A measuring tape is wrapped around my hips, and a number gets scrawled on a line sheet. I exhale a little.
I step into a wedding dress, with massive layers of skirt, and intricate pleating on the bodice. I’m a little afraid of smashing the seemingly delicate garment under my calloused feet, but it’s sturdier than it looks.
“We’ve just had skinny girls in here all week; it’ll nice to see what the dress looks like on a regular person,” says the woman helping me, as she zips up the back of the garment.
I’m being fitted for what will be the third time I’ve worn a wedding dress for an audience. I’ve never been married.
The dress will make its debut in a bridal runway show, with me in full hair and makeup, wearing the highest of heels. It’s been several years since I’ve done it, but I’ve actually walked a runway a few times before–sometimes for offbeat fashion designers, but usually for wedding collections. The bridal industry seems to be one of the few makers of clothing that actually appreciates my Size 12 frame, rather than shaming me for it.
I’ve learned to appreciate it when I connect with more size-positive folks, because I grew up with a lot of shame about my body. I was the kid whose baby fat clung to her, I was the awkward teenager who longed for a single-digit dress size, I was the undergrad whose Freshman 15 became a Freshman 50+. Having a Chinese parent played its part, too–being slim and delicate is critical for women in Asian culture, and it’s also perfectly okay to make the most blunt and direct of comments about weight. Exercise exists to help a woman keep her figure, not for fun, competition, or true fitness.
So, for much of my life, I felt undesirable because I was, “big,” and I always needed to lose a few pounds. TV, magazines, and mall shopping sang the same song I heard at home: that I should be ashamed of my size, and try to get smaller. I let the extra fat on my body hold me back from taking risks, trying new things, connecting with people. Even after I took up martial arts and lost some weight, I was still fixated on losing more. I felt like a clumsy, bloated moose next to the lean-and-mean wushu players who won gold medals, and I certainly didn’t want any of them seeing me in a swimsuit.
All of that started to change when I turned 30, and found my way into roller derby. Derby showed me something completely different from the messages I’d been hearing all my life: women who kick ass and take names, in all shapes and sizes. They aren’t afraid to fall down, to push the limits, to skate just a little bit harder to get past an opposing player, or stop one in her tracks with a crushing hip-check. Just playing derby is a risk, but it’s one that every skater accepts, and stares dead in the eye every time she straps on her gear.
The derby girls I met didn’t seem to know any of the fear I grew up with–flashy, glittery garments were standard fare, and tiny shorts on a big booty was a badge of honor, not a thing to be hidden away. At the Hangar, I got to see women like me do graceful and utterly amazing things on eight wheels. I got to see small, slender women execute insane, powerful moves that you’d never expect from such a small frame.
All of these ladies had ferocity, strength, and confidence, and the more I saw that, the more I realized that I had all of those things within me, too. I could be all of those things, right now, without losing ten pounds or wearing a Size 8. Derby finally drove home the message I wished I’d heard all along: Be healthy. Think about how you feel and what your body can do, not what it looks like.
In past runway shows, I’d felt a mix of nerves and envy, and a twinge of self-loathing, and I wondered if I’d look ridiculous on the runway, next to all of the skinnier girls. When I saw the casting for this bridal runway, however, I didn’t hesitate to sign on, and I’m not even slightly worried about how it’s going to look. I’m going to look fabulous, with my regular-person body, my Size 12 curves, and my 175-ish pounds of ass-kicking muscle and bone.
As I pick up my bag and say my thank-yous at the bridal boutique, I take a peek at the line sheet, where my measurements are written. Bust: 39 1/2″ Waist: 31″ Hips: 42″.
I look at those numbers, and realize that I don’t feel much of anything. 42 inches, 5’7″, 175-ish pounds, Size 12? It’s just a jumble of arbitrary numbers, and they’ll never hold me back again.