When I published the *now-somewhat-infamous* post “Standing on my Own Two Feet,” little did I imagine that, only months later, I would again be confronting my deeply-rooted self-esteem issues– on the runway.
God certainly has a wicked sense of humor. No, seriously.
It does seem like it’s been ages, but it was only a month ago when Elisa Camahort Page contacted me and made me the most ironic proposition in my life. Elisa asked me, Laurita, who had only months ago ranted publicly about my disdain for shoe shopping, to participate in a fashion show. I had suddenly discovered an F-word that I had always hated. Fashion.
That word alone could bring to mind all the anger, resentment, and pain I felt at the fashion industry in singling out basically everyone whose bodies do not conform to the “standards” that are so pervasive in the mainstream media today.
My hatred for the fashion industry might seem irrational, and yet it is not entirely unfounded. I have, since early childhood, dealt with a lot of body image issues that are related to having spina bifida (see this post!).
Now, accepting or refusing Elisa’s invitation would mean my sense of vanity (yes, I do have a keen sense of vanity!) would be clashing against my sense of self-preservation in an epic battle of emotions. The scene of the battle? A huge ballroom at the Hilton New York.
So, it would be me against myself in this scenario!
When Darlene called me and we spoke for the first time, I hounded her with questions about the initial fitting and rehearsal, and “Do you think you’d be able to get shoes in my size?”
I’m nothing if not a raging cynic when it comes to the shoe department.
She assured me they’d be able to find some shoes for me to wear that night. Still, I worried, stressed, and yes, even cried about it, struggling to come to terms with my desire, and really, my need, to overcome this fear that had been plaguing me ever since I can remember.
To hear me worry about it, you would think that I have never wanted to be on stage. And yet, I graduated from a theatre program in high school and have always been in love with the performing arts. So, why was this any different? Well, in theatre, for the most part, you are being judged on an entire performance, not exclusively on your appearance.
And yes, even in theatre (sorry, I meant especially in theatre!), there were many moments when my self-confidence gave way and I failed to see my true potential, my true beauty.
These are not easy habits to break, people.
To make a very long story a little bit shorter, I did eventually say yes to Elisa, to Darlene, to Kathryn, to all of the other ladies participating, and, in effect– to myself.
A part of me felt that if I didn’t say yes, I would be forced to look at myself as a separate person, one to be pitied because of her self-hate. (Yes, pathetically I do this sometimes. When I’m in an episode of wallowing in self-pity, I tend to see myself as a separate entity and only then do I realize that this person is very much worth loving, worth valuing, just like all my loved ones are worth loving and valuing.)
The day of the fitting was one of the most exciting– and most liberating– days of my life. I had just arrived in Manhattan that afternoon, and the prospect of meeting not only the fashion show organizers, but the other women in the show, and actually trying on outfits that I might be wearing, was almost more than I could handle!
As soon as I walked into the penthouse suite of the hotel, I immediately found myself surrounded by new friends. It was so awesome, like being inducted into a secret sorority, without the hazing and overt discrimination. I was accepted. I was welcome.
They were looking forward to meeting me.
That fitting session went by very quickly, what with all the giggles and “practice strutting” we engaged in. And yes, Darlene had found shoes that fit me…cute, black, sparkly ballerina slippers from 6pm.com. (Thanks for the loaner!)
Oh yes, my biggest fear, staring at me with several pairs of...heels.
Two days later, the day of the fashion show, hair washed and still wet, face clean, I found myself in one of those tell-tale hairdressing chairs, waiting to be *attended to* by a Paul Mitchell stylist.
I had no idea what she was going to do to me and that scared the hell out of me.
My biggest fear, hair-wise, is that she’d somehow try to bring out the Puerto Rican waves I’d been trying to tame with keratin for years now. Her supervisor’s first words to me were, “How would you feel about going curly?”
You gotta be freakin’ kidding me.
Then, my next thought was, “Well, if I come out looking like a white Beyoncé for one night, then so be it. When at BlogHer…” So I sat back, took my glasses off, and went with the flow.
As I rattled on to several people (I was all parts excited, nervous, and simply curious about these people who worked in the high fashion/beauty industry), I remember taking a look at my surroundings and still not believing where I was, and what I was about to do.
I was living an aspiring Manhattan model’s dream!
I really didn’t feel I was worthy of it all, since I knew zilch about fashion.
Then, suddenly, she was finished with me. I looked in the mirror and saw…
For about 30 seconds, I wanted to run. And then, I loved it. Maybe it wasn’t me, at least not yet. But I liked who I saw. I felt attracted to the woman I saw staring back at me.
My fellow models agreed I looked hot. For now, that would satisfy my hungry vanity.
I was then directed to a nearby room, where makeup artists from Elizabeth Arden awaited us, weapons of mass concealer in hand. I was really getting pumped up now!
By this time, Mami had popped in to check on how things were going, and laughed in amazement at my transformation. She, too, loved the temporary change in coiffure.
When I saw the makeup complete, I then understood the hair. It was perfect harmony between my face and hair.
Me and my makeup artist-- she was amazing!!
As I changed backstage into a KamaliCulture animal print dress I would never, ever have tried on (God really pushed the envelope with this one!) and the miraculous pair of cute black shoes I was praying would remain on during the entire show, I grew anxious as I peeked through the curtain at the multiplying crowd. My ever-doting parents were in a row close to the stage.
