Thank you, Emma, for helping me to launch this project when it had no direction.
Thank you, Valerie, of Sew Trendy Accessories, for creating this gorgeous dress.
Thank you, Jackie, for creating this logo.
Thank you...to all the red dress warriors...those who have been vulnerable enough to share their stories...those who have been vulnerable enough to wear the red dress...those who have been vulnerable enough to cry along with the rest of us...those who have messaged me their stories...those who have not yet crossed my path. I thank you all from the depths of my heart. I cannot quite express the depths my thanks goes for this ongoing experience. It is the fuel that feeds my soul that I have been missing my whole life.
"No matter what, you get up, you get dressed, you put on your makeup and you walk out that door."
Jen. The first reason for this project. Living with Multiple Sclerosis and pancreatitis...among others. Mom of two. Wife to one. Avid knitter and crafter. This woman is a fighter.
"But you look so good,
If I hear those words one more time,
For every day is a painful kind.
My outside appearance may look fine.
Little do you see I feel like I'm dying inside.
The crushing, burning pains driving me out of my mind.
Chronic pain is not something you always see,
I never thought at this age my pain would confine me,
To doctors, medications, bed...but mostly in my head."
"For what you see is a healthy looking girl smiling freely and floating in a red dress, but take another look for it's not what it appears, this girl in the red dress is me, I've been living in constant pain and endless fear. The next time you see someone you never know that they are living with, whether or not is shows physically or not. Just be aware we are all living with something and just because you can't see it doesn't make it go away. We live it everyday. Next time you see someone you know with a physical or mental condition that you can't see on the outside...
Instead of saying, "but you look so good, you look fine", Try saying, "how are you doing?" Awareness makes the world a better place."
Jen was amazing enough to slip into the red dress and then slip into a clawfoot tub filled with water and condensed milk. Yes, of course it was unsweetened. I think it was about 5 cans. We joked about it smelling like babies. Or rather, after she got out she smelled like the days when her babies smelled like milk...all. the. time.
Working with someone with chronic pain is tricky. Or rather it feels tricky. I have a project to accomplish. I am also very human. I was very worried about posing , climbing in and out of the tub, etc. Jen had modeled before and she was very easy to work with. Having someone reach down inside their pain and emotions in order to convey a feeling on camera is a very vulnerable thing. I teetered between wanting to reach out and hug her and to quickly capture that emotion on camera.
After the shoot, Laura (the wonderful soul who lent us use of her clawfoot tub), Jen and I sat, drank coffee and talked about pain, our children and well, life. Jen is a beautiful reminder of grace, faith, strength and courage. She is the mastermind behind this project. She has been one of my greatest supporters along the way. I cannot thank her enough.
"This is a place I've found myself before. Lying on the bathroom floor and crying, surrounded by my medication."
People see what they want to see and if it's too much to see the pain they'll only see what they think looks good. For those suffering in silence it becomes commonplace to just smile and nod. Don't believe the illusion, because inside they're screaming for you to really see them. Their pain is a true part of who they are. Please take a moment and put your own comfort aside. See them.
I have known Corrie for about 7 years now. When I posted on Facebook that I was looking for people who wanted to be a part of this project she was one of the first to message me. For me, it was a little scary to photograph a good friend in this way. Again...with the wanting to hug and comfort and cry. I'm a mom and I just wanted to make it all better. But guess what...it's not about me. This was to be cathartic for her, so I needed to capture the moments as they came. For me. For HER.
Her journey has been long. It's ongoing...as all of our journeys are.
This moment, those two words, burned into my brain forever. It was all it took to prompt a 13-year-old girl to starve herself in public, and to binge and purge in private. I'm sure the boy who said it has no memory of it, but I will never be able to forget it. I starved, purged, and exercised my way to below 90 pounds. My bones ached, and it hurt to lie on my stomach in bed because all the pressure was on my hip bones. But, when I felt hunger pangs - I felt successful. When I felt weak - that meant it was working. People started praising me for my weight loss, telling me what a good job I was doing, how great I looked. They noticed me. They complimented me. All I needed to do was look a certain way, and all this positive attention fell at my feet. Before the switch was flipped I was proud to be strong, and smart, and funny. But this seemed so much easier. No need to prove anything, just show up thin and pretty.
