Gown Hunt: Plus-Size Edition

So, as you may have already seen, I said “Yes!” to my wedding dress a couple of weeks ago. In fact, it was the very first major wedding decision that I made, go figure! One thing to immediately check off the Wedding To-Do list, hehe.

Now, I know that for many people, buying your dress before you even have your venue or date solidified is a little bit crazypants, and I didn’t necessarily intend to have my decision made so early on, but that being said, it wasn’t a quick decision either. It took visiting quite a few different salon visits and trying on just a few different dresses before I made my decision, so I’m glad I got started early.

Now, for those of you who may be hoping for a fairytale story all about how I tried on The Dress, knew immediately, cried, and it was all over, I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not exactly how it went for me. I mean, I did find The Dress, and there were tears (eventually), but it didn’t exactly go down the way you see it on TV.

I was actually pretty anxious about the dress-buying process, due to a combination of my love of designer wedding dresses and the fact that I am most definitely NOT a sample size. See, unless you’re shopping exclusively at big box stores like Kleinfeld’s or David’s Bridal (or at a salon that specializes in plus-size gowns), sample sizes dresses are what you have to work with. And for those of us ladies with a little more to love, the wedding dress samples in bridal salons will almost certainly NOT be your size.

Allow me to elaborate for those of you who might not be familiar with the process. Bridal salons usually own dresses in one size, and that size is usually a “wedding” size 10 or 12. Which, in real life, equals about a street size 6 or 8. (How cruel is that, by the way? C’mon, wedding industry! How about a little vanity sizing, eh?)

Soooo, what this means is that if you’re smaller than the sample size, when you try on a dress, your consultant will use clamps and pins to pull in the dress to make it fit closer to your body.

And for someone on the other side, when the sample is too small, the salon will use clamps and pins to clip the dress to your bra, or use other means of securing it, since it won’t be able to zip up all the way.

But what did this mean for someone who is a size 16, like me? Well, it meant that I was admittedly pretty nervous going into the whole dress shopping experience, that’s what. After all, what if I would be physically unable to try on the dresses I liked? You hear horror stories about plus-sized brides going dress shopping and having to do things like hold the dress up in front of them to “get an idea,” since they can’t actually put it on. I was definitely not excited about that prospect.

Complicating things further was the fact that I knew dress shopping wouldn’t exactly be a “classic” experience for me. You know, the kind that you see on SYTTD, where you go in and tell the consultant some things you like, and they pull dresses for you. Stuff like, “I like lace, I don’t like beading, I’m open to a mermaid-style silhouette,” and all that.

But I’ve spent so much time reading blogs, watching TLC, and generally being a crazyperson, that I already knew specifically which dresses I wanted to try — Hayley Paige Dori, Lazaro 3450, Jim Hjlem 8500, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, and so on. So I actually chose bridal salons to visit based on whether or not they carried those gowns (most salons list what designers they carry on their website, so I just called to ask if they had those specific gowns.) Which also meant that I wasn’t able to simply go to a plus-sized bridal atelier to find my gown, because the two that are in this area don’t carry the dresses that I wanted to see.

Anyway, knowing that I loved certain gowns but being unsure as to whether or not I’d actually be able to try them on, one of the first things that I did was make an impromptu solo visit to David’s Bridal (where the above photos were taken as well.) I wanted to be able to try on some different shapes and silhouettes, since they do carry most of their dresses in larger sizes (and they also go by normal sizing there — I tried on dresses that were primarily sizes 14 – 18.)

While I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, this appointment definitely confirmed the silhouettes I liked (A-line and ballgown):

Versus those that, well, just were simply not as flattering (pretty much anything else, haha):

None of the DB dresses I tried ended up being “the One,” (the Melissa Sweet in the upper left corner of the first collage was the one I liked best), and even if I had fallen in love that day, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to commit without first being able to see the other dresses that I already had in mind. So, armed with some knowledge of how different shapes looked on my body, and a lot of hope, I made my bridal salon appointments.

