Back in August I went away for a 40th birthday weekend with my best friend and I put this dress on and went to dinner. We had a great night. I was 30 pounds heavier then. And I was happy. I felt a light inside.
I got home from that trip and I wrote a blog post about wearing this dress. That post went viral and opened the door to what I now consider to be my burgeoning career. And I didn’t look or feel the way I do in this same dress today.
In August, I was struggling to believe I was beautiful. I wanted to say that if I could wear the dress the way I felt in it, if I could believe I was beautiful, then anyone could. My message of positivity was shared by thousands of people. My light was shining.
Then, specifics aside, in October I learned that I was living in a lie and didn’t know it. For a long time. And things that no woman should ever have to hear were said to me, by someone I loved. So much.
I heard things that I’ll never be able to un-hear. Things that made me realize why I was struggling to believe I was beautiful in the first place. Things that made me realize why I was having a hard time loving myself. Things I’m left with now to rattle around inside my brain. But there’s still a brightness.
I look the way I do in the dress now because of a broken heart. And that’s okay. I mean, I choose to believe that it’s going to be okay. As hurt as I am, I still have happiness. My mind and body and heart are healing. And I’m thankful for that.
NOW I KNOW that it’s never been about my body anyway. I don’t think the first post was about my body and I don’t think that this post is about my body.
I think it’s all been about spirit. It’s all been about strength and self-love and the struggle to save myself. From myself and from others. From outside forces. To preserve that little flicker of light that I’ve never let go out. A constant promise that’s always lived in me to stay bright inside to survive. As bad as things have gotten in my life and as hard as things may get for me, I know that the dark is no place for me to live. And I will keep this light on to lead me out.
This is my daughter Olivia brushing her friend Ellie’s hair. I took this photo when my family was visiting my best friend Nichole’s family last spring. Ellie is Nichole’s daughter. The girls didn’t know it at the time, and they still don’t, but it was the weekend they became best friends.
It was Saturday morning and I’d slept in the kids’ room with all 4 kids in case mine woke up during the night. The kids got up early and headed downstairs to play. I heard some husband voices down there, so I continued to doze, a little wine soaked from the night before. A while later I woke up to the sound of the girls chatting in Nichole’s large closet, attached to the kid’s bedroom. The door was cracked enough so I could see Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair. I quickly got out of bed and crept in to snap a few pictures before they could protest.
A little background. Nichole and I come from a long line of best friends. Our grandmothers were neighbors and close friends, so our fathers had always been close. When Nichole was born 6 months after me, our best friend destiny was sealed. That was 40 years ago.
Now, the 5-hour distance between my Long Island home and Nichole’s Syracuse home makes it difficult for us to get together as much as we’d like. We had a great weekend with them and our kids cried when it was time to say goodbye. On the car ride back to Long Island, going through the photos on my phone, I came across the hair brushing pictures. All bleary-eyed and probably recovering from the night before, I’d forgotten I took those.
An Instagram fan, I quickly added a few filters to it and posted it to my FB page. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I looked at the picture again and got chills, suddenly remembering the last time Nichole had brushed my hair. The morning after my brother died. The day she became my sister.
It was July 8, 1993. She and I were 16. My brother J.P. had died suddenly the day before from cardiac arrest following a bout of heatstroke. He was 19. Nichole slept in my bed with me and woke up next to me with the confirmation that the day before hadn’t been a nightmare like I hoped. That morning I went to the funeral home with my parents, somehow thinking they could use my support. I didn’t last long and I ended up on the front steps of the funeral home in the hot summer sun waiting for my aunt to pick me up.
Getting back to the house, Nichole was still there. I played Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd on repeat because my brother used to play it. I sat on the floor dazed and she sat behind me and brushed my long brown hair while the music blared. Because the days that followed were such a blur, I hadn’t thought of that moment in 24 years. What seemed like a small gesture at the time now reveals itself to me as the moment she stepped into her rightful role as my heart’s mender and still now, my heart’s protector.
