via Ban.do, a store which I actually love quite a bit. Just not this style
Overall, it was a bit of a shock. I stay current with pop culture. I've taken a real interest in fashion-as-art and as-expression over the last few years. I can talk the cool crowd talk, even if I'm not really one of them. But I felt so immediately not-cool here, possibly because it finally hit me that I'm too old and focused on my career and everyday life to ever really aim for this marketable idea of cool ever again. And possibly because I've never been in a place with so many closet-stuffed-with-American-Apparel folks in my entire life (and that's a body type and world I just don't understand.)
However, even more than the hair flowers and American Apparel, it was their seeming confidence that really hit me, especially the young women. As they wandered through the festival in their swimsuit/bra/barely covered up getups, overly slouchy shirts, super short dresses, strapless romper things, and other barely-there items of clothing, I marveled at their self confidence** and ability to simply be. Because I never had that, at their age. When I was that age, these were the kids I envied from behind my slightly overweight, glasses-wearing, nerdy shell. I couldn't ever marvel then, because I was so eaten up with the wanting and with the simultaneous attempt to justify that false beauty/brains dichotomy by telling myself "well, at least I'm smart."
At this point in my life, I'm lucky enough to have worked through that envy and anger. I even have some of that confidence now. But I realize that my self confidence in my physicality is hard-earned; it's a result of years of therapy, years of health scares and my consequent focus on health over weight, and years of practice. And accordingly, my self confidence is different than theirs. It's more tenuous and prone to crumbling when I miss the gym for a few weeks. It wobbles when I feel like I'm struggling at work. And it's hanging on by a thread now, with all of these darn wedding pressures and "inspiration" getting shoved in my face every darn week. Because my self confidence isn't easy. It isn't the sort where I would ever dance around in a short skirt: I know too much about the way the world perceives my thighs and I've learned enough from What Not to Wear and by studying classic styles and body types to chose something more flattering to my particular body tupe and therefore confidence boosting.
These girls are both setting and consuming popular fashion, but I know enough to know that it doesn't work for me. And yet, they are the same girls somehow setting undertones of wedding fashion trends. And their supposedly easy confidence is the same confidence we're supposed to so effortlessly project on our wedding days, in which the wrong sort of prescribed bridal beauty (to my mind) is held up as our cultural wedding ideal. It's the sort of beauty that requires a certain body and a lot of expense and attention paid to looking Pretty, however you may define that Pretty (romantic, traditional, indie, hippie, whatever). Our celebrated versions of need-a-thousand-products-to-attain-it Pretty leave me cold with respect to the real beauty inherent in a wedding, and yet here I am yearning for something I'm not, all over again. The wedding is forcing me to run smack up against my teenage self and her anxieties about not fitting in. And I want to be effortlessly confident this time around, because damnit, I've earned this life and this sense of self. But I'm smart enough now to know that "effortless beauty" is crap and that I don't look good in giant floral headbands.
But the question of honest beauty is harder to find these days. And it's even harder to hold onto when I catch glimpses of it. In learning to embrace my physicality, I learned to accept those things that are different from the standard definitions of attractive. I'm pale. I have big thighs and a pear-shaped figure. My eyes are small-ish. I know this because I can still remember the junior high taunting and cruelty about those very features, and because I worked my hardest to teach myself to love these previously maligned aspects of my body. And so now, these aren't issues anymore, they're just me. I play up my rosy complexion and forget about tanning. I choose clothing to highlight my upper body and rarely wear short skirts or light-colored pants. I focus on stronger features like my nose and lips. This is unabashedly me, and I've learned that I am beautiful when I own my imperfections and my strengths alike.
And that's what I'm trying to hold onto with the wedding. And that's why all of these questions about Bridal Pretty are so emotionally exhausting. Because I want to be honest - I really do - but I intimately know myself. And I'm going to shell out money for well-done fake eyelashes (individuals, not strips) because my eyes are small and I'm compensating for that. I've come to the conclusion that I'm willing to shell out lots of money for great hair and makeup, because I just don't want to deal with my junior high crap on the wedding day and I'd prefer my beauty routine to actually be effortless on my part and to feel assuredly pretty. And I will choose a makeup artist who doesn't slather it on and instead respects my strong features. I've made my peace with the eyelashes because to me it's the same thing as wearing a belt to emphasize my waist (smaller!) over my thighs (not.) And I've made my peace with finding and paying for a respectful makeup artist, because I just don't want to expend any more emotional effort crashing into previous insecurities. I've drawn my personal lines in the sand about my bridal beauty routines, and I've been surprised to see them closer to expensive and "expected" than I would have anticipated six months ago. But it has nothing to do with a lack of self confidence or insecurity, because I'm not insecure with who I am today or how she's going to be perceived at my wedding. My self confidence is hard earned and so are my dollars, and putting my dollars towards maintaining a semblance of sanity with this wedding stuff is so worth it to me. I just don't want to deal with thinking about it anymore or worrying about whether my nearly-there makeup abilities will do justice to the woman I am. Because I have to save my energy for the other, more important, wedding questions and negotiations that affect Us. And towards the next Bridal Pretty battle for authenticity known as wedding dress shopping.
*obviously, there were adults at the festival too. But you could generally tell us apart by our more sensible sandals, large bags packed with sunscreen and eveningtime sweaters, and the fact that we weren't all silly enough to be drunk/high in the dessert heat by 2pm. D*mn, they made me feel fuddy-duddy old.
**I'm aware that many of these girls may struggle with real intrinsic confidence issues and feel the need to be performative and sexualized in order to garner any attention. But that's not the point of today's post. Let's just assume they all really know how amazing they look and that they hopefully have self-respect built on their personhood and their looks, for the sake of this post.