Friday, January 11, 2013

My Red Dress Moment

I know how to throw a decent party, too.  I've been hosting a Valentine's Day Brunch for some of my sisterfriends for the past few years.  I've long since accepted that men don't really care about Valentine's Day.  I've also accepted that my girlfriends and I really do care about it--or at least we care about chocolate and flowers and pretty things in reds and pinks. Hey!  Don't judge us. We also love some kick ass rock-n-roll, a great burger, and hockey.  We're MULTI-FACETED, people.

     Anyhow, because I am my mother's daughter, I usually have a theme for this girlie shin-dig. 
Some of the most notable among them?  The Chocolate Spa Day--well, that just speaks for itself.  All the food was chocolate, and so were the spa treatments.  A girls' dream, right?  Then there was the "My Favorite Things" party (a la' Oprah) where each guest brought enough of their "favorite-under- $5" thing to share with everyone else.  The favors were music CD's made up of everyone's favorite songs.  

That was going to be hard to top.  There was the family honor to uphold, you know. 
It's a lot of pressure.

     Then I read Jenny Lawson's (The Bloggess) stories about the The Traveling Red Dress and the Movement it Launched,  I knew what last year's party theme was going to be.  If you are one of the few people in the world who doesn't know about the Red Dress phenomenon, go read her stories first.  I'll wait for you. 

     Welcome back! The stories are amazing, right? 
Don't you want to burst into song or dance around on a mountain top or start a girls' school or something right now?! 

     Me?  I read the original story and forwarded the link around to all of my girlies.  We are (almost) all in our 40's.  For the uniniated, your 40's are when things start to go to hell. Your 40's are when you get sandwiched between raising your kids and coping with your aging parents.  Your own body starts rebelling against you.  You have to wear reading glasses to check Facebook on your phone. Much of your social life revolves around hospital visits and funerals.  Things get way frigging harder than you ever believed they could be.  At the same time, though, really wonderful stuff is still happening all around you.  Everyday.  And you are just barely wise enough to appreciate it. Anyhow, the fount of wisdom and bringer of joy that is Jenny Lawson really struck a cord with us--and thousands and thousands of women all around the world.  While we are busy taking care of our kids and our parents and dealing with married or dating-because-suddenly-we're-divorced sex and underwater mortgages and taking whatever THAT is away from the dog and getting enough fiber into our diet and, and, and... We have forgotten how to be deliriously happy.  Or even moderately happy.  In fact, we act as if we aren't ALLOWED to be happy.  We're wrong.  We are definitely SUPPOSED to be happy.  We are.

     And last January when I first read about the women that started sending their own red dresses to other women around the world,  I came undone.  (In my cubicle at work, actually.  There I was blubbering like a tweenager at a Bieber concert.  It was emabarrassing, but life altering--in a good way.) 

I wanted in on that magic.  For myself and for the women I adore.


     And so, I decided that for Valentine's Day 2012, my girlies and I would play dress up.  I went to my local thrift shop and purchased three red gowns for about $12.00.  They weren't exactly the red poppy dress that Sunny Haralson created.  By a long shot.  I'm no Sunny Haralson.  I do have an amazing friend, Helene, though, who can take dryer lint and some garden twine and come up with a runway-worthy design.  So I called her.  I told her what I wanted to do. She has been graciously going along with hairbrained schemes for about two decades now.  Like I knew she would be, she was totally game.  WE  (who am I kidding?!) were going to take these five thrift store dresses (I might have gone a bit overboard) and make them both FABULOUS and flexible.  See, amazingly beautiful women come in all shapes in sizes.  Thrift store ball gowns, not so much.  Our idea was to make each of these dresses deliciously corseted so that they could hug the curves and run along the straight-of-ways of ALL of my girlies.

Photo by Nicole Coutu

     At the risk of embarrassing her forever, I have to tell you this story, because it is EVERY woman's story.  About three weeks before the party, I brought the dresses to Helene's house.  She and I were both dressed like sisterfriends who had spent the previous half-day puttering around the house doing chores.  We're both in old jeans, Helene's in a plaid shirt,  I'm in an old tie dye.  Both of us have our hair in messy buns.  I'm wearing ZERO make-up--not even the stuff that hides my raccoon eyes (thanks for those, Nana Frana, really).   We are the very picture of the women-who-take-care-of- everyone-and-everything-but-themselves. 

