I am at my wedding. It is my wedding day. I am acutely aware that I hate the way I look. People react when they see me in the dress. They react positively. They are wowed. They smile and sometimes gasp. I don’t see what they mean. I know I haven’t lost the weight. I can feel the embarrassing squeeze of back fat pressing up against the lace top. My dress has lovely crystal buttons fastened down the back, but I pray no one stops to admire them. I stand under the chuppah and hope people don’t notice how weighty my ankles are; I feel embarrassed for choosing a short dress that reveals them. Underneath the dress, my waist is cinched with a medieval apparatus. Its hooks are pulled taut over my considerable flesh, shaping me into something I am not on my own, and even with its help I know I am wide.
I am in seminary, it is over four years before my wedding. I have always been a smartass. I am proud of my skepticism, I embrace my intellectualism, and I even take some small joy in my pretentiousness. Someone tells me I should tone it down when I start dating. They say I might intimidate men with my know-it-all attitude. This is easy for me to scoff at and dismiss. Smart is my identity, and whoever loves me will love my brain. Someone tells me I ought to learn how to do makeup when I start dating. They say my face could be pretty if I put in some effort. This cuts deep. I know I am bright, and that my personality is attractive, but in the same breath I know that my physical form is not.
I am in University. I am in the bathroom scratching at my face. My eyeliner has bled, leaving watery black tracks smearing my eyelids. My foundation is flaking off exposing the red, textured skin below. I am no more beautiful in makeup than out of it. We are taking a photo today in my practicum to go on our website which highlights our projects. At least I am wearing the grey dress that I love. It is one of very few garments that inspire confidence when worn. I re-enter the University hallway, and walk towards the library. In the quiet study space I see someone else wearing the same dress. She sips on a fancy Starbucks drink, the kind that comes with whipped cream piled on top. I love those drinks, but I have been avoiding them for months in the interest of my waistline. The dress fits her in a way it would never fit on me. It hugs in all the right places. I don’t even have the right places. Suddenly I am awkward and ashamed. I pull a hoodie out from my bag and zip it over the confidence dress.
I am in a fitting room. I smile at my reflection and it smiles back at me. I have lost the weight and I thrill as dress after dress zips with ease. I am wearing a size I have never worn in my life. People who haven’t seen me in a while remark with surprise. They tell me how good I look. They tell me I am tiny. What a thrill to be tiny. I start to go on dates. I fall in love, then I get engaged. My fiancé is thin. He is thinner than I am. In fact he is nearly concave compared to me. I am at my smallest, but even now my hips and stomach cannot be contained the sweatpants he lends me. I criticize myself in the mirror with his sweatpants gathered at my thighs, refusing to let me wear them.
I am in the mall with my fiancé. We weave the aisles of my favourite clothing store, and my arms are full with the fruits of my finding. In the dressing room I arrange the garments on the provided hooks and disrobe. Dress after dress, and skirt after skirt refuses to zip. I am panicking. Finally, something gives way to my body and I shove myself into it. I turn to face the mirror and I’m horrified by what I see. I am ruined. I am bulging out of the dress; I am bursting at the seams. As quickly as I can, I redress and careen back out into the mall, disregarding the sales associate, and disregarding my husband. I am crying, my face is red and puffy. I slap myself hard. My wonderful fiancé, who has followed me out into the mall is so distressed by this. His eyes are wide with alarm, and his mouth is trembling, as if he wants to say something but is unable to select the right words. We are silent. I vow to lose the weight before the wedding. I lose some weight, and then I gain it back.
I am in my living room. It is five weeks after the wedding. The photographers have sent us all of the pictures they took. They are edited and airbrushed. I click through them with trepidation. Disgust swells in my throat. I hate the pictures. I hate all of the pictures. All I see is my failure. All I see is the ruin I spread out over my wedding day. I ruined the one day in my life when I should have been beautiful. My mother remarks that the pictures are beautiful. She asks me which ones I plan to order, and I answer vaguely. I do not order any pictures. I never want to look at them. They make me sick.
I am in my car driving home from a job I am lucky to have. I suddenly remember something I learned in seminary. Someone taught me that those who understand they are more than their body will be separated from it as easily as plucking a hair from a glass of milk when it comes to the end of one’s life. In contrast, those who identify with their body will have a far more painful experience leaving it behind. I do not identify with my body. It has never reflected what I wanted it to, even at my smallest. I do not identify with my body, and yet I am sickly captivated by it.
I am in a state of distress. My husband tells me I am beautiful, and I don’t believe him. In rare moments of confidence, I try to capture what I feel, angling my face towards the camera in an increasingly exaggerated fashion until the moment shatters. Was I always this way? What happened to me? I don’t know what it will take to convince myself that I am beautiful, and I don’t know what it will take to convince myself that whether or not I am beautiful doesn’t matter. There is some startling cognitive dissonance between who I know that I am and who I am trying, fruitlessly, to be. Even if I could be here, would I lose the best parts of myself? Would I even like her? There are bitter questions that brunt up against me. I don’t want to confront them, but I know that I should, and I hope that I will.