Sunday, January 25, 2004

Self Image & Playing Dress-Up

I have always been a big one for the fun of playing dress-up, creating an alternative persona and donning appropriate attire for the role, even if that persona is merely an emphasis of a single aspect of myself. Nowadays this is usually the feeling I have when I take the time to put on makeup, the emphasis of my features making me a slightly exaggerated, hopefully better looking, version of myself: New Improved Rosie PLUS! With decreased blotchiness and 50% more eyelashes than ever before!

Before I discovered the joys of cosmetics most of my self transformations were achieved through clever manipulation of old net curtains. Our dressing up box contained a few discarded 1960s outfits of my mother's, ranging from smart dressy blouses to hippyish kaftans, one extremely ugly baby blue nylon negligee, and dozens of yards of heavy-weight chiffon which had adorned the windows of our house when my parents moved in.

Net curtain is a surprisingly versatile costuming medium, especially combined with a child's imagination. There was a lot of "I'm a roman senator!" of course, and some "I'm Cleopatra... Dressed like a roman senator!" I'm pretty sure the Greek and Roman pantheons factored in somewhere, along with the White Witch of Narnia, Glenda the Good Witch of Oz...And probably a great deal of randomly draping myself in white and declaring that the curtains represented Elizabeth I's famous gold gown, or Victoria's plain black mourning dress. They didn't have to accurately resemble anything, the point was to cover day to day garb and become something, someone different.

You'd think with such a preponderance of white frilly dress-up stuff surrounding me at an early age that I would have played the ultimate girlish fantasy role of "bride" many times in my early years, perfecting my mental image of myself as a virginal princess awaiting my shining knight. But I didn't.

Princess never factored in strongly as a fantasy role for me either, since in most fairy tales one achieves princess status by marrying a prince. I liked Cinderella more before she got the prince: she put up with a lot of crap and was still nice to the local wildlife, afterwards she was just "the princes bride". The Little Mermaid was absolutely stark staring crazy for giving up being a mermaid, just to be a mute wife to a stuck up ponce of a prince, not to mention the whole walking-on-knives thing she had to live with in the version I read. I mean come on! Mermaid... Swimming about like a dolphin, being one of the sexiest mythical creatures ever conceived, sitting on a rock combing your hair all day...Since when is being a half-crippled land bound princess better than that?

My sister planned a pretend wedding for me, marrying me off to the boy down the street when I was only three years old. I wore a many-layered net curtain skirt pulled up to my armpits in place of a dress, blue canvas mary-jane shoes with paper flowers glued on specially for the occasion, and a mantilla style veil of (you guessed it) net curtain. That was fun because it was an excuse to play, it was a party, plus it meant a great deal of attention for me and the little groom, nothing to do with the wedding part.

When I fantasized fairytale roles for myself I was a nymph of the woodland or river variety, I was Botticelli's Venus rising from the waves, I was Titania, a mermaid or selkie, a mortal child thrust into a magic world like Dorothy in Oz or Lucy in Narnia, sometimes Nancy Drew or a female version of Sherlock Holmes. What I'm getting at here is the absence of damsel in distress roles. I hated being cast as the girl tied to the railroad tracks when I played with the boys in my neighborhood.

Of course I had insecurities that I ignored with play, but I played at being a strong adventurous female to quell my fears, rather than dreaming of rescue from my emptiness by something tall dark and handsome. I was lonely, so I made up varied characters to fill that space, not some hunky husband.

Perhaps that is why the bridal boutiques I have visited have had such a surreal dressing up box feeling to me. All that white lace and netting reminds me more of flouncing around the upstairs bathroom declaring myself the child incarnation of several of the ancient gods (all rolled into one of course), of the dusty mothball smell of some old lady's misplaced attempt to prettify the windows of a Victorian house. It all seems like a hold-over from more than a century ago, when tight fitting bodices and full skirts were daily wear, the wedding dress was just a more special variation on the regular style.

I have been trying to take the attitude that this is an excuse to buy an unusually expensive outfit and dress much more ornately than usual, then I get caught up in the cultural expectations of ornately beaded bodices, chapel trains and schiffli lace and and I start to get the feeling that somehow my search for The Dress should be some sort of spiritual journey.

Everything I tried on until last Friday felt like a costume, even the one dress that was close to being a contender was more Scarlett O'Hara than it was Rosemary Grace...These confections did not elicit the mythical moment of wonder and high emotion supposedly brought on by donning a heavily structured gown of ivory satin and shimmering sequins: the moment when you first "feel like a bride". Maybe I don't know what this Bride Feeling [TM] is supposed to be. It's hard to get religious about an item of clothing that has been elevated to iconic status by the fashion industry as an excuse to squeeze at least a grand and a half out of every woman who wishes to make her wedding a big celebration.

Then I finally achieved the moment when you know you're wearing The Dress, and it was a simple as looking in the mirror and realizing that the size ten sample I had half-squeezed myself into looked like something I would wear in real life, that what stood out was me and not the dress. After all, that's what I wanted: to be pretty, and to be myself. Rosie Plus! Shiny Hair! Not-Shiny Forehead! 50% more eyelashes! Best foot forward for a day that celebrates how lucky I am to have found my life partner, how lucky we are to be together and happy.

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