Monday, 4 March 2013

The dress


At the back of my wardrobe is a dress. It’s dark green and it’s perfect for my skin tone and makes my eyes seem deep, deep blue.  It’s silk and it has a flattering neckline with just the right amount of cleavage. It has cap sleeves and a full skirt to ankle length and it’s the sort of dress that floats around your legs as you move and makes you feel elegant and beautiful.

I wore it years ago to a ball at university and afterwards I kissed the man who is now my husband for the first time.

My flatmates and I, we got ready with loud music and giggles and a cloud of perfume. I have a photograph of us all together and my hand is behind my back, holding spare fabric in a bunch to show off my waist. The beautiful dress was a little too big.

I was something else that night. My make-up was right, my hair was right, and even after a hot and happy night dancing and talking and flirting and smiling up at him under my eyelashes and over a glass of wine I was still gorgeous. Pink cheeks and the sheen of perspiration and the tendrils of hair at the nape of my neck making ringlets.  In the restroom with my girlfriends comparing notes and ruling the world.

And the dress, back on its hanger with a reverent stroke of it’s softness.

It’s years later. Another ball, another university, the same dress. Plastic cover lifted off, skirt shaken loose to float around my legs again. This time, a little bit more of me. The neckline still flattering but a little more cleavage. The cap sleeves a little tight on the arms. The bodice – there’s no gentle way of putting it – straining at the seams.  Girls in the restrooms together and this time, standing sideways, sucking in my breath, not eating dinner because there’s no room in my beautiful dress. Wondering if anyone notices the way the fabric strains across my midriff. The way the green of the silk turns slightly darker where sweat trickles down my back. Self-consciousness.

Still, a glass or two of wine, the dance floor beckons. Good friends and goodnight kisses.

Years later. I take the dress in its plastic to a lady who makes wedding dresses. Can we do it in white?  On my Big Day I want it to float around my legs and make me feel special. I want the neckline to plunge and flatter but not boast. I want the sleeves longer, this time, to cover the tops of my arms.

We search and search for fabric and I settle for something a little different. The pattern changes incrementally and I settle for something a little different. The lady lines the silk with another inferior fabric and it hangs stiff, no longer floats. I settle for something a little different. It’s a gown, not a dress, she tells me. For your wedding you must have a gown.

I do.

Years later. A wedding invitation. An evening reception.  I lift the cellophane and smooth out the silk. The seams a little strained. The sleeves a little short. The skirt so full and swirly. The fabric so very soft and just my colour.

I slip it over my head and pull up the sleeves. Flesh overlaps at the upper arms and my bra strap shows at the shoulder in a way it never did. I twist and I turn but the zip won’t come to the top. The fabric strains across my middle. The skirt still swirls soft against my legs.

The dress is doing its best but the body inside isn’t the body that took to the dance floor at university with flushed cheeks and fabric to spare.

That wedding reception, the evening one – we didn’t go. We stayed at home on the sofa with our glass of wine. 

I couldn’t face the dress, the shopping, the size on the hangers. I couldn’t face the dance floor.

Lord, this body that I’m in; I know that it only tells a small part of the story. This is the body that nurtured and birthed two beautiful girls and the ribcage that spread out to accommodate them. This is the heart that moved upwards and sideways to make room for the little growing bodies that it still beats for.

The bust that strains the fabric of my green silk dress is the same that suckled two hungry babies until they no longer wanted mummy milk. The arms that won’t fit the little cap sleeves carried my 8lb, 9lb, 10lb babies everywhere and rocked them for long hours praying for sleep. The hips that sashayed on the dance floor swayed with swaddled newborns on shoulders late at night and padded themselves to seat toddlers.

I know all this and I believe it and I salute the body that did it all and still I long for the green dress days. When I look at the photographs and know that I was self conscious and diffident then, and yet look at me now. I know that my value isn’t related to my dress size. I know that my beauty isn’t found in necklines or cleavages or the ability to wear cap sleeves and swirly skirts.

Father God, somehow will you take that knowledge from my head to my heart? Make it real to me? Make it make a difference?

Give me a glimpse of myself through your eyes. I am your child and you love me, just as I am. I am a princess and I am made for your kingdom. I am spotless, stainless, glowing perfect because your Son, Jesus Christ, valued me so highly that he died for me. He doesn’t care about green dresses or stretched seams.

Give the green dress to a charity shop. Someone might love it; someone with toned arms and without a spare tyre. They might make it swirl again instead of hanging in cellophane collecting dust. I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a completely different shape from the body for which the green dress was designed.

Forget the green dress. Life is not about green dresses.

Lord, I’m not ready. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my green dress and the dance floor days and the naïve beauty that comes from being young and unselfconscious. I long for those days and there's a part of me that still hopes that I might feel those soft skirts swirl around my legs one day even now. I so want to feel beautiful again.

