I've picked a dress, and I know in my core that it's the right dress. When I look at pictures of it, my heart and mind start racing because I can finally picture myself on my wedding day. When I think about my dress, I want to visit etsy right now in my search for perfect handmade accessories. A month after the dress arrived in the mail and a week after I made my final decision, I'm still filled with a calm sense of joy and right-ness about this dress and our wedding. And yet, despite all my clarity, I very nearly sent the dress back to the store in a fit of self-esteem despondency.
This wedding planning process leaves me on a razor's edge of sanity. Most of the time, I'm excited by the love, fun, and sheer wonder of finding this partnership. Some of the time, I'm ready to clock anyone who looks at me wrong or dares to raise a question about the uniqueness of our plans. And all of the time, I'm worried that something will set of a swift descent into self-esteem hell, oftentimes triggered by something as small as a photograph.
When all of my department store dresses started arriving in the mail, it was like Christmas. Just as white, slightly less sparkly, and all sorts of joy that arrived in boxes. If receiving the dresses felt like Christmas, trying them on felt like winning the lottery. Except for one dress, all of them were incredible. All of them were twirl-worthy. I loved each and every one of them and spent a good two hours trying on the options (there were four dresses so I certainly didn't need two hours to try them on), looking at them different mirrors, preening and prancing throughout the apartment. I looked and felt amazing. I felt right in each dress I tried on. I felt utterly conflicted by having to choose between so many incredible options and neither Jason, my mother, or a girlfriend were of any help (everyone had a different opinion about which dress was best, but everyone legitimately loved them all.)
In under a week, I went from zero dress options and budget hatred to four perfect dress options and budget high-fives for my thrifty genius. It created a whole different sort of dress stress. I got greedy. I wanted them all. I didn't want to choose. I knew a ceremony/reception dress change didn't make sense for me (or these particular dresses.) I knew I had to make a decision, and I figured natural light photos would help me see the dresses more objectively than my befuddled mirror joy. And because I know I generally hate myself in photos, I asked a talented girlfriend to take photos with her fancy camera in morning light.
Unfortunately, neither her talent nor her fancy camera were a match for my effed up sense of self esteem. Those photos you all loved of my in the ruffly dress from the Limited? Yeah, I cried about how terrible I looked. I cried about how terrible I looked in all the dresses... but only when I saw the actual photos. While we were taking photos, I was full of mimosa-and-wedding-dress-fueled fun and I felt spectacular. But the moment I saw myself in photos was the moment that I remembered I didn't look like them. You know, the pretty brides who grace the pages of every magazine and blog. In contrast to their beauty, my photos were a stark reminder that a great dress won't suddenly give me amazing bone structure and can't transform my normal-nice features and poor posture into the model-worthy prettiness I've subconsciously started to associate with brides. It was a sad shock to realize that I just looked like me in a really amazing set of dresses.
I wish I could snap my fingers and finally move completely beyond my years of appearance-related insecurities, but my process hasn't worked that way. And weddings have been a really awful trigger for my insecurities. Weddings and the perfect pictures of models and beautiful weddings eat away at my years of therapy and Weight Watchers and hard-earned and constantly relearned self-love. Weddings send me back to teenage and early 20s levels of insecurity. Weddings remind me of every horrid facebook picture I've ever had to untag and all those that I hate but that I kept linked anyhow.
Actually, I should clarify, because weddings aren't the issue. Wedding photos are the issue. Even when I know better. And even when I work hard every day to focus on feeling healthy instead of chasing impossible media-related ideals of attractiveness. After health problems forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, I feel freaking great. I try to put healthy food into my body and I (sometimes) get in reasonable levels of exercise. And then I see a photo of myself and I panic. Or I see a photo of someone else's "perfect" wedding and I collapse into a puddle of appearance-related self-doubt.
I've already committed to Lyn's pledge to stop trying to look great and start trying to feel great (and forgiving ourselves for the occasional chocolate). But if I'm going to survive the next few months with my self-esteem intact, I need more. I need a plan. I'm scheduling in time for workout classes at the gym because, even if they're a pain in the bum, I feel better afterwards. I'm putting them in outlook because I already know that my health schedule tends to take lower priority than work, volunteering, writing, or friends. I'm going to start treating myself nicely, the way I expect other people to treat me but that I don't expect from myself. I'm going to practice finding things I like about my reflection every morning, even if I don't believe it (yet.) I'm going to find $45 to treat myself to a massage and get rid of the horrid stressed-out knots in my shoulders. I'm going to find a bit of play money to keep buying the organic L'uvalla skincare products that I won in a giveaway from Your Daily Thread and that have cleared up my skin. I am going to treat myself well and seek out healthy foods, activities, and environments that help keep me even keeled and healthy feeling. Even if they feel like splurges of my time or money. And maybe especially if they feel like splurges, so long as I can properly savor them.
And pretty blogs are out. As of today, I'm refusing to look at any photo recaps from non-friends' weddings or non-idolized photographers.* Because comparing myself to these photos nearly cost me feeling good in my wedding dress and I'm tired of letting other peoples' wedding photos eff with my self-esteem. I'm better than that. I'm freaking awesome and I have a freaking awesome dress to match. Really, it makes me feel more elegant and pretty and special than I've ever felt in any dress I've ever owned. It's my dress. It makes me feel, and therefore look amazing. (And no, it doesn't work the other way around.) And now I'm going to treat myself the way that freaking amazing people deserve to be treated: with respect, self-respect, and forgiveness for the occasional chocolate.
*my favorite photographers don't limit their blogs to traditionally attractive couples (like some of the most popular photographers do). Instead, they find transformative beauty in everyday couples' wedding joy.