And, lo and behold… the dresses fit!

Lazaro 3450

Sort of!

This Lazaro blew my mind with its ombre skirt, but was reeeeeeally far outside of my budget, womp womp.

I mean, obviously they didn’t fit. But, amazing, miraculously, astonishingly, I was able to get on every dress I had my eye on — with a bit of finagling, of course. They were barely able to zip up at all, so the bodices were basically left totally open in the back and all had to be pinned/clamped on. But! I was able to get a real idea of how the dresses would look… with just a little of imagination needed to reassure my mom that my boobs will (hopefully) not be spilling out of my dress once it’s in my size. Heh.

Now, I do think that it just happened to be good fortune that the silhouette I loved was also the easiest for me to try on (since the size of my hips/butt doesn’t really matter with ballgowns), but if I had been looking for a more fitted style, I would probably have been SOL.

Anyway, from there on out, it was basically just a matter of trying on the, um, not small number of dresses that I had my greedy eyes on, hahaha.

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3108, Hayley Paige Londyn, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, Hayley Paige Dori (white), Jim Hjelm 8500, Hayley Paige Dori (alabaster)

And I did also try on additional dresses that the consultants recommended, some of which I also really liked:

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3018, Watters Carina bodice and Ahsan skirt, Hayley Paige Lennon (omg this sample was so small), Lazaro 3100

So yeah, as if I hadn’t been annoying enough throughout the dress-buying process, as it turned out, I basically loved every single dress I tried on. Oops. So trying on dresses turned out to be more like a process of elimination rather than a “This is the one!” kind of experience.

I was able to say goodbye to some because they were too expensive (the easiest way to eliminate options, haha), some because they didn’t feel quite “bridal” enough (though I still looooved the gowns), and some just didn’t have quite the “unique” factor that I was looking for. And eventually I narrowed down my choices to just two dresses!

I actually ended up trying on both of my final contenders multiple times because I was so enamoured with them both, and had a pretty difficult time deciding between the two of them because they were so different. Which, I know, sounds super cliche, but it’s true! They have totally different aesthetics and general feel, even if the silhouette is similar.

We did do our own little version of “jacking me up” (as Monty from SYTTD Atlanta puts it, haha), with the whole veil/belt/hairpiece reveal and, I am happy to report, that I did finally have my tearful reaction (hooray!) to one dress in particular. But I was still torn because while I did have that visceral reaction to one dress, I kept thinking that the other dress was more in-keeping with the overall theme and vision for the wedding.

So I left the final bridal appointment having decided not to decide just yet. I wanted to take the weekend to think about it, and I’m definitely glad that I did because…

… as you probably already suspected, eventually a decision was made! Turns out that over the weekend, I couldn’t get one dress out of my mind (the one I ended up crying for), and I knew that was probably a pretty good sign. So, I headed back to the salon and officially made my purchase!

I won’t be revealing my dress here on the blog on the off-chance that Sean suddenly decides to start reading here (he doesn’t normally follow my blog, but you never know…), but I will share with you what the runner-up was:

Hayley Paige Josie

The Hayley Paige Josie was in close, close contention for being my wedding dress, due to it’s incredible fully beaded bodice (these pictures really don’t do it justice) and beautiful color (it comes in both white and moonstone.) I also thought it had a really glamorous feel, which fit very well with the overall wedding vibe I was thinking of.

Ultimately, though, I decided that this dress had so much wow-factor, it was almost overwhelming. I also thought it would be harder to accessorize with, since the bodice of the dress is already so blingy. And when it came down to it, the dress I chose just felt entirely more “me,” which definitely makes it feel like the right choice.

So, I put my deposit down and couldn’t be happier with my decision! The agonizing part now is going to be waiting for it to come in! Designer dresses can take anywhere from three to six months to come in, and then have another month or two of alterations after that. Whew!