Finally loving it!! :D
Good. Close enough so they can catch me if I stumble off the stage.
Hands cold and sweaty, heart pounding, as if echoing the techno beat that had been playing for about 20 minutes, I saw the other girls lining up backstage, behind me, who would be first, and I said a final quick prayer.
I rolled out onstage in my wheelchair, stopping at the start of the runway, as if uncertain of what to do next. I smiled graciously at the cheering crowd. Then, as the slow party intro gave way to rap music, I stood up and strutted down the runway.
Everyone roared and cheered.
I wish I could say I recall recognizing the faces of people other than my parents, but all I can remember is the love I felt, emanating from the people who love me who were there to cheer me on.
It was glorious.
The really big downside was having to wait in the wings for the final walk down the runway with all the models, because I wasn’t able to see all the others when they had their turn. I’ve since watched the video (there are two parts), and I doubt I’ve seen it for the last time, though. Everyone was amazing. Everyone shined.
Several of the bloggers modeled with a dog, also dressed in haute couture. What I shame I couldn’t see the posh pups from where I was waiting!
As I readied myself for that final strut, I could feel my left shoe beginning to give way. I had made absolute sure that I had secured it the first time; now I found myself wishing I had done more to avoid a footwear malfunction. Never mind; I was out of time. We were already out on stage.
Oh crap. My shoe slipped right off, and one of the girls behind me picked it up and handed it to me.
I wanted to throw myself on the floor in a toddleresque fit in the middle of the stage.
Instead, I smiled at her, took the shoe, and shrugged and smiled at the audience, modeling the shoe in my hand. My size-4 foot exposed, I strutted back along with the others.
After the show ended, and while I changed backstage into my civilian clothes, I nearly had a breakdown. Tears stung my eyes, because, while I felt defeated, being the only one among the girls that had happened to, I couldn’t counter my Mami’s arguments that I looked and performed fabulously.
I was really struggling to come to terms with feeling so secure of myself, for the first time in my life. Being admired so publicly for my looks wasn’t something I was used to, and I was grabbing at any excuse to compare myself to the other girls.
Then, I glanced around the room I was in, at the women I was with. Ladies of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, senses of style, ages, and levels of self-assurance. Kathryn and Darlene had really done it. And Elisa wanted me to be a part of it.
I should be proud right now, dammit!
And all the girls had said I looked beautiful, cute, gorgeous, hot, fabulous, not *despite* or *save the fact that*.
I just was, and still am. Period.
The truth is, no matter what negative self-criticism I tried to conjure up, there simply was no arguing with the woman in the mirror, who looked back at me with love, acceptance, and confidence.
At the end of the day, she is the *only one* worth listening to.
I lovingly dedicate this post to all the rock stars who made this happen:
Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer co-founder
Kathryn Finney, BlogHer Editor-At-Large and founder of The Budget Fashionista
Darlene Gillard Jones, fashion stylist and PR agent
Sabrina Enyullata of Slice of Lemon
Stacy Jill Calvert of StacyJillCalvert.com
Erin Bailey of Scandalous Beauty Online
Sally McGraw of Already Pretty
Christina Brown of LoveBrownSugar
Heather Barmore of Poliogue
Christina McMenemy of A Mommy Story
Maria Niles of BlogHer and @marianiles
Marcy Swingle of Gastrochic
CeCe Olisa of Big Girl Blog
Reagan Breinholt of Hairdresser on Fire Blog
Grace Atwood of Stripes and Sequins
Alissa Wilson of Stylish Curves
Rhoda Vickers of Southern Hospitality Blog
Monique Maestas-Gower of BlogHer
Christine Koh of BostonMamas
Claire Sulmers of Fashion Bomb Daily
Jenni Radosevich of I Spy DIY
Pauline Campos of Aspiring Mama and Girl Body Pride
Erin Kotecki Vest of Queen of Spain
Erin of Queen of Spain, Stacy of StacyJillCalvert.com, and Pauline of Aspiring Mama and Girl Body Pride pose with me after the show. Love. These. Women.
Special thanks go out to my hair stylists and my makeup artist, whose names I wish I had written down. And a very special shout-out goes out to Francine Gingras and Courtney Weiss working on behalf of Elizabeth Arden, who amazingly took the time to listen to my story with such intent and enthusiasm that it still moves me to tears. Both have since reached out to me via E-mail, and those gestures have meant a lot to me.
To Rose and Larrel, the former who helped me get dressed backstage, and the latter who handled my chair when I wasn’t using it– thanks so much for taking the time to help a neophyte model, who most likely annoyed you with questions and doubts! I truly appreciate all that you did for me, for all of us.
With Rose and Larrel, who went above and beyond what any staff members at fashion shows should be expected to do! ;)
Words alone cannot express the sheer pride and joy I felt at meeting you all and getting the opportunity to share in this experience with each of you. Please see the linky widget below this paragraph, where I hope you’ll share your own recap links! (Check out some more pics here on the Elizabeth Arden Facebook page.)
This experience was made possible by the sponsorship and support of PetSmart, Elizabeth Arden, 6pm.com, and Paul Mitchell.