Brides have to look in the mirror for a long time


I tried on my wedding gown for the first time since I picked it, ages ago. I wore the bra. You know, the strapless bra from the post I called The Girl Without Any Breasts. I’m standing there, in my massive wedding gown, which has nearly swallowed me whole, and this tiny seamstress comes up to me, edges around the hem, and touches my chest.

“Why are you not wearing bra?” she asks tersely.

“I am,” I say. “I am wearing bra.”

“No,” she says. “No bra.” She gestures at my chest.

I pull back the bodice to reveal the bra. “See?”

“Oh.” She bustles out of the room and returns a moment later with two huge pads.

“Wait—“ I say. “Do you mean I should have those AND the bra?”

She shrugs. “Maybe.”

My friend Liane starts laughing. I start laughing. The seamstress is very serious.

An hour later, after I have been soundly scolded for moving my arms too much while the hem is painstakingly clipped, and I have remained on the edge of yelling, “Just cut the damn thing! I don’t care if it’s crooked!” for about forty-five minutes, we are free. We wander out into the light of day. Liane reports that one of the other brides in the room was explaining repeatedly to the seamstress, “No. It has to SKIM the floor. It can’t bunch. It has to SKIM. It’s supposed to skim.”

I hadn’t heard. I was too distracted by my image in the mirror. There have been very few times in my life when I’ve been forced to look at myself in the mirror for an hour. I don’t think I’ve ever done it before this, actually. And for good reason. It’s painful.

But it’s also a bit like how they describe meditation (I’ve never lasted more than four seconds. Really. Exactly four). The first ten minutes or so feel like torture, and then there’s this weird release, and you begin to let everything go. I don’t know what that means: “let everything go.” People are always going around saying things like that. “Just let God into your heart.” I’d need specific instructions. Even those aren’t enough sometimes. The food processor manual said, “Fit the disc over the metal stem on the disc stem with the raised-blade side up.” The blade looks raised on both sides, depending on what you consider “raised” to mean.

So I don’t know what I meant when I said “you begin to let everything go.” But I guess I mean it felt simple after a while. Looking in a mirror is always a complicated experience for me. There’s too much information to process. Why do we have so many sense organs on our faces? They’re all crowded together. It’s overload. And then the whole body. Forget it.

I’m almost completely convinced that I will not be a beautiful bride. Whatever that means. OK, I know exactly what that means, because there are approximately a billion images of beautiful brides. They seem to be everywhere I look. I expect to open my eyes tomorrow morning and see one projected on my bedroom ceiling. “Study of Beautiful Bride #One Billion and One, in White.”

Some days, I really don’t care. Because, for real, it doesn’t matter.

Some days, it annoys me a lot that I couldn’t be standardly lovely just this once. JUST THIS ONCE, GOD.


I am a bad typical bride. But I’m an even worse unschooled bride. Back when I was a kid and a teenager, before I went to college and learned about all the things the world expected of young women, I was totally convinced that I was the hottest thing ever. And this is what really gets me now, in retrospect: I thought I was hot because I looked weird. I was really convinced that all the things that were unusual or different about my appearance were what made me sexy and compelling and gorgeous. Just like the things that were different about my mind and my skillset made me stand out in a positive way intellectually and artistically. It seemed totally logical to imagine that the particular composition of my body, which was completely unique to me, was just as strikingly awesome as everything else I did well.

Which makes me think that people don’t learn about beauty until they’re around a lot of other people the same age. Or at least, they don’t learn about the way beauty functions in larger society. I knew all about beauty, but I understood it in totally different terms.

At my bat mitzvah, I wore a pale pink satin embroidered gown. It had a dramatic skirt with fluffy petticoat material underneath. I loved it. My grandmother wanted to know what I would do with my long, curly hair. I said I guess put it up. And then, a few weeks before the event, I cut it all off. I was so excited about my short hair. I looked like a gangly boy, with braces and pimples and shaggy short hair. And there I was, at my bat mitzvah, wearing this sweet pink ballgown. And I thought I looked fabulous. It was me. Feminine and boyish and spunky and weird and awesome.