At some point the pain and the weakness started to scare me. I stopped purging and declared myself "cured". Even though I had stopped, my body had begun to reject food without any prompting from me. For months I found myself randomly running to the bathroom so i wouldn't throw up across my desk at school, or onto the shoes of the boy who just asked me to dance - because I was pretty, because I was thin.
I fell in love with a boy who told me that the year before he had said to his friend, "Who's the chick with the nose? She'd be nice if she lost some weight." And it had gone far enough that I took that as a compliment because, after all, I was "nice" - now that I was thin, and I was glad he was able to look past my unfortunate nose.
I married the man who made me aware of how ugly that mole on my leg was, and how weird my knees are. It's too bad about my fucked up thumb, my hands would be so nice otherwise... as long as my nail polish isn't chipped. He pointed out that I'm lucky he's not a "leg man", and that's true. My calves are too muscular, and my thighs are huge, and there are my knees again. I had children with this man, and failed. Failed to be attractive as he reached over and squeezed and jiggled my roll of fat, I guess just to remind me that I was fat again, and it hadn't escaped his notice.
I shattered into a million pieces as my beautiful 12-year-old daughter complimented the strength she could see defined in my arms, the same strong build I have passed on to her, and this man, her father, says, "Muscular arms aren't attractive on a woman." NO. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. How many moments like this have I allowed since that first moment that shoved me onto this path. No more. I see myself in my daughter now, and she is infinitely beautiful. I see the beauty in her strong arms, and am starting to remember feeling the beauty in my own.
I remember being proud of my strength, and my intelligence, and my wit. I remember when my value was not tied to whether or not my nail polish was chipped. I look at my daughter, and I think of the girl I once was. It's time to take care of her and protect her as I would my daughter, to make sure she knows she is beautiful, and worthy of love and respect. No matter her weight, or if the beauty of youth gives way to the beauty of wisdom, those that truly love you will make you feel cherished EXACTLY AS YOU ARE. I also realize that none of this is the fault of the boys, or the man. That my reactions, and my relationships with them were a reflection of how I felt about myself. Now I am starting to be able to say that I am amazing and beautiful, not just because that is what you are supposed to say, but because I know that it is true.
"What would I say to my younger self? The only thing that comes to mind is... I'm sorry... because look how cute she is."
...but you look so good
Anxiety is an intangible monster.
The tingling starts and my throat catches. My neck and shoulders start to tense up. There is a swarm of angry bees in my head. My heart is beating with a force equal to a bolt lightning and it's hard to breathe. Time stands still and there is nothing else.
Am I a good enough mother? Have i loved my children enough? Have I been a supporting wife? Have I made a home for my family? Do I give enough time? Do I give too much time? Am I pretty enough? Why am I different? Why am I incomplete?
Every decision, every thought, every glance in the mirror is consumed by doubt. I am never enough for the monster.
I've arrived at a place in my life where I've accepted that I need help. I chose to be a part of this project hoping it would be a mirror for me. Instead of listening to the monster I'm listening to my own wavering voice.
"When Erica was looking for people to be a part of the project I thought, I'll do that. I don't know who it was that said that."
...but you look so good
Jackie and I have known one another since high school, but we were never friends until the advent of Facebook. We connected online and through this project. When I think of Jackie I remember this beautiful blonde with long, long hair...and a tough personality...someone I'd never attempt to cross. Motherhood, age and life have created an amazing soul in her. Softened her. I was thrilled when she said she'd be a part of this project. I had no idea the depth of her internal struggles...but I could somehow relate. I know anxiety. I know panic attacks. I know questioning your worth as a person in all the roles you play.
How did I arrive at this point in my life? I look back and see a lot of pain and uncertainty. I've lived these 38 years in survival mode. I robotically moved through life building my wall, my shell. I've made a fortress for myself.
It's lonely in the fortress.
i don't want to be alone anymore.
Slowly, I am disassembling the walls. They are well built. I need the right tools.
The red dress is that tool.
It's like being trapped somewhere where there isn't enough air.