I’m not writing this to rehash the feelings of that awful time. I’m writing this because when I looked back at the picture of Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair, it struck me that what Nichole and I share, our girls have begun to share. It was a strange and beautiful feeling. They’re 10 and 7. Their 3-year age difference was palpable until that weekend when I took this picture and they became inseparable.
I remembered Nichole’s grandmother telling me stories about my own grandmother. I wondered how many times they’d laughed together or consoled each other or stood together in front of a mirror while they prepared for a night out with our grandfathers. I wondered if they’d had any idea that something as simple as their friendship would become so much more for Nichole and I and now for our kids. I wonder how happy they’d be to see their granddaughters and their great granddaughters sharing the same bond they shared almost 80 years earlier.
This picture is the culmination of 40 years of laughter, tears, firsts, lasts, fights, failures and triumphs I shared with Nichole. I realized our daughters will have that together now. That’s the legacy we’ve passed on to them.
When I look back at the picture of Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair, I hope one day our girls will realize that they’re so much more than “fourth generation besties”. I hope they’ll understand that sometimes the best kind of family is the kind you find outside your bloodlines. It’s the family that somehow becomes your family through the opening and rending of your hearts and the experience of shared joy. It’s the family we make for ourselves.
This is me in a dress I have no business wearing. It’s not the first time I’ve worn it and it won’t be the last time. I know it’s not flattering but I don’t want you to say, “OMG, YOU LOOK GREAT!” I don’t want you to say, “GOOD FOR YOU!” I want you to know why I’m wearing a dress I have no business wearing.
I took this picture two days ago. I was one and a half proseccos deep during a girl’s weekend with my best friend and we were on our way to a nice dinner. Someone could say that I look a little pregnant in it, because of, you know, that part sticking out in the front. I do look a little pregnant. That’s fine. Once upon a time I grew two babies in that part sticking out in the front, but I assure you, now it’s just where I keep my cheeseburgers and sauvignon blanc.
I bought this dress for a trip my husband and I took in July. When I tried it on I knew the dress wasn’t made for my 5’2″ body, 160 lb. body, but I felt great in it. I don’t know why. I just did. I’m not known to wear form-fitting clothes. At all. But I wanted it, so I bought it. And I was proud of myself for it.
The truth is, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been, other than when I was pregnant. Another truth is that I’ve always struggled with my weight and if you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you know it’s not a physical struggle. It’s about how you see yourself and how you speak to yourself in your mind. After 40 years of telling myself I have no business wearing things I want to wear, I’ve decided to change the subject. I’ve decided to start being kind to myself.
I’m a work from home mom. I make my own schedule. I could spend 2 hours a day at the gym if I wanted to. I could run from here to Manhattan and back if I set my mind to it. The thing is, my mind is elsewhere. Right now I’m in the business of keeping my shit together. I’m in the business of raising loving children. I’m in the business of maintaining healthy friendships. I’m in the business of having a happy marriage.
For 40 years I’ve stood in the mirror and compared how I look to how I THINK I should look. And it’s exhausting. Now, in an ugly world where I have so many other, more important things to worry about, I’m hitting that red decline button when the self-doubt calls start pouring it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to be in the business of loving myself. It’s as simple as that.
I’m not saying I’m giving up. I’ll still try to get healthy, here and there. I’m just taking a break from beating myself up. I’m muting the negative things I say to myself, because as it turns out, I care way more about my own comments than anyone else’s.
So here’s the thing. If I can put on a dress I have no business wearing to go out with my husband or to go to a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant with my best friend because it makes me feel good, you can too. And if I’m putting this picture on my Facebook page for 15,000 people to see, well then you can certainly wear a dress you have no business wearing to a BBQ this weekend. If the hard part is talking yourself into it, tell yourself life’s too short to worry about things you have no business wearing.
