Serene. Angry. Overjoyed. Panicked. Guilt laden. Those are the emotions, in order, that washed over me the morning I found out my husband was nominated for an Emmy Award. I was sleeping away. Happy as a clam ( I am from Cape Cod so happiness always involves clams) when the phone rings. I am pissed, cursing the person who has the nerve to call at 6AM. Then I am whooping it up. An Emmy nomination! My husband deserves this nomination, this award. Then it hits me. I am 38 pounds heavier than I was the last time I went to a black tie event. That’s where the guilt creeps in. I’m worried about my weight at this moment? I feel like a jerk, but, what the hell am I going to do about a dress?
It was the 2002 Academy Awards (Oscars), British Academy Awards (BAFTA), and the Golden Globe Awards. My husband was nominated for the first two and his movie was nominated for the third. There were parties as well. I had a lot of shopping to do.
I was a well rounded size 12 plus sized model represented by the Ford Modeling Agency appearing in Target and Kmart ads and being hired for various other, mostly non glamourous, plus sized modeling gigs. After searching for dresses in numerous boutiques and being told at each one that they didn’t “carry dresses big enough to fit me”. I went the custom route.
I looked great. I felt great. My husband won the BAFTA. His movie won the Oscar and the Golden Globe. It was a dreamy few weeks.
Now here it is 8 years and 38 lbs later. I am now a well rounded size 14 pushing 16. I know that finding a dress will be an impossible feat. Here in Los Angeles, many stores don’t go above a size 10. The current styles seem impossible for women, like me, with curves. Mini skirt length bubble skirts. Ah… no. Long and lean empire waist gowns? Empire waist on my 5’10 inch frame hits me right under the armpits. Not a good look.
I order a few dresses online. I can’t bear to go to a store just yet so I delude myself into thinking I will order something and get lucky. I soon discover that I am in between size categories. A regular 14 just doesn’t cut it. A plus sized 14 is too big in the bust and back. The styles change from sexy to frumpy from one size category to the next. None of the dresses I order fit. My six year old daughter was kind enough to point out that I looked pregnant in all of them. Ha ha ha…hey. There was an idea! I’ll just shove a pillow into the waistband and go to the awards like that. I’ll tell everyone I am pregnant. I seriously considered it.
My husband reminds me that when I spent the obscene amount on the custom Academy Awards dress eight years ago, I promised I would wear it every time we went to a black tie event for the rest of my life. So, I dig it out of the closet and think, what the hell. Maybe it can be let out or maybe, just maybe I gained all the weight in my butt and the skirt will somehow hide it. It’s a floor length midnight blue taffeta with an iridescent lining that peeks out from the hem with a slight fishtail train. It is long and slinky and the dress of my dreams. I slip it over my head and pull it down. Is it caught on something? Yes it is. My behind. It is now a backless mini dress. The only part of the skirt that gets past my hips is the fish tail. Four feet of taffeta is scrunched up around my waist. It’s backless because there is about eight inches of me between the two sides of the zipper. The tightest girdle invented wouldn’t get this thing closed. 38 pounds? Who am I kidding. This is 50+ pounds. I pack up the dress and start searching online again.
I find an amazing dress and I can tell it will fit but it’s not available until two months after the big event. It’s on the website of a department store so I decide the next morning to go see if by some miracle there is one in stock. Well, they don’t have it. But there on a sale rack. Flawed with a huge ragged snag in the fabric and labeled with a tag that was obviously reattached when it was returned, is my perfect dress. It’s a size 14. I walk it to the dressing room muttering to myself, “Please. Please let it fit. I need this to fit”. I enter the harsh lights of the fitting room. I turn my back to the mirror, strip down, and slip the dress over my head. It flows down my torso, over my legs and pools on the floor like warm hot fudge was poured over me. My daughter gasps, “Mommy. You look beautiful!” It fit like it was made for me. Ok so it was supposed to be loose and flowing and on me it was tight, but it worked and I bought it.