It's like being completely disoriented and dizzy.
It's like walls closing in on you but it isn't walls it's your own skin tightening around your neck, your chest, your heart, your veins.
It's like a Dementor sucking your soul away.
You just stop existing.
lately i have been sitting here and asking to more fully understand anger. i have some belief systems that i am wanting to change.
here is a short list of some beliefs i have about anger and what i am learning:
*ANGER IS UGLY --> turns out, anger itself is not the ugly part, the ugly part is in the way i choose to act it out sometimes...this is a changeable piece.
*ANGER IS BAD --> what if the anger itself is not 'bad', and i can see it as a signal from my body that something is out of balance? how can i access that information without causing harm?
*ANGER IS ABUSIVE --> anger is not abusive...the actions that sometime follow can be.
*ANGER SHOULD BE KEPT PRIVATE (i.e. nobody needs to know my dirty laundry) --> yeah, no. i am tired of hiding the things that hurt or make me feel insecure or hideous in some way. these parts of me need sunlight, too. just like the pretty parts.
*ANGRY PEOPLE ARE ASSHOLES --> damn. i hate this one. because the thing is, i am NOT an asshole AND i experience anger...i can't be kind and love AND have anger if i hold onto this one. anger is one of those things that i will feel off and on for the rest of my life...so maybe it is less about avoiding it out of fear, more about learning how to navigate with grace.
as i am writing and meandering my way into this more deeply, i am seeing that anger is simply a feeling. just like joy or disappointment or frustration or ecstasy. i feel it in my body...it is a message, a touch point...an alert of sorts - smacking me awake. and after i feel it, i then have the power to make choices. anger isn to ugly or bad or abusive or secret. it just IS. the rest is up to me.
...and then i did this photo shoot with erica chick.
being in front of her and accessing the parts of me that i believe to be ugly and violent and frightening was hard. these are the parts that i am ready to unleash and unearth and let into the light. so that i can see them more clearly and make different choices. choices that feel healthier in my body. choices that heal instead of harm.
this whole process brings up so much fear in my body.
often the world 'sees' me as beautiful and loving and grace-filled. most people don't believe that i am darkness too...but i am human. i feel the shadowy things and the light ones. i want to be able to feel it ALL and still stand in the truth of who i am.
divinity in motion.
thank you for 'seeing' me. being seen in moments of rawness and vulnerability scares the shit out of me. and is deeply healing. all at once.
Shine brightly through the darkness.
Open those wings and fly.
Tear through the words that bind you.
Feel the love...let it cry.
In those moments where you feel rage. Where your words and mind fight with what you know is right. An out of body experience as spit flies as you yell. And you can't stop, as you shake and tell yourself, "Go. Stop. ENOUGH."
I was so excited about this shoot. Wendy and I have been friends since elementary school. We were not close, but there was definitely a mutual fondness. She's always been strong and beautiful to me. Independent, talented, smart and kind. She has a great laugh and I can remember it from when we were kids.
Wendy had a terrible breakup in the beginning of her high school years. She was left heartbroken. Her mom encouraged her to go out with an older boy, a senior, who had asked her out. She wasn't overly excited about it, as her heart was still broken. It was a distraction from the heartache, so she went.
The date was at a local drive-in movie theater. They went with two of his friends in a big, older car.
They started kissing and fooling around. Wendy started to feel uncomfortable so she giggled. Because in the moment, you can feel like a firm "NO" might be too harsh. You wouldn't want to ruin a perfectly fine evening. A giggle and a muttered, "stop it" should suffice. He'll stop. He'll listen. He'll get it.
When he began punching the side of the car in fury...
When he forced his much larger body on top of hers...
When she froze and incurred...
When the two boys in the front said, "Hey, keep it down back there..."
She told her mom.
He told the kids at school a different story.
She kept her skeletons in the closet for years and years.
She woke up and began talking.
Like the waves
One right after the other
She started sharing.
She started healing.
Let the world see.
Let the world hear.
I'm not afraid anymore.
I'm not alone anymore.
I don't care what you think of me.
You can't hold me back.
I won't let you.
I won't let it.
I will bare all.