[Note: this article was originally posted in 2012. The photo at the bottom is my daughter today, at age 23 holding that yellow dress that taught us so much.]
It’s been two weeks since my oldest daughter was asked to prom on a perfect sunny evening on a hillside overlooking the Seattle skyline. The roses have dried and time’s marched on; leading us to the next chapter in her first prom story – the dress.
This was our first search for the dress; that special dress that matches a girl’s magical prom night expectations. What I didn’t expect to learn during the search was that sometimes our seemingly strong, confident daughters are still just little girls needing their mother’s words and actions as reminders of their true beauty. They are never too old to hear us say, “you are beautiful on the inside and out.”
Between society and the media, teenage girls often define themselves by the size of their clothes. They very often don’t realize that every body is built differently, from height to bone structure. Most women are not 5’7” and a size 4.
Note to all dress shopping moms: don’t let the sales person zip your daughter into an expensive dress. Do it yourself. That was my mistake. I let a nice sales lady zip my daughter into her dream prom dress – the one she researched online and the only one left in the store. I let someone else zip my precious daughter into her dream dress in a size too small. In the sales lady’s defense, she did say it might be a little tight, but a size larger might be too big because the dress is strapless. Convinced and eager, we walked out with the dress and a matching necklace.
Once home and with mom zipping the dress, reality set in. Every wrong thing the media taught my teenage daughter for 17 years became embodied by the dream prom dress that was a size too small. She cried. The idea of being one size bigger made her panic – even if that bigger size was still a single digit number. I was stunned. My beautiful, healthy, confident daughter was reduced to tears by the size on a prom dress tag. Had a size defined her sense of self? If so, how as a mother had I let that happen? My own panic set in.
Every negative teenage feeling was rising to the surface of my little girl in a woman’s body. Her date had just ordered his tux; one to match her yellow dress. The dress store didn’t have a bigger size. We’d bought a matching necklace. We needed to get the dress quickly in case it required altering. She was convinced prom might be ruined – and she had to know how on earth she could be a size bigger than her friends. How would I find the answers that plague so many of today’s teenagers who believe they have to be the small size on a tag to meet the media-standard of beauty?
I told her the problem could be solved. We would get the same dress in plenty of time. We could return the dress we bought and order the right size online since it was in stock. Her date wouldn’t have any tux-matching worries and the necklace would still match. We would expedite the shipping in case altering was needed. The dress was the easy part to solve.
The bigger challenge was how to make a 17-year-old believe the size of clothing doesn’t define her beauty, her self-worth. I hugged and dried tears. I reminded her that she is taller than most of her friends, that everyone is built differently, that she is beautiful and perfect. Most importantly, I told her she would understand once the new dress came. She would see how beautiful the new yellow dress looked when it fit the way it was supposed to. So we waited.
The dress arrived in two days. She opened the front door and let out a little scream, rushed in and ripped the box open the box. There it was, the yellow chiffon, empire-waisted, flowing moment of truth for a teenage girl wanting the perfect dress.
On it went. It was perfect, fitting exactly as it was designed; even the length matched her height; not one stitch of altering needed. She stood looking at herself in the mirror, joyful, looking like a wish just came true. I stood silent, holding back tears. Finally. She could see how beautiful the right sized dress looked; feel how confident it made her. I watched, hoping she saw herself as her father and I do.
Life isn’t about a specific size. It’s about the right size. Squeezing yourself into something too small is stressful and uncomfortable. Putting on the right size, with the right fit, creates confidence and increases self-esteem.
Sometimes teenage girls need proof. Words from their biased moms aren’t nearly enough. Sometimes they actually have to put on the dream dress in a bigger size, look in the mirror and see how beautiful they look. It’s about the dress, not the size on its tag. Girls come in all shapes and sizes, as do the dresses that make them feel like a princess for one special night.
As a mother, sometimes the only thing you can do is buy the right sized dress, zip them up, turn them around to face the mirror and see their own beauty – and hope they finally see themselves as you do.