My sister and I stood in the bathroom mirror, trying on our bridesmaids dresses for our brother’s wedding. It was supposed to be this time last year, but theirs was one of thousands of postponed COVID weddings.
This time last year, my sister was nine months pregnant. This time last year, I was 15 pounds lighter.
My sister had since given birth to her second child, and in the last 11 months, she had gone from punishing her body for not “bouncing back fast enough” to learning to accept it, allow it, honor it for all it is capable of, and love it — back to the balanced, beautiful place it wanted to be at this point in her life.
I was a full year to the weekend when I recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea. I had gone two and a half years without a period after going off of birth control, and I hadn’t had a natural period since I was 13–three years after I’d first started dieting.
The year leading up to the global lockdown had been one devoted to healing myself; a reunion of my mind, body, and spirit. I had abandoned my body all those years ago and had given my mind the hefty task of telling my body what to do whilst ridiculing it for never doing it right. I had to learn to let go of “the rules,” the ideals of what “health” looked like, the need to protect myself by controlling how I appeared, and to let my body do the talking for once. She told me she wanted to gain weight, to feel anchored, grounded, to take up more space, and I didn’t resist. Not anymore.
Needless to say, our original dresses no longer fit. With the new wedding date set to the next month, we were weighing our options with what little time we had left to get things altered. My sister, who had hopelessly abandoned her original maternity dress, had found a new dress in a close-enough color, but it didn’t do much to flatter her post-child-rearing chest.
My dress was an inch away from zipping. If I stopped breathing and didn’t move, I could maybe zip it all the way, but figured it would be tricky to attend the wedding and carry out my bridesmaid duties, let alone dance or enjoy myself, from that bathroom.
So we switched — me in my sister’s new dress and her in my original one. They fit. We looked beautiful. We stood, looking at ourselves in the mirror, and gave a sigh of relief.
Relief, not only that we had solved the dress issue, but that we were both finally at a place where we were at peace with our bodies, with ourselves; relief that we didn’t resort to picking and prodding at our reflections, that we no longer had the energy or desire to succumb to the pressures that society places on our womanhood, that we no longer felt the need to look “breathtaking” to feel worthy; relief that we actually believed were already enough.
My sister looped her arm through mine and quoted the movie Julie and Julia when Meryl Streep and Jane Lynch find themselves in a similar bathroom mirror situation: “We look pretty good… but not great!”
We laughed and smiled together, and in that brief moment there was grace. There was hope. There was love and reunion of our minds and bodies and souls, individually and together. We did look pretty damn good — not perfect, not flawless, but beautiful, in spite of (or perhaps because of) all the ways the quieted voices of our inner critics would’ve liked to disagree.
Sometimes grace is a slow and brilliant sunrise; you anticipate its arrival on the horizon after making it through a long dark night. Other times, grace is a subtle and swift breeze when you’d gotten so used to the stillness in the air; a moment of relief felt between sisters in a bathroom mirror — unexpected, but wholeheartedly felt for those few lingering seconds.
Whichever way it comes, we can trust that grace is always there, always on the way, always reminding us that we will be okay. That we can be pretty good, but not great. That great isn’t a prerequisite for wholeness. That night becomes day and day becomes night, and a gentle breeze can only exist where there is a change in the direction of the winds. That the nature of life is contrast, and so the existence of contrast in our lives doesn’t mean we are living it wrong. It means we are fully alive.