The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Wedding Dress Tyranny 11 April 2011

There’s something I need to get off my chest, and I can’t help feeling that what I’m about to say may well resonate with a lot of you.

I am, as you know, getting married.  A big part of that event involves me wearing some kind of show-stopping outfit.  Now, for someone like me who has spent the vast majority of their life being overweight, the prospect of choosing that outfit and being the object of scrutiny for the duration of the day is pretty nerve-wracking.  Obviously I’m not as large as I used to be, but neither am I ‘model thin’ (and am very unlikely ever to be … I’m just not built that way).  So I put off dress shopping as long as I dared.  Much to the alarm of some of my friends (‘ooooh, you absolutely MUST allow nine months for the dress’) I waited until last weekend, approximately 6 months before the day.  The reason for this was twofold: I simply wasn’t looking forward to the experience, and I’ve also been losing weight steadily all year.

So, slightly unwillingly, I went out this weekend.  I had two appointments: one at a designer store in the West End, Pronovias (highly recommended, two month waiting list for appointments) and one at a department store in South London.  I’m not going to name them because, actually, they were very pleasant to me.  It was the Pronovias experience that I found so painful.

Firstly, I simply don’t believe the nonsense about needing to choose and order a dress so far in advance.  Frankly I think it’s intended to make you feel a false sense of pressure so you’re forced into making a decision that you might not normally have made.  It’s a pushy sales tactic, pure and simple.  I was also very alarmed to find out that I wasn’t going to be able to browse any actual dresses.  Call me old fashioned, but surely you need to see and touch the dresses before you begin to decide which might suit you?  No, all we were allowed to do was to scroll through the website.  I’ve been on their website several times.  I even have a shortlist of favourite dresses that I was happy to discuss.  I wasn’t allowed to do that, though, ‘because we don’t stock all of them so it’s much easier if we just keep scrolling through these screens’.  Easier for who, exactly?

I was told I could shortlist five dresses.  I understand that’s to prevent people spending hours and hours in there, but I can’t remember the last time that anyone wanting to sell something to me was so restrictive on my choice from the very beginning.  As it happened we were only able to shortlist three, primarily because I wasn’t able to look at the damn things and had no idea what I might like.  Seriously, how can you make choices based on models on a website?  It’s ridiculous.  We were then taken downstairs to try them on.  There was already another bride down there, but we were at opposite ends of the room, so space and privacy didn’t seem to be an issue.  The dresses were produced and I queried why she had not asked me my size.  ‘All our dresses are size 12 because that’s the average UK size.’  My heart sank.  At my thinnest my bottom half has been a size 10, but a combination of ribs and boobs means there’s no way on earth my top half will get beyond a 14.  And since when is 12 the average, anyway?  I told her there and then that I feared we would be wasting our time (my current dress size is around 16, so not exactly immense).  She said ‘well if you can’t get into them, then I can just hold them up in front of you’.  That’ll be about as much use as, say, looking at them on a website, no?

So by this point I’m very uncomfortable.  I’ve come here, in honour of a joyous occasion, to make probably the most important (and expensive) clothing purchase of my life.  I am now going to be made to feel fat and ugly in the process.  Great sales tactic.  However, I’m made of strong stuff, so I thought I’d make the best of it.  Out I stepped, in a dress at least two sizes too small, that was awkwardly pinned to my underwear, to be confronted not by my mother but by four champagne-swilling bridesmaids waiting for their friend in the next cubicle (we’d not been offered so much as a glass of water, incidentally).  I couldn’t get to the mirror without tripping over them.  I knew at that point I had to get out.

I tried four dresses in the end.  All were entirely unsuitable for me, and the one the sales assistant recommended was ridiculous.  I’ve been in smaller cars.  Hilariously she shortlisted that one and one other, which did manage to raise a wry smile from  me rather than a torrent of rage.  She also, rather patronisingly, told me that ‘the one you like is the cheaper one, which is always good!’  Is it?  Had we discussed budget?  Was it not more important to find something that didn’t make me look like a walking sleeping bag?  I stepped out into the sunshine, not knowing whether I should laugh or cry.  The whole process had taken less than forty minutes, about fifteen of which was spent actually trying on dresses … a two month waiting list for that?

My mother is an excellent woman and within ten minutes I was in Selfridges with a glass of cold pink fizz in front of me, having been via Jo Malone where my self-respect was partly repaired by a lovely man who loaded the pair of us up with free samples.  He was probably thinking ‘here’s a woman who’s been Pronovia-d’, who knows?!  Or maybe he just knows a thing or two about engendering customer loyalty … 🙂

My Mum and I discussed the whole experience (something, incidentally, we never would have done prior to my weight loss).  I told her what I’m going to tell you … I was appalled (and quite upset) that my self-esteem had been given such an unnecessary pounding.  The ghost of my previous self came back to haunt me, and I didn’t like it one little bit.  I can only imagine how cruel and damaging that kind of experience must be for any woman who’s not 100% comfortable with her body image, or is shy, or doesn’t have an impenetrably thick skin.  And do you know what?  Companies like that get away with it because we let them.  Clearly they flog thousands of dresses (minus one to this woman, naturally) so they have no incentive to change.  I’m going to write to them outlining my experience, so I’ll let you know if I get a response.  Somehow I doubt that I will.

I feel better for sharing that, I really do.  Nothing like a minor rant when you’re feeling aggrieved.  Although my experience in the other shop on Sunday was much better, I’ve been in touch with a wonderful dressmaker I know and she’s going to make me a dress.  I know what I want (and what I don’t!) and she assures me that as long as we get going in July I’ll have the dress of my dreams by October.  So I need never go through that nonsense again.

Diet-wise, it’s been a rocky few weeks.  I mentioned in my previous post that I was about to negotiate a minefield of hen-dos and weddings.  I decided that the most practical thing to do was to come off diet for three weeks, which I did.  I didn’t go crazy, of course, but I did gain 3lb and went back on diet last Monday.  All was going swimmingly until the weekend, when my horrible experience prompted me to tumble from the wagon like a rock falling off a cliff.  Which was only sabotaging myself, I know, but that’s what happened.  Like I said, my old self came right back to haunt me.

So it’s my group tonight.  I don’t know what to expect, but I know I have to go.  I have until July now to feel happy with my shape (it feels a bit like a stay of execution!) but there’s work to be done.  And do you know what?  When I get where I want to be I may well be tempted to go and dance naked around a certain bridal dress outlet 🙂