It does bear mentioning that I had to pay a “size surcharge” on top of the cost of the dress, which, let me tell you, didn’t feel super great. Apparently with Hayley Paige any dress over a bridal size 18 come with an extra fee. Which, I gotta say, does kind of feel like BS to me, because you could be a street size 10 or 12 and still have to order a bridal size 18 depending on your measurements.

See, to be safe, wedding dresses are usually ordered based on the size that matches your largest measurement (since it is infinitely easier to take in a dress over letting it out.) Actually, that was a bit of a dilemma in and of itself, because my hips measured several sizes above my waist, but the consultant said that it should be fine to order the dress based on the smaller size because of the silhouette. Anyway, what’s done is done with regard to paying the fat tax surcharge, and I’m still happy with my choice. It just wasn’t the most self-esteem boosting part of the experience, haha.

So there you have it! My “I Found the Gown” experience from beginning to end. Well, from beginning until I get it in my hands, and then the alterations process can begin, haha. Hopefully, I was able to accurately portray my gown shopping experience. There aren’t a ton of resources out there on what dress shopping is like for a plus-size bride in general, let alone for someone who has as, ahem, particular tastes as me, so I’m hoping this will be a helpful accounting for at least one other person out there? And if not, at least I got to post a lot of pictures of gorgeous dresses, so that’s fun. 😛

What was your gown shopping experience like? And what did your wedding dress look like?

Beauty, Confidence, and the Concept of Being “Brave”

Tess Holliday has been rocking headlines over the past week when she was announced to be the newest model signed to MiLK Model Management’s roster. At 5’5″ and a size-22, she is (by her own admission) essentially the biggest plus-size model ever to be signed to a major agency, an amazing feat in and of itself.

I’ve followed Tess (known also by her birth name, Tess Munster) on Instagram for quite a while, always admiring her for, yes, her insane beauty and ALWAYS on-point eyebrows, but also for being such a fierce and admirable woman. She is the creator of #effyourbodystandards, a social media movement that preaches and promotes self-love, body-positivity, and acceptance regardless of size.

 
Now, it probably comes as no surprise (sadly) that Tess gets lobbed a lot of hatred and judgment on her IG account. I’d say about two-thirds of her negative comments seem to come from ignorant jerks (via such meaningful and eloquent comments as “Ew!” or “Fatass!” or, best of all, tagging their friends with a couple of laughing emojis), and the rest come from concerned citizens of the interwebs (“She’s beautiful, but you have to wonder if she’s healthy?” or “Her confidence is admirable, but promoting obesity is just as bad as being too thin!”).

Now, I don’t really feel like traipsing down the rabbit hole with regard to the idea of Tess “promoting obesity” because I honestly think that it’s flat-out ridiculous. The fact that Tess exists at her current size in no way means she is promoting or glorifying having a fat body. She’s just Tess. This is not about obesity glorification or the promotion of unhealthy habits. This isn’t even a discussion about Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size or anything like that. It’s about accepting yourself in general, and I do firmly feel that Tess is a real champion in the body love and self-acceptance sphere.

Of course, haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, so it’s a good thing that Tess is also a champion of shrugging of them haterz. And even if she wasn’t, she has more than enough loyal fans willing to jump into the fray on her behalf.

Besides, while hateful comments do always seem to find their way onto her posts, the majority of comments are ones of adoration and admiration. There are even quite a few heartwarming stories of the self-acceptance that Tess has inspired in her fans. Which are my favorite ones to read, of course. It’s really wonderful to see how Tess has helped others take steps away from self-hatred and towards self-acceptance.

But, alas, just like the negative comments come in various forms, comments telling tales of self-discovery and acceptance are not the only kind of “positive” comments that I see. No, the one I feel like I see more and more often on Tess’s photos, or on the photos of the many other strong and beautiful plus-sized women that I follow, and even occasionally on my own photos, look a little more like this:

“Your confidence is incredible! You go, girl!”

“You’re so pretty! I wish I had your confidence!”

“Damn girl, work it! Confidence is sexy!”

