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How I Came to Terms with Wearing Sexy Dresses That Barely Fit

I've struggled with extra weight for years. But I've learned the power of sparkly makeup, Diet Coke and acceptance.

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I was the shrinking violet in this crowd, though. Satin, corsets, cleavage, high femme fabulosity, butch drag, and gender bending — everyone was bringing it like this was Prom Night of the Damned. The hairdos and hats were so big, the event organizers had to establish a height rule for the showroom. One girl wore a yellow dress with a tutu-skirt and a Swarovski-crystal-bedazzled rubber ducky on her head. We were the beautiful people not because we were so naturally blessed but because we put in the time.

After the contest ended and the winners were chosen, I retired to the casino’s T.G.I. Friday’s with the rest of the sparkly rabble and ate the world’s greasiest quesadilla while watching the merrymakers stream by on the way to the after-party. By the time I headed up to my room, it was 5 a.m. — 8 if we’re adjusting for time zones. I doffed my wig, scrubbed off my makeup, and lowered into bed, feeling satisfied and fully alive. In the burlesque world, it’s called “the glitter high.” I got it. Sometimes you just need to get into that full-femme battle rattle and ride the night down to its pathetic, wheezing last. The grave can wait and so, for that matter, can sleep. I woke three hours later, pupils pinned in the beam of Vegas morning sunlight that streamed through the cheap hotel blinds, totally alert and not ravenously hungry for the first time in months, reborn in the Temple of Fake.

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Today, as on most days, I opened the closet and ran my hands across the row of Pinup Girl dresses, thinking, OK, cartoony paradigm of feminine appearance, I’ve given you enough. It’s boots and jeans today. I’m shrinking back to my workaday DEFCON level 5 femme. The burly-q swag and the war paint can wait.

But they won’t wait for long, because I can now clearly see that there will come a time when the riotous red-dress occasions are overtaken in quantity by somber black-dress ceremonies. If you know what I’m saying, and I think you do.

Back in the days of my pious punk youth, St. Ian of Fugazi sang, “You can’t be what you were. So you better start being just what you are.” While I never forgot those words, I didn’t really act on them until recently.  Now I feel a sense of urgency as I return to the sentiment again and again, like a mantra or a prayer. Carpe diem, carpe dazzle. Big or little, at our ideal size or far from it, this is the only show we get, no turning back.

There is a spirituality to every kind of theater, and what, I ask you, is more theatrical than a woman doing her best to work it? Costume, makeup, inhabiting a role so thoroughly you’re transformed by it — it’s all there. God’s loving acceptance is a come-as-you-are proposition, but it’s my secretly held belief that every time you step out in something a little flashy, a million glittery angels chorus a resounding “Yes!” Then you peel off the false lashes, get back into your jeans and boots or yoga pants and roll onward, refreshed and inspired by the knowledge that somewhere between God and glamour, grace prevails.

Here’s what I know, this New Year, for sure: Darlings, it’s later than you think. Always. But there’s still plenty of time. Slip the red dress from the hanger. Tuck the silk flower behind your ear. Hide the scale and head out the door. The rest of your one and only life is waiting.

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