At the risk of imagining myself one of those people who unboxes new toys for their millions of YouTube fans (about which I have zero delusions), or TikToks themselves showing off their latest thrift store haul, I do still want to tell you about how I came to possess not one but two zebra dresses.
First things first: In 2021 I gave myself a challenge to purchase no new clothes. It was for one very specific reason: I needed to stop treating myself the way a malignant narcissist treats his victims. I was both abuser and abused; both heroine and villainess.
TW: I am going to talk about disordered eating, pregnancy and childbirth for a minute. Skip to the next section if this is a trigger for you.
Problems to solve
For the last five and a half years, I would go through periods of intense self-loathing, during which I would binge eat, then berate myself for my inability to control the urge. Or, I would make my fingers bleed from a place of extreme social anxiety, and then fly into a rage that, at my age, I couldn’t just sit calmly with my hands in my lap during a meeting.
While the latter is something I have always done, and isn’t solely related to having children, the former is something that happened since I have had children. It was the part of the post-partum, pre-natal depression cocktail that happened when my eldest was about eight months old and I became pregnant with my second child.
I had my second pregnancy followed by a midwife, and not by a gynecologist. I have very good reasons to have done this, one of them being the attending physician decided to do “my husband a solid” and which meant I had to go back months later for reparative surgery. I will not go on.
The midwife’s only concern, because she had to be worried about something, was that I not gain too much weight. I hadn’t gained too much weight with my first. I lost my first baby weight quickly. I’ve had ups and downs with my size in my life, but this has never been something I was ever concerned about. I don’t know why this became her only concern. But it was.
I’ll talk about this another time. Just, suffice it to say, I became a binge eater. This has been my problem since