And it’s these comments that never really sit that well with me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment being shared here. I know that these comments are well-intentioned and, in fact, accurate. Tess is confident, and confidence is sexy. Tess is a very beautiful woman who has no reason not to be confident in her beauty… other than, according to society, the fact that she is fat.

Because people don’t say, “OMG! You’re so confident and inspiring!” to folks who aren’t fat. They don’t say it to your average straight-sized model, or to someone who doesn’t have some kind of obstacle in front of their beauty — whether it be their weight, a scar, an amputated limb, whatever. You don’t say, “I wish I had your confidence!” to someone who has no reason not to be confident. To someone whose beauty you have no reason to question.

It all reminds me of this quote from the ineffably wonderful Mindy Kaling:

It’s the same when people say, “You’re so brave!” I’ve gotten that one, too. Like, really, I’m brave for putting a picture of myself on Instagram? I’m pretty sure that impulse stems out of my personal vanity, not some drawer full of bravery that I have on reserve.

I mean, jumping in front of a car to push someone out of the way is brave.

Standing up for someone being bullied is brave.

Going to teach children in Ghana or build houses in Chile or rehabilitate Russian sex workers is brave.

Having the strength to leave an abusive relationship is brave.

But just, I dunno, living my life at an above-average weight? Not being ashamed of myself because I’m not conventionally thin? Really, that’s what is considered brave? Oookay.

Now, sure, for Tess, maybe it is a little bit brave. But only because she knows that every time she posts a photo of herself online, she’s going to experience so much negativity for it. So it’s not the actual act of putting herself out there that is brave, it’s doing so in our current fat-shaming culture. I know that if I were in her shoes and received the kind of crazy, in-your-face, outspoken hatred that she receives on a daily basis, I imagine it would take a heckuva lot of bravery for me to keep doing what I was doing too.

I don’t think that the general standards of what is considered “beautiful” are really going to change anytime soon. Take a look at Greatist’s article about how the standards of beauty with regard to body shape have changed over the past century to see what I’m talking about. Even with the variations in the cultural norms of the time, there’s not THAT much of a difference in what’s “ideal” — it’s still best to be slim, to be tall, to be white.

But, that being said, I do think that other aspects of our societal attitude towards beauty is starting to shift. It’s becoming more and more acceptable to, well, accept yourself, even if you’re not that perfect size 6. We’re starting — just starting — to put more of an emphasis on how you feel about yourself than how you look to others. On loving yourself, whether you consider yourself a work in-progress or totally happy as-is. And even though there are tons of hateful people and “concerned” citizens and inflated egos that might be working against her, I think that Tess Holliday is helping to tip the scale in the direction of love.

Fat Acceptance

Hold onto your hats folks, it’s about to get real deep up in here. You know, because we haven’t already had enough heavy this week, hahaha. Let’s just call today… Thoughtful Thursday, shall we? After all, we already know how much I love alliteration.

Yesterday I came across a Facebook post that a few of my friends had shared. You can click through to see the original image included in the post, but since it’s potentially NSFW, I won’t re-post it here. It’s a picture of plus-sized model Tara Lynn, nude (though with all her ladybits covered, of course), and the text below was this:

A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

“Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.
They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.
They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on CDs. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?
They would have no sex life and could not bear children.
Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.
And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn’t enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.
We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.
Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: “How amazing am I?!”

I found myself in a bit of an internal debate after reading through all of that. As someone who has been overweight for the entirety of her adult life, I can sympathize with the thought that you shouldn’t have to be pressured into losing weight solely for the sake of being “thin.” After all, it’s that exact motivator that drove me into disordered eating and depression, and contributed to my obesity far more than it helped. There are so many pressures out there, inadvertent or not, that point us to the conclusion that success is marked by being model-sized: actresses, advertisements, and, of course, actual models. We all feel the pressure to be thin.