My freshman year in college, I wrote an essay about boobs for an English class. My mom’s boobs and my best friend’s boobs actually, because they were at opposite ends of the boob spectrum. Twenty two years later, I’m starting to really put the ma’am in mammaries and I find myself wistfully reflecting on that paper and the boobs I had when I wrote it.
It was fall, 1996. I was a B cup and considered myself #BLESSED to be on the B team because my mother had been riding the bench on the A team her whole life. She’d shamelessly asked Santa for boobs for Christmas each year for as long as I can remember. Mama wanted big ones. BAD. Then, there was my best friend who’d had a breast reduction about 6 months before I wrote the essay. She was comin’ in hot with DDs prior to her surgery at age 17 and she HATED them. When we’d get ready to go out in high school, she’d look in the mirror and ask, “Am I going to offend anyone if I wear this shirt?” I never knew what she meant by that but my mother’s head would pop out of whatever room she was in and yell, “Any time you’re ready to get rid of them, you know where to find me!”
At the time I didn’t fully grasp their misery. I loved them both and couldn’t understand how they could be so unhappy with their bodies, however, their spots in the breast brigade made me appreciate that I was somewhere in between. My Bs got the job done and I wasn’t in a place of longing on either side. But now, less than 3 months away from turning 40, I’ve gained a husband, 2 kids and about 40 lbs since I wrote that essay. My lovable little Bs are a thing of the past and I’ve got 2 big, breast friends in unexpectedly low places. Thanks to Father Time, attempts at breastfeeding, running, weight gain & loss and working from home (which lends itself beautifully to NOT wearing a bra), these days I look like a four-armed octopus when I unleash the beasts.
Now that there’s more of me to love, I’m constantly in awe of what gravity can do to your body. I mean, you know you’ve entered a new era of self discovery you walk up the stairs and your boobs bounce off your knees. My ladies are so droopy now, if my nipples were hands, I could tie my own shoes with them. God, think of how much more I’d get done each day. I could scramble eggs and butter the toast at the same time. I’d be able to shave a ton of time off making the kid’s sandwiches each morning and showering and folding laundry would be a snap. Maybe hands for nipples is the way to go!
Luckily, I’m married to a guy who’s still going through puberty and is just happy to see some boobs when he can, regardless of wear and tear. He tells me he accepts my aging shapes, even if he’s just being polite. Talking to my friends, I know their husbands are on “TEAM HEY, A BOOB’S A BOOB” too and that gives me hope for their half of humanity. I mean, if the tables were turned, consider what could happen to them. Imagine if their ding dongs changed course around age 40 and started pointing north at all times? Wait. Actually, now that I think about it…
I’m trying to go easy on myself but we’re quick forget that our bodies are machines built for function. They’re designed to take infinitely tiny sperm molecules and churn them into a little something known as HUMAN LIFE. I think that commands a certain level of respect whether or not the machine needs a new set of headlights. I’ve read so many great posts about how women need to love the battle scars that living leaves behind. They say we should wear our stretch marks and our bumpy parts as badges of honor that celebrate our stories. We shouldn’t let a reflection in a mirror or in our minds take away from that.
When I get down on myself and want to go back to my old body, a change of perspective is in order. I’ll try to remember that those B cups were attached to a girl who’d never felt a labor pain or had her newborn baby, 10 seconds old, placed on her stomach. When I was cellulite free, I didn’t have an awesome man who wanted to binge on indian food and Netflix with me on Friday nights. When my thighs didn’t touch, I had time to go to the gym because my kids weren’t home waiting for me. When my belly was flat, I hadn’t seen my parents sing to and rock their grandkids to sleep.
I’m like everyone. I want to look and feel good about myself when I pass a mirror. I’m just saying it’s ok to allow ourselves a kinder inner monologue instead of wishing we could turn back time. Try to remember that you’re so much more than the sum of your body parts. Instead of seeing saggy boobs and saddle bags, try to see a body stretched by love and experience and make room in your mind and in your bra for the marks that time leaves behind.