And now here I am, standing in front of an enormous mirror, looking at myself in another enormous gown. This time white. There is an initial moment, when I see myself for the first time, and I think, “Beautiful!” And then that is quickly replaced with familiar criticisms. But then, slowly, they slide away, and I see the awkward tomboy with the braces and pimples and the short hair and big nose, in her ballgown. And how beautiful she is. Simply because she is herself. Not to go into all that stuff about how you’re beautiful if you think you’re beautiful and you just have to believe. I’m always bad at believing. So not that— but something else. It wasn’t just that she believed she was beautiful, it was that beauty was different. It was broad enough to encompass her uniqueness. It wasn’t so, so, so narrow. And it isn’t so, so, so narrow. It’s that my mind has gradually narrowed.

But there is nothing narrow about that dress. And I kinda think I may have to expand my ideas to even fit into it. Even if my breasts will never fill a bodice to the satisfaction of the seamstress or the industry.


* * * * *

Un-roast: Today I love my ability to occasionally cut all my hair off. It’s reassuring that I have the confidence to do that. Thanks to those who included un-roasts in their comments yesterday. Way to go! Always feel free to send me yours for the day.


Kate on August 31st 2010 in beauty, being different, homeschooling, wedding

24 Responses to “Brides have to look in the mirror for a long time”

  1. Emily responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    I miss your short hair. It was super hot. Chop it all off for the wedding in an act of defiance?

  2. Kate responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Don’t tempt me. I’ve already thought about it a lot.

  3. EcoYogini responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    your post made me cry.

    maybe because i’m going through similar things. My dress fittings were brief cuz i was so unhappy with how i looked- the dress was fine, but i didn’t feel beautiful.

    also, i have small breastal area…. it’s ok. i’m not even wearing a bra. if the seamster-dude had anything to say about that i would have told him to shove it. i have barely any boobs, and my fiance knows it and supposedly loves them the way they are.

    also, didn’t want to be turning my torso in a dress and have the chestal area stay put while my ribs and self were in another direction. ya know?

    i look at websites like “offbeatbride” and read Becca’s posts over at “A Los Angeles Love” (and A Practical Wedding) when i start feeling the “i am not a beautiful bride” syndrome. real ladies are there.

    ps- braces rock. and cutting all your hair off is a FABULOUS idea. I am considering having a short-ish cute cut. with a random thingy in my hair. and waves. cuz i like them. plus with shorter hair i’ll be able to see my awesome dangly earrings better in the mirror. and in pictures.

    thank you for this Kate.

  4. Kate responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of myself for making you cry. I actually also felt pretty emotional about this post. We must be experiencing something really similar…

    Thank you for the site recommendations. I can’t wait to check those out.

    You should go for it. Big earrings and short hair is the hottest thing ever.

  5. Cindy responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    My dress was navy blue and in MY act of defiance, I went bra-less (mostly because you couldn’t tell and it was a strappy back thing.

    I loved it. I was the boldest thing I’ve ever done.

    I would be a train wreck if I did the traditional wedding thing.

    and I hate mirrors…all of them.

    oh, “It was me. Feminine and boyish and spunky and weird and awesome”

    you just described how I feel about myself in a nutshell.

  6. Mandy responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    I’m going braless on my wedding day (and not entirely sure about it, but the dress isn’t bra friendly). I had an awesome experience at my first fitting – other than the whole having to sit down after an hour to avoid passing out.

    I looked in the mirror and I loved what I saw. The dress is so “me” and I couldn’t see the flaws I usually focus on. I have hips and wobbly arms and none of that mattered. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else. I loved it. I loved the mirror for a change.

    Maybe I’m unusual, but I look at my wedding day as one day where nobody else is there to compare. I’ve always thought that brides are all beautiful, regardless of the dress or the person. It’s the glow.

    My unroast: That I’m standing up for the hairstyle I want on my wedding day – messy, loose, curly and me. Despite the expectations of my hairdresser, who really wants me to go sleek. I’m not a sleek person!

  7. Amy responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    when you are a bride it means somebody loves you. he thinks your beautiful. it kind of discounts his feelings if you discount yourself.

    how would you feel if your soon-to-be husband was as critical of himself as you are of yourself?

    He would basically be saying ‘I’m not loveable’, which utlimately would suggest that there’s something wrong with you for loving him.

    All those perfect brides don’t think they are perfect either. And they’re not. but what’s the point of being beautiful if you don’t value the person who thinks you are?

    just sayin…


  8. Wei-Wei responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    I could read that second last paragraph over and over and over again. Sometimes you make me wish I was homeschooled…

  9. Christina responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    Amazing post. And I agree with Wei-Wei. Kind of wish I’d been homeschooled.

