Weight shaming in the fitting room

Recently, while recovering from a cold and watching the movie, I realised I have had two Pretty Woman moments*. My first Pretty Woman moment was in a restaurant in Paris with my fiancé a couple of years ago; I was feeling daring and ordered snails as an entrée. When they were served I tried to use the tools provided to pick one of them up. The first snail went flying across the room and landed under another couple’s table (unlike in the movie where the waiter catches Julia Robert’s flying snail). My fiancé and I tried to control our laughter as, miraculously; we were the only ones that noticed the event.

My second Pretty Woman moment was not quite as funny. It came when I was wedding dress shopping. Overall, wedding dress shopping has not been a great experience for me and I think it’s because I am a plus sized bride. If the size you wear is bigger, or smaller, than the norm it can be difficult to find things when shopping for clothes; when you are shopping for a wedding dress this difficulty can be, or at least seem, magnified.

The dress is an important part of a wedding, whether you like it or not. My bet is the most talked about aspect of the upcoming royal wedding will be the bride’s dress (I’m so pleased not to be Kate Middleton right about now; oh the pressure!). After the wedding, everyone talks about what the bride wore and, as the bride, you’d like them to be saying nice things. Plus, I’m one of those girls that has dreamed of her wedding since she was a little girl so, while I don’t have the same pressure as Kate Middleton, there is some pressure for me to find the perfect dress.

So wedding dress shopping I went. And I took my Mum because she would be honest if a dress looked hideous and for this shopping expedition honesty was important. The first shop we went to was on the spur of the moment on the way home from Sydney. After the shop assistant recovered from shock when she found out we had not made an appointment, she showed me some dresses and I tried them on. There weren’t many I could try on because there weren’t many dresses bigger than a size 10. I tried on three dresses and left feeling sad that so many of the ones I wanted to try on would not have fit.

The next attempt to find my dress was in Newcastle, where I live. That day I think I went to every bridal shop in Newcastle, no appointments necessary. What I noticed was that most of the sales assistants who served me wore a similar expression while I was with them. It’s hard to explain what was written on their face but what showed was a struggle between their want to do their job well and help me with their knowledge that they didn’t really have anything appropriate for my size. It looked like they were doing their best but they knew they weren’t going to be very successful. A lot of them got me to try on dresses that were too small for me, because that’s all they had to offer. This involved me squeezing uncomfortably into something and then walking out of the change room to show my Mum with the sales assistant pulling the dress in behind me to show how it would look if it were ordered in my size (which means that it is possible to get some of the dresses in different sizes but that it isn’t common to keep a variety of sizes in the stores). This is not the sales assistants’ fault at all (they were doing their job and were, for the most part, lovely about it) but putting on dress after dress that didn’t fit me did not do wonders for my self esteem; neither did my  visit to the next store.

It was in Newcastle that same afternoon where we made our last stop. There was a gorgeous and slim girl trying on a gorgeous slim fitting dress with help of the two sales assistants when we walked in. Reluctantly, one of the sales assistants approached us after we had wandered around for a little while looking at things. Now I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe it came across this way because I was tired not feeling great after trying on dresses that didn’t fit all day or maybe she was due to finish her shift soon and looking forward to going home, but this sales assistant seemed as though she wasn’t interested in helping me from the start. Her demeanour was completely different with me to what I had observed with the bride-to-be she was assisting when we walked in and, because of what she said to me, I was left to assume the difference in treatment was because I was different in size. The sales assistant asked curtly what she could help us with and I asked her if I could try on some wedding dresses, I pointed to one in the window that I liked and said “maybe like that one?” She replied that she couldn’t help me because there would be nothing in my size to try on and that the style I had pointed to “wasn’t made for bigger girls”. Granted, the sales assistants who spoke down to Julia Roberts in Pretty Women were harsher and more blatant with their comments but, to me, the message was quite similar. When I got home I burst into tears and my poor fiancé dealt with the blubbering mess that was left.

But don’t worry because, like Pretty Woman, this story is one with a happy ending; I did find my dress. After a little while when I felt ready to try again, I organised a shopping expedition to Sydney and made sure to make appointments to go to shops that had plus sized dresses for me to try on. One of these shops was Curvaceous Bridal, where the dresses start at size 16. And while I didn’t find my dress at Curvaceous, they did have some fabulous gowns that fit me perfectly. I would like to thank Fiona at Bridal Secrets and a Mamamia commenter (who suggested I try something by Maggie Sottero) for helping me to find my wedding dress. I didn’t have an appointment at Bridal Secrets but I was lured in by the great display of dresses in their window. Fiona told me she knew the perfect dress for me as soon as she saw me; I tried on one dress in there and it was the one – Fiona was right and the search was over!

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* By this I mean I had two experiences that mirrored scenes from the movie Pretty Woman. And no; I have never worked as a prostitute.

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