I kind of like James Corden, and I really like his Late Late Show "Carpool Karaoke" segments — they're cute, cleverly edited, and they almost make me want to watch the rest of the show. I was watching the Iggy Azalea segment again the other day, however, when I caught something I must have missed the first time — during a conversation about Azalea's upcoming nuptials, Corden asks her if she's got a "heavyset bridesmaid," to which the puzzled rapper replies that no, they're all quite fit.
"Oh come on," Corden insists, grinning, "everyone's got the one heavy bridesmaid."
I clicked out of YouTube at that point, shame settling like bad cheese in my gut. I was almost the heavy bridesmaid, and all the social stigma I had internalized about this situation actually led to me missing the wedding entirely and losing an old friend in the process.
K got married this past March, and her wedding was going to be the first time I'd ever been part of a bridal party besides the time I performed the san-san-kudo (a Japanese sake ceremony) for my aunt when I was 12.
For some context, K is a beautiful, willowy girl with a tiny waist and perfectly tattooed eyebrows. Her other bridesmaids were all built on similarly slim lines, whereas I am 5'5" and nearing 200 pounds. One of these things is not like the others!
The fitting session for our bridesmaid dresses was an abbreviated nightmare, with the absent K insisting we send her pictures of ourselves in the dress. The other BM's slipped themselves into the strapless sheath that flattered their curves and elongated their necks while I sequestered myself in the fitting room and thunked my head against the wall.
"Just get it over with," I muttered grimly, yanking the sample dress over my stubbornly ample chest. My hips were no problem, but the size 12 cheerfully refused to zip up the back no matter how much the maid of honor tried to wrangle my boobs into line. Finally she gave up and just clipped the dress to my bra, herding me out of the fitting room so that K's sister-in-law could take a picture.
"It looks great," the skinny liars chirped as some random woman threw me a doubtful glance.
The salesgirl skipped over, head cocked. "How's the 12 treatin' ya?"
I stared at her, fistfuls of the dress still caught in the maid of honor's grip to preserve my modesty.
The salesgirl beamed. "Well we don't have any larger sizes in store right now, so how 'bout I just take your measurements?"
A measuring tape snaked over my bumps and curves, accompanied by some thoughtful mumbling, until the salesgirl declared that because of my chest, I was just teetering between a 16 and an 18.
No, my brain stuttered in horror, a red flush creeping over my face and throat.
"OK," I said.
"Would you like to order the 18 just to be on the safe side?"
"OK," I whispered.
We ordered the dresses, the salesgirl repeating our sizes aloud just to be on the safe side. Size 4 for E, 6 for R, and another 4 for C.
And for Rabbit, a size 18.
To their credit, none of the other BM's even blinked an eye at the disparity, steering the conversation toward bachelorette party plans while I gripped my credit card hard enough to hear the plastic creak.
I saw the picture of myself in the dress later, gaze glossing right over the beautiful material and striking color to focus on my fat arms and double chin. My expression in the picture is pained, an uneasy smile and pleading eyes. Save me, Rabbit-in-the-photo seems to say. Save you from what? Yourself?
Fat girls are funny, the chubby Corden reminded his audience with that one thoughtless quip. Fat girls can be bridesmaids but never brides, and I think this is so ingrained in our collective conscious that we can perpetuate these fat girl stereotypes without even meaning to wound.
I cite as example the conversation K and I had about whether or not she was going to invite my sister Monkey to the wedding: claiming that her fiancée's multitudinous Cambodian relations were crowding the guest list, she suggested that Monkey could come as my plus-one.
It never even occurred to K that I might want to bring a date, that I might be able to bribe some poor soul into accompanying me as the plus-one of the TOKEN FAT BRIDESMAID. When I relayed this suggestion to Monkey, she sighed and pointed out that she'd been planning to bring her husband. You know, the way married couples generally function as each other's dates? Rather than having to be the date of their sad-sack FAT BRIDESMAID sister?
The picture of me in that dress haunted my thoughts long after it had been deleted from my phone. From then on, each conversation K and I had about the wedding became exponentially tense — she wanted the wedding party to perform not only a traditional Cambodian dance (lots of slow arm-waving and limited movement) but a choreographed pop number to Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk." She'd seen another couple do it on YouTube, which apparently made the routine legit enough to copy.
I was the only bridesmaid who responded to this idea with anything less than bubbly enthusiasm, instead timidly suggesting that perhaps one dance was enough, and if it had to be one then dear God let it be the Cambodian Slow Arm.
I could imagine myself in the strapless dress, jumping about in a futile attempt to approximate the dance moves my thinner comrades were so effortlessly achieving, all to the nauseating rhythm of goddamned "Uptown Funk." As March loomed nearer, I found every excuse to skip dance practices while I frantically counted calories and retook my measurements every other day, perceiving my waist to be as ever-expanding as the universe. We are Legion, my adipose whispered in the dead of night. One back-fat roll could really be four, depending on how that size 18 treated me.
After booting me from the bridal party, K then fired her photographer, who happened to be a friend of mine. I can't say for certain that it was my fault, since she'd earlier complained that he was too expensive, but I have to wonder. The minister, D, who was going to perform the ceremony was also my sister's best friend since childhood, and when I told her that I was no longer part of the wedding, D contacted K to say that she didn't feel comfortable being part of it anymore, either.
K was so furious that she blocked me, D, and my sister from Facebook, even though I hadn't asked D to drop out on my behalf. At that point, I gave up. I'd been trying to get in touch with K for weeks, wanting to apologize in person and at least offer my good wishes for the wedding even if I would no longer be welcome. I didn't want our friendship to end over something so incredibly petty.
But it did, and I accept fault. I accept and own that I allowed my shitty feelings to make me a shitty friend. K knew what I looked like when she asked me to be her bridesmaid, and I knew what I looked like when I responded with a gleeful yes. The reality didn't sink in until I saw myself in the dress. It was just a dress. It was just one day.
But I couldn't do it.
I do wish K great joy and success with her new husband, but I can't keep apologizing to someone who doesn't want to hear it.
Since most of my other friends balk at the concept of traditional marriage, the next time I get to be a bridesmaid will most likely be when my sister finally has an actual wedding, which she is dead set on having in a crater, because that is apparently a thing that people do. Maybe I'll have lost weight by then, maybe not. But I do know damned well that I'm going to wear whatever dress she wants, do whatever ridiculous thing she wants, and generally not be a crappy person on the day of.
Scratch that last thing. She's my sister and I'll probably be at least a little crappy since that's just how we communicate with each other, but I'm definitely not going to let my jiggly arms and fleshy moon face get in the way of her happiness.
So thank you, James Corden and the nebulous media overlords. You work on your fat shaming, I'll work on not bursting into tears the next time someone shoehorns me into a dress.