. I had no idea when we set out that day that I'd have to imagine how the dresses would look on me, once there was actually enough fabric to cover my doughy flesh. And I definitely was prepared for the stylist who kept physically grunting while attempting to clip the dresses onto me after the zippers wouldn't budge. My hips, my breasts, my stomach — every part of me was too big to squeeze into bridal samples.
My mom was only in town for a few days, but it felt like a lifetime. I quickly stopped caring about what I would wear to my wedding and focused instead on never setting foot in a bridal salon again.
A couple of years ago, a medication I was taking caused me to gain about 20 pounds. I stopped that prescription, but the pounds kept piling on afterward. Despite my doctor's lack of concern, I've always struggled to accept this bigger version of myself. I also only see my parents once or twice a year, and it broke my heart more to see my mom's worried glances at the stretch marks on my hips while I stood undressed in the bridal salon fitting rooms.
In my parents' wedding photos, my mother is slim and radiant. Her chin is defined and sharp, the way mine used to be before it disappeared into my ever-widening neck. It was hard to squeeze into the tiny bridal samples, but it was even worse to feel like I wasn't giving her the dress-shopping experience she deserved as a mom.
After what felt like forever — it was probably really only two or three days — my mom and I settled on a dress from BHLDN, Anthropologie's bridal store. I was able to squeeze into a size 14 dress they had on the floor; the stomach was tight, but at that point it didn't matter. Who cared that I couldn't lift my arms because the sleeves could barely contain my fatty biceps? It was a white dress; it zipped up; and we could finally be done with the whole process.
The BHLDN stylist took a photo of my mom and me with canned champagne they'd handed us at the store; they congratulated us on finding "the one." I didn't even take the dress out of the bag to hang in my closet at home; I put it in a corner and tried to put it out of mind.
In the following weeks, though, I grew more and more unhappy that I had a wedding dress I patently didn't like. I was angry at myself for even caring; it's one day, and the white dress is an antiquated tradition anyway.
Still, I kept thinking of a different dress I'd tried on for fun, without my mom, on a visit to Boston. It was $300, and I loved its colorful beading and tulle skirt. And it zipped up without issue. I'd showed it to my mom before we started shopping, but she deemed me "too busty" to pull it off. (I'd argued I was "too stomachy" to wear the BHLDN dress we bought, but then again, I'm probably not the best judge of how other people see me.)
Eventually, I got worked up enough that I decided to go back for the initial dress and find a way to break the news to my mom (the BHLDN dress wasn't refundable at that point). I was too late, though; it was sold out.
A few weeks later, I was on the phone with my parents and mentioned the fact that I wouldn't be able to lift my arms in the dress. (When we bought the dress, I'd made some sort of joke about doing more strength training; clearly, there was no progress on that front.) My mom said the wedding was only one day.
I went to bed defeated — but I woke up to a surprising phone call the next day. My parents had tracked down the salon where there'd been a different dress I'd secretly loved. We hadn't spent much time on it — it was above the price range my mom had set — but I'd noticed its sparkly skirt and bodice in passing while trying on more conservative dress options.
It was everything I thought I didn't want, a sweetheart neckline and a huge skirt, but I couldn't stop looking at it. And, as it turns out, my mom noticed. Feeling guilty for her "just one day" comments, she and my dad offered to buy the dress. I halfheartedly tried to stop them — it wasn't a cheap endeavor — but they placed the order that day. We were getting close to the wedding, and so the dress needed to be rush-ordered, but my parents paid the additional fees to make it happen. I was gobsmacked at their generosity ahead of the big day.
I realize that I was incredibly privileged in this scenario. I am extremely fortunate to have two well-off parents who could afford to drop a significant amount of money on a replacement wedding dress. And I'm extremely privileged to be able to say it wasn't just about the dress's cost. After a significant disagreement about my college plans several years earlier, it was the first time I felt like I could trust my parents again. They saw me. Not as someone who couldn't stop gaining weight, or as the woman who couldn't squeeze herself into a wedding dress sample. They saw me as someone who was worthy of wedding-day happiness, worthy of feeling beautiful.
And in that dress, I really did feel beautiful. I love the photos from that day, my fatty arms and double chin on full display. The wedding brought my husband and me together, but it brought me closer to my parents, too — all because I'd happened to be fat.
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