I went home and hung it up for three weeks and didn’t look at it again. I was petrified it hadn’t really fit after all and I didn’t want to know. I waited until the night before the event to try it on again. It still fit. The jagged, horrid snag in the fabric was right there on the front of my thigh but I didn’t care. I’d wear the thing if there was a ketchup stain down the front.
The day of the Emmy’s it was 80 degrees in Los Angeles. I did my make up and hair, took a deep breath, and shoved my size 14+ body into a pair of Spanx that fit my six year old like a pair of leggings. I maneuvered myself into a stick on backless bra comprised of two silicone “chicken cutlets” with a snap in the middle. I then pulled my boobs together and snapped them in place. Next was the tape to hold the straps of the dress onto my shoulders. Lastly, I slipped into my completely flat sandals with a rhinestone bumble bee on each of my big toes. I was determined to have one part of my body not pinched, compacted, and in pain. We took a few photos and waited for the limo to arrive. All the while I was plotting how I was going to be able to bend the middle of my body enough to get into the car without splitting the dress or popping the hideous bra thing completely off, taking someones eye out.
When we arrived I maneuvered myself out of the limo. In the process the tape on my gown straps gave way from the sweat that was pouring down my body and I exposed one side of my bra to the waiting, though completely uninterested in me, paparazzi at the entrance. We stepped onto the red carpet. It was hot, crowded, and we had 10 minutes to get to our seats or we’d be locked out of the theater. I made a quick trip to the ladies room. Desperately tried to re-tape my gown to my body and hide the waistband of my Spanx that was peeking out of the top of my backless dress.
I made it to my seat with a minute to spare. Ten rows up in the center, on the right. The show was to be three hours long with no break. “So settle in and enjoy!” I was nervous for my husband. He really deserved to win this award.
It was a beautiful stage. Everyone looked so glamourous around us. Celebrities were everywhere. The creative people behind the scenes were all around me. My nervousness started to transform into excitement. My husband might really win this award! The first Emmy is given out. Look at that thing! It’s huge and gold and shiny. That beautiful woman’s body with lightening- bolt wings languidly stretching towards the sky holding a globe. It would look so cool in my house. I can’t believe this is happening! The suspense is too intense.
Two hours into the show. The category is called. I grab for my husband’s hand and squeeze it. A mobile camera crew comes over to us and sticks a big television camera right in my husband’s face. Poised to capture either the moment of victory or the moment of pretending you are happy for the other guy who won your award instead. All the weeks of waiting and getting ready. The guilt of me worrying about my dress washes over me. This is the important moment.
Here it is… and there it goes. The presenter reads names I have never heard. A group of people I have never seen trot to the stage and collect the sexy gold statue that was supposed to come home with us. My husband turns to me and smiles and says, “It’s OK”. I try to catch my breath. My heartbeat slows back to normal. I let out a big sigh and stare at the snag in my dress. I have to sit there for another hour until the show is over, day dreaming about what it would have been like to see my husband up there on the stage.
We still had a great time. The after- party was beautiful and extravagant. It was designed to look like an otherworldly starry night. Lights of zodiac constellations patterned the walls. Disco balls spun to create shooting stars. There was a bar made completely out of ice. There was even swag. Boxes of specially made Duncan Hines brownies on each of our seats for us to take home. I scooped them up for my daughter and guarded them from the brownie poachers who were sneaking around all night looking for unattended boxes.
Around 10 PM we climbed into our limo, took a deep breath, and wound our way home through the city. Sure I felt disappointed. But really, it was an exciting evening and I was grateful for that. Feeling a bit deprived, I looked down at the fancy platinum boxes of brownies resting on the seat next to me and considered, how many brownies can a six year old eat anyway…?
Elizabeth Vienneau is a former Ford plus model, photographer www.aphotofable.com and dear friend from Los Angeles.