Naturally, out of any sort of oppression, even the emotional kind, rebellion is born. Enter the fat acceptance movement. It’s an effort to stop discrimination against and increase acceptance of, well, “fat people.” I am obviously, 100% in favor of stopping any kind of discriminatory practices that occur simply because of one’s pants size (which can include anything from bullying to actual job discrimination), but I find myself torn overall. I may get a lot of hate for even bringing this topic up, but I have to admit that I worry about the potential for people to use terms like “fat power” as a means of justifying an unhealthy lifestyle. I know that there are legitimate activists fighting for equality, which is awesome. But there will always be someone looking for a way to tie it into their own agenda, too.

Even within this movement, it seems there is dissension as to what is really being fought for. Some people really do honestly just seem to be fighting against discrimination. Some people are trying to find a way to see past the “versus” mentality of body size (fat vs. skinny, big vs. large, etc.) and both of those goals are fantastic. But some people use the excuse of “fat liberation” as a platform for supporting their poor habits. They make it seem mutually exclusive: if you accept yourself as the “whale” you are, you’ll be happy but you have to stay that way! Strive to be a “mermaid” and you’ll be miserable (and smell like fish! Hahaha.)

You don’t need to sacrifice a high quality of life in order to lose weight. I think that I’m living proof of that! No one should be able to use their life (“I have kids!” “I have a job!” “I volunteer!” “I commute 2 hours!”) as an excuse to stay, well, fat. Theodora and Katy have recently written posts that touch on that very point, in fact.

There’s not much of a debate anymore over the fact that obesity does put you at a higher risk for health complications. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: skinny people can get diabetes just like non-smokers can get lung cancer and people with a BMI over 30 can live to be 100. But them’s the facts. And while I can accept arguments questioning the validity of things like the BMI system as a way to determine whether someone is at an “appropriate” weight, I’ve been on the larger side of the spectrum and I simply can’t accept the idea that if you’re truly obese, you can still be healthy. Happy, maybe (I wasn’t), but not healthy.


Source: 1, 2

It’s a hard line to tow. Of course I want society to continue working on embracing the concept that beauty is not one-size-fits-all (and especially not a size 2!) and I think that models like Crystal Renn, and actresses like Christina Hendricks are helping dispel that myth (obviously, neither of these women are what I would consider “fat” in the slightest, but they aren’t stick figures either and that’s my point.) Magazines like Glamour have started featuring full-figured models on a more regular basis (though infrequently enough that they’re still somewhat of a novelty at this point in time) and shows like Drop Dead Diva and Mike & Molly even have plus-sized stars. But for me, having “seen the light” in terms of my overall health and happiness now versus when I was obese myself, I also don’t want people to become complacent just because they have an excuse to. I absolutely believe that everyone should accept themselves and love their body no matter what they weigh. But that being said, I don’t want anyone to think that self-acceptance means having to stay unhealthy. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you can’t still want to better yourself.

The passage I quoted above bothers me because it glorifies being overweight. I know that at this point it probably seems like I’m waffling, and it’s true. I do keep going back and forth. I don’t want people to disregard their health in the name of “self-acceptance”, but I don’t want anyone to feel the infinite self-loathing that I did just because of how they look or how much they weigh. For being “fat”. We can call it any number of things — curvy, voluptuous, zaftig, rubenesque — but after a certain point, it’s tiring to come up with new synonyms. I’m starting to finally make peace with the word: fat. I was fat. And then I took steps to try to change that, not for the sole sake of being thin, but to embrace health. And I’ve also made peace with the fact that “healthy” for me will probably never include being a size 4. But that doesn’t mean that it has to include being a size 20, either.

I know that fat acceptance and fat glorification really are two different things. But not everyone is always going to think of them differently. For some people, the lines will blur. And it’s at the point when we think there is justification for our actions that we stop trying to change.

I don’t ever want to stop trying.

What are your thoughts on the ideas of fat acceptance and (versus?) fat glorification?

Please do let me know, by the way, if any of the thoughts I put forth in this post are worded in a way that is either offensive or unclear. If it’s the former, know that is absolutely not my intention, and if it’s the latter, well, it is ME after all. We can only expect so much. 😉