The Long Road to Polka Dots


Maybe because of their infamous slimming properties, I’ve got a large host of black dresses taking up real estate in my closet—but I didn’t want to wear any of them to my cousin’s wedding in September.

I was tired of dressing for special occasions like they were funerals.

So when I was out thrifting recently with friends, I was thrilled when we found a bright blue, tea-length number covered in polka dots. Totally 1950s and snugly in my aesthetic niche. Even though I had a moment of body dysmorphia, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to fit when my friend pulled it off of the rack, it slipped on with ease. One fight with a sticky zipper later and wedding style was achieved in living colour. (Side: is there anything more harrowing than the ‘is it me or is it the zipper’ moment? I don’t think so.)

That’s the story: woman needs dress, woman buys dress. So what, right?

Here’s what: sometimes I feel like wearing a black dress is an apology. As though by putting one on, I’m showing people I have looked in a mirror, and have—at the minimum—attempted to bandage the eyesore of myself to the beauty standards I’m violating at my current size. Here and now, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been making an awful lot of unnecessary apologies for a long time.

I wore a black dress to my 20th birthday dinner, six years ago. I wore two different black dresses to my sister’s engagement party and her bachelorette bash. Despite hunting around for something colourful, I seem to settle into the niche.

I’ll chalk it up to the lower self confidence I had in those days, when I believed that I would only wear pretty dresses in lavish patterns when I was more “acceptable.” This was a pact that society and I had entered into in my mind: when I was smaller, it would be okay for me to be visible and celebrate myself in the clothes I had always wanted. Even typing those words now, I can see how dizzyingly unhealthy that mentality is.

More recently, my concerns for losing weight are largely focused on mental well-being and quality of life.  Still, it would be a lie to say I don’t have any aesthetic reasons at all for wanting to trim up, but I know that changing how I look is not going to change my mentality.

The body dysmorphia I had in the change room at the thrift store? It happens at every size if you let it go unchecked. Even when I’ve been my slimmest, I haven’t felt more confident, more strong, or more colourful.

I’m a picture-perfect example of how losing a bunch of dress sizes is not the only hard work to be done in a lifestyle change. In the time since I seriously started to lose weight, eight years ago, I’ve gotten close to my goal—that magic number many dieters believe instantly unlocks all the doors—really close, twice. Both times, I gained back more than 50 lbs.

If I had been perfectly happy, inside and out, in those leaner times, with all of my confidence problems solved by the mere act of seeing a number on the scale, I wouldn’t have three different sizes of jeans in my drawer. I wouldn’t even be writing this.

Thin does not equal happy, just like fat does not mean shrouding yourself in mourning clothes and waiting for the revelation of mental bliss to fall out of the sky when you finally achieve your magic number. There’s so much more at play here than calories, miles, and pounds. Just like we are not our numbers, we are not saved by those numbers.

Facts are, I know I can lose weight. I’ve done it before, and I’m doing it now. Whether I can learn to appreciate and respect myself  to keep that weight off that is the bigger question. I need to get to the place in which I’m dressing for my taste, and not how I think should dress for my size.

I’m not entirely sure how to go about working on this, but I’m thinking I’ll start small. Maybe even as simple as finding a pair of shoes to go with my new dress. I’m going to need a new pair to walk in, anyway—

After all, so far, it’s been a long road to the polka dots.