Special.

My head hears your words of love and acceptance and nods in understanding, in faith. It does. My heart still beats inside the bodice of a beautiful floaty silk dress that made me feel special.

I know there is freedom in you. Free me, Lord God. 

Free me from myself. 




Linking today with Tanya Marlow at Concrete Words:  http://tanyamarlow.com
Expressing the abstract through the concrete.

18 comments:

  1. Your special dress sounds glorious, Helen. No wonder you want to hang on to it! My wardrobe is similarly cluttered with garments that don't quite fit as they should, yet cling on in memory which refuses to relinquish. The thought of 'One Day' keeps them there, in heart and home.
    My friend, you are already arrayed in a beautiful robe of righteousness that fits you perfectly. All other clothing will fade and hole with moth and time. You are infinitely special to God and He clothes you daily in His love and grace. Blessings :)xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, Joy. It's just a constant struggle to get that from the head to the heart... Thank you so much for your lovely words.

      Delete
  2. Helen I could feel every word you wrote here - you just spoke my heart. I remember, being a first time mum at 17, comparing my 'ruined' body to my teenage friends'. This post is so vulnerable and beautiful. Love it x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Ruth. My heart goes out to that 17 year old you. Ruined? No no no ... but I understand. I look back on the Glory Days of my teens and twenties and I see a girl who was crippled by self consciousness thinking then that she was fat and unacceptable - and right now I would change my dress size for that one in a blink.
      I am so glad that in the eternal scheme of things, this matters not at all. It's just that now, here, it matters...

      Delete
  3. Ruined body or blooming ?
    Over here from Tanya's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for coming! Hope to see you again.

      Delete
  4. So so good. The woman in my heart doesn't recognize the woman in the mirror either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. Those 'Me too' moments are precious to me. Thank you for reading and taking the trouble to comment.

      Delete
  5. I love this. I love the way you hold that tension all the way through - the needing to hold onto the people that we were whilst not surrendering the people we are now. I knew exact,y what you meant with the floatiness, the magicness of the dress. I look back now and think that I just didn't know the power I had, those days where I wore my own swirly dresses without thinking. My favourite line: the heart that moved up and sideways for the babies it still beats for - I had to pause on that for a while when I read it - so beautiful. I recognised so much of myself in here. Beautiful. Thank you for linking up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tanya thank you for having me! What a lovely encouraging comment. I appreciate it very much, and coming from you it means a lot.
      Thanks again.

      Delete
  6. This is good and there are so many nuances throughout. Capturing the tension of letting go knowing that we are truly loved alongside our unwillingness to let go of things that we cling to. Lovely, Helen
    (Over from Tanya's place)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Thanks very much for coming over to visit and for leaving such an encouraging comment. I really do appreciate it.

      Delete
  7. I guess we can all relate to a certain extent. I had a c-section in November: thought my tummy was yucky before - ha! It's hard to make piece w/ our bodies whether we ever felt beautiful in them, or not. I'm glad we can write it out, also that we are beautiful to Father God and those who love us, ALSO that we have the opportunity to make ourselves more beautiful at the heart level regardless of age or physical limitations. Great piece! Hold onto that dress until you're totally ready to part with it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Brandee that dress isn't going anywhere! One day...one day... did I tell you it has a wonderfully full, soft, swirly skirt? :-)
      That's exactly it, by the way. Making peace with our bodies, whether or not we ever felt beautiful in them. I feel like I missed my chance. I tell my daughters every day how beautiful they are - and how their beauty is so much more than the bits that make them up physically.
      Thank you so much for visiting and for taking the trouble to comment. It makes my day.

      Delete
  8. Helen this is so beautiful and honest - So what I needed right now as I hit the diet again after hitting the scales! How wonderful to remember that the body has lived, loved and born children. I had a dress like that - the made me wishful for a lot less me! I threw it out but I still think about it and the girl I was. Helen, you are a beautiful blessing to so many women here. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Tania. Heading diet-wards again myself... for the umpteenth time. :-(
      Don't think I'll ever part with my beautiful dress. Thanks for your encouragement.

      Delete
  9. Do you remember the Baz Luhrmann "Sunscreen" song? I remember a line from that so clearly: "...you will not
    understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked…"

    It is a tragedy of life that we don't appreciate things until they are gone! How deeply we are consumed by our physical appearance. I don't mind admitting to you that my desire to have children is frequently countered by a selfish desire to remain a size 10. I have A Dress in my wardrobe I'd be heartbroken to no longer fit into. Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and taking the trouble to comment, Lauren. You're right; I wish I'd known then (when I hated my reflection in the mirror) that compared with my middle aged self I was so, so beautiful. The problem is that none of it is true - I have a photo of me scowling into the camera on holiday because I didn't want my photo taken because I felt so fat - and I was wearing size ten jeans. Sigh...

      Delete



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...