Mermaids, and Ball-Gowns, and A-lines: Oh My!
by Melissa D’Agostino
Hello Friends! Welcome back to the BroadFish Bowl!
I’m going to jump right into this post by admitting that I suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). It’s a body-image disorder which, according to the Anxiety and Depression association of America is:
It’s something I’ve been grappling with since I was a kid – a bit of nature and a whole bunch of nurture. I’ve spent a lot of time tackling, accepting, analyzing, examining and attempting to surrender to this condition, though it often cripples my ability to express myself fully, to enjoy my wonderful life fully and to feel joy fully.
When I reveal this to my friends/family, they are often surprised. I create bold, physical work and spend a lot of my time advocating for positive body image and changes in and around the way we evaluate/punish women in the media for their bodies. I guess it’s surprising that someone who seems so confident in her body would struggle in this way. The truth is, my passion in regards to this issue, and the work I create, come directly from the dysmorphia. It’s how I respond to the voice in my head that deems me worthless because of how I look. And that’s truly what it is: a feeling of worthlessness.
Ironic (or perhaps sadistic?) of me to choose to work in an industry that is frightfully punishing, limiting, and unrealistic bordering on ludicrous when it comes to women’s bodies, and what their bodies represent to the world (this is also happening with men, of course, but it’s still especially damaging with women).
So I exist in a very interesting middle place – loved by so many friends and family members for who I am and what I look like and blessed with a beautifully full and fulfilling life, and caught in an agony about my flesh, my curves, my shape – all exascerbated by an industry that actually does see me as ‘fat’, ‘overweight’ and really quite expendable because of it.
I recently went shopping for a wedding dress and the days leading up to the experience were stressful for my BDD and I. I had many fears. Would the sample sizes be too small? Will I hate everything? Will the size and flabbiness of my arms make me feel like a grotesque female Quasimodo? Yes – this is how extreme these feelings get. But I had to start shopping, since you have to order your dress a lifetime in advance of the day of your wedding, or so the blogs tell me. So off we went: me and Mom.
For the most part, things went well. One store, Ferre Sposa (and yes I’m naming names) had sample sizes that were TINY. I didn’t fit into any of the ones I tried on there. This didn’t happen in other stores. It didn’t make me feel great. Or good. Or in any way excited about my wedding. I name them because I think they should know, and so should you.
I ended up buying my gown at Mrs. Bridal Boutique. They were friendly, low-key and had an exclusive selection of gowns in the style I was looking for.
So I was happy – dress I wanted, in my price range, my Mother was happy, too (miracle!).
Maybe my body issues would stay at bay?
When Kelly, my lovely consultant, took my measurements to order the dress, she mentioned the size I was, and BOOM – trigger city.
Bridal gowns are always made 2 sizes smaller than other gowns so what would usually be a size 10 is a size 14 in bridal, which is maddening. I mean, seriously? Doesn’t that seem topsy turvy? Can none of this be made easier? Why not make them 2 sizes bigger? Help those of us with some psychological minefields out with a bit of vanity sizing for our very special day? Nope.
And the truth is that even as I type this I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed that I even have these feelings – that I feel insecure about my body in this way. I feel like I’m betraying my gender, or I am being overly sensitive, or I should just get over it. But the feelings happen, and I can’t ignore them, or they get stronger. So…shame party over. Back to the story.
The most telling moment of my own insecurity was when I asked Kelly: ‘What happens if my body changes between now and my wedding?’ I was convinced that I would lose control: emotionally eat myself into oblivion, and out of that dress.
So Kelly gently let me know that it wasn’t a problem, and that they have plenty of time to make alterations.
And then she took a moment to herself, looked up from putting my dress back on the hanger and said: ‘But I really hope you don’t lose weight; you look so great in this dress and you’re beautiful.’
I was stunned and overwhelmed. Maybe because the dialogue inside my brain was the opposite of that thought, or maybe because I assumed the wedding industry would do everything it could to encourage me to lose weight, be perfect, join some godawful boot camp immediately to cure me from my flabby, hideous imperfections.
Turns out: not really. Well, not ALL of the industry is doing that. Trust me: a lot of it does. Almost every blog, magazine, wedding show, thread, you name it – they will tell you how to tone your arms, lose the flab, slim down, bulk up, all of it. I’m sure they could tell you how to grow a limb, if you wanted to.
This experience made me reflect that maybe part of the reason I play the characters I do, and part of the reason my latest project, BroadFish, deals with transformation is because what I’m really wrestling with is what being in my very own skin and body is like.
What do I call myself? How do I see myself? What is it to be a bride? To be larger than life? To be healthy? To sit comfortably in my skin?
I’m not sure I know any concrete answers yet. What I know is that being able to create art, to express myself and to make work that can open a dialogue around these issues is a blessing that has saved me from living my life in one, long, joyless panic attack.
And for that, I am grateful.
Experience any of the same things? Let me know what you think! @melissadags
The journey continues…