    You made me tear up a little.

  10. Kate responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    Good point. You should tell my fiance. He has been known to complain about his appearance :)

  11. Kate responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    That’s awesome. And you’re making me contemplate doing wild hair….

  12. Kate responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    Drop out! Let’s be unschooled together!

    (Your parents would never forgive me….)

  13. Ragen Chastain responded on 31 Aug 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    The idea of the beautiful bride is such crap. There is no way that someone who is spending the day pledging their love for the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with could not be beautiful. I think that the “beautiful bride” idea is made up by people who sell teeth whitening, tanning, bridal boot camps, and gigantic boob inserts. To hell with them.

  14. San D responded on 01 Sep 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Did you see this article in the NYTimes today?

  15. Kerry responded on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:41 am #

    I just followed a link from A Los Angeles Love to your blog and I think it’s just what I need in my life right now. I am looking forward to reading your archives, particularly about your breast-less-ness as I am a flat-chested woman myself! Very cool blog, I’m so glad I was lead here.

  16. Kate responded on 02 Sep 2010 at 10:53 am #

    No, I hadn’t seen this! Thank you!! What a fantastic piece.

  17. Anna responded on 06 Sep 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    You’re in good company. American costumers tried to give Audrey Hepburn bra padding as well because she didn’t fit the sexbomb movie actress mold. :)

  18. Eat the Damn Cake » Looking a little like a boy responded on 29 Jan 2011 at 12:24 am #

    [...] was something awesome about cutting off my hair and then rocking the wedding gown that I agonized over, back when I cared about looking pretty in dresses. I told Bear we might have to get married again. [...]

  19. Eat the Damn Cake » The truth about mirrors responded on 18 Jun 2011 at 11:45 am #

    [...] Other mirror stories (I have many):” The model at the mirror,” and “Brides have to look in the mirror for a long time.” [...]

  20. Eat the Damn Cake » (finally) a summary of the whole weird and wild wedding experience responded on 19 Jul 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    [...] Brides have to look in the mirror for a long time: a post about getting my gown altered and being informed that my breasts don’t exist. [...]

  21. Medulala responded on 06 Oct 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I am 64 and have had small breasts for 48 of those years. (Before that – none.) Although I can appreciate big boobs on others, I have always loved my small breasts. They fit me! And guess what? Most of the women my age with big breasts now carry them down around their waists. And mine are still where they started out.

  22. Eat the Damn Cake » Little Victories: my breasts responded on 19 Jan 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    [...] Buying a bra for my wedding was taxing for my relationship with my breasts. Here’s some of that story. The saleswomen I worked with always seemed to think I was lacking. They’d look at my chest, shake their heads sadly, and run to fetch some padding. [...]

  23. Emma responded on 27 Jan 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    I love this post for so many reasons, but I’m going to touch upon the un-roast part:

    Two years ago I got a buzzcut, just for the hell of it. Everyone I loved was so upset when I told them my plan, they kept telling me that my hair was so beautiful and curly that it was silly to cut it off. I didn’t care, I wanted to try something completely different, and I was honestly sick of all the conditioner, mousse, brushing, ponytails, etc, etc, etc.

    After I cut all my hair off, I was happy – at first. I was proud of my bravery, and I truly felt beautiful in a unique way. My loved ones all reassured me that I was surprisingly lovely without hair, and many friends said I had the sexy G.I. Jane look down pat. A few months later, however, I began to hate it – being mistaken for a guy all the time, having hair that was more than a buzzcut, but less than a pixie cut.

    Eventually, I came to terms with my hair, and enjoyed it, even in all the weird growing-back phases. I now have long hair, ponytails, etc. again, and I’m getting sick of it.
    I think I will buzz it all off again, and this time I will not let myself feel bad for being mistaken for a guy – it’s not my fault people have such narrow views of which hairstyle is appropriate for which gender!

  24. Eat the Damn Cake » the pregnant boobs post responded on 13 May 2013 at 10:21 am #

    [...] indignities didn’t stop there. Some of you may remember my bridal boob stories. For example, the one about me trying on my wedding gown: As I twirled in romantic slow-motion in front of the fitting mirror in my billowing wedding gown, [...]