Editor’s note: Makenzie Bowker is a social media producer for HLN's Weekend Express with Lynn Berry.
I've never been what you would describe as "thin" or "skinny." In high school, I was for sure carrying more weight than I should have been. Rack it up to depression stemming from my parents' divorce, typical high school woes or overindulgence in one too many meals -- but I was easily a size 16 on a "skinny" day. Needless to say, I didn't have an overwhelming amount of male suitors lining up to ask me on dates.
So imagine my surprise when one of the kindest boys in the school asked me to prom my senior year. My prom date was an absolute gentleman through and through. I was elated he asked, because I knew it would be a night of sweet memories and bad dance moves. I rallied my mom to search the racks of department stores for the perfect dress. Our first stop? An established prom shop with an owner very well-known in the pageant world and community. We got in line behind a handful of 10 mom-daughter duos, waiting for our spot to scour the coveted aisles of sequins and taffeta.
Then it happened.
The second we were in front of the owner, he scoffed, looked me up and down and said, "We can't help you here. We don't carry your size." It probably was true, but damn if it didn't hurt me to the core. As women, we tend to be very self-aware (and overly critical) of our bodies... even at a young age. My mom called the owner a few colorful names and encouraged me to continue our search, but I was too embarrassed. Damage done. I quickly went home and ordered a dress online (in a god-awful yellow color with a poofy skirt and sequins), an easier route.
With one simple line, that prom store owner’s words have haunted me for nearly a decade. His words have stuck with me, even after shedding 50 pounds. Until now.
The truth is, when my fiancé asked me to marry him, I didn't even hesitate to say yes. For six years, he's loved me through some pretty rocky storms and a lot more sunny days. He’s kind, patient, handsome and 100% the man I want to spend the rest of my days with. What I did hesitate about was the thought of walking into a bridal shop... but not for the reason you'd expect.
For seven months, I have been artfully avoiding searching for a wedding dress. Denying myself the "fun" part of planning my big day, I had visions of walking into a bridal boutique and being turned away because my "size" (a 10/12 these days) wasn't in store. This week, I finally faced my fears. I made an appointment with my mom and sister in tow, but truthfully I was already devising exit strategies from the moment I confirmed our time. I didn’t know how to come clean to them about my anxiety over the experience.
Greeted by a sweet middle-aged lady named Cindi, we were whisked away to entire rooms full of ivory, off-white, champagne gowns, just begging for a girl in love to try them on. She rattled off the different shapes, price ranges, every possible detail you could ever want or need to know about finding a wedding gown. I listened carefully. No mention of my size or a special section for gowns for girls with “hips and a butt.” I nervously asked, “Does it matter what size I pick?” She gave me a strange look back and said, “No, honey. They are sample sizes and you’ll be just fine. Pick out some gowns you absolutely love and we’ll get started.”
Despite what she said, I still held my breath as she helped me slip into the first three gowns. I admittedly was waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop -- a dress to rip or to get painfully stuck. It wasn’t until my sister snapped the photo above -- with the lace gown hugging my hips and the buttons lining my back. I felt beautiful. It wasn’t the dress, but it certainly was a dress that helped my fears fade away. Standing on the small pedestal, surrounded by my mom, sister and Cindi, I realized I was letting some jerk from eight years ago steal my happiness. Let's be honest: Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And now? The hunt is on for a fabulous gown. To any girl who has ever done anything but rock what her mama gave her: Stop right now. Every woman deserves to feel beautiful in a fancy dress -- whether it's prom, a wedding or just because.
Eat your heart out, haters.