     To make her designs, Helene needs me to put on the dresses.  I put on the first four.  We giggle like teenagers as she makes marks and measurements and sketches designs.  The fifth dress is a beaded, strapless dress.  It's my favorite of the lot.  I tell Helene to try it on.  She hesitates.  What the hell, Honey?!  We are all alone in the house.  I bully her into trying the dress on. 
     Helene carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Her father is in a nursing home.  Her mother lives with her.  She  also has a husband, and a twenty-something daughter at home.  She's been out of work, like too many Americans, for too long.  (Don't worry, dear readers, she's since found the PERFECT job for her!)  Her two grown sons were both serving in the military, keeping them, and her grandbabies, too far away from her.  Did I mention that less than a year earlier, she had major back surgery and was still healing?  To say the least,  on this afternoon Helene is not feeling very beautiful or strong or even VISIBLE. 

     Then she puts on the red, strapless, beaded ball-gown.  No make-up.  Hair's a mess.  And as soon as I zip it up, she turns into a fairy princess.  It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  It still makes me tear up just to write about it.  It only lasted a few moments, before she felt self-concious and it was gone.   They were absolutely breathtaking moments, though. 

I want every woman to feel that way as often as they can. We deserve it.  We do.

    Well, the dresses get altered.  The day of the party arrives.  I'm saddened to learn that several of my girlies won't be attending.  Some make excuses, some come right out and admit it--they have body-image issues that they can't get past.  They can't bring themselves to play dress up with us.  In the end, though, twelve women I love with all my heart come for a day of play.  I have a surprise for them--I've convinced a student photographer from the area vocational high school to shoot the magic as it happens.

     Then something totally unexpected occurs.  My girlies are afraid to put the dresses on.  There is a lot of emotion that nobody saw coming. It was just supposed to be a bunch of old friends (some of us have been friends since grade school) playing dress-up.  Clearly, there was some baggage we had to deal with--years of believing that we aren't good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, important enough, worth enough...

     Well, on that cold, clear day last February, we stood up to those lying, nagging voices. 
And we finally tried on those dresses. 
And they were MAGIC.
Because when we put on those dresses, we saw for ourselves that WE ARE BEAUTIFUL.
Photos by Nicole Coutu


Of course, we knew that about each other. we just couldn't see it about ourselves. 
That day, though, we did. 
And It. Was. Amazing.

     That day was filled with tears, laughs, treats, toasts, discovery, and delirious happiness.
     I wish I could tell you that all of us have been deliriously happy ever since.  We haven't. 
     In fact, 2012 was a pretty rough year for us in a lot of ways.  More loss, more tragedy, more real life happened last year.  Still, because we all had our Red Dress Moment, each of us are a bit more mindful of the MAGIC in our lives.  And it's beautiful.  Like we are. And you know, when it's contrasted against the loss and tragedy, it really stands out. So, there's that.

Have you had a Red Dress Moment yet?  How can I help you with that?
Peace, Love, & Delirious Happiness,




  1. I don't own a red dress but all of you looked fab :)

    1. Boo, email me your mailing address and I'll send you a red ball gown!

    2. I can't find your email anywhere. I'm such a doofus :(

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Thank you, now quickly erase that before spammers and stalkers get a hold of it.

  2. Oh man I'm all teary now, I love the Red Dress Movement and how it makes women feel. All women should have a Red Dress or equivalent that they can pop on whenever they need a lift and a reminder that they are, indeed, beautiful in so any ways. I don't have a red dress, but I do have a pair of pink sequinned, kitten heeled slinkbacks (that I saved up for years ago) and all I have to do is slip me feet in them and I feel happy :) You ladies all look stunning in your lovely frocks, happy and beautifying wishes to all of you xx

    1. Your shoes sound absolutely fab. You should slip them on with your yoga pants and tee shirts when you're doing housework!

    2. And send me your address and I'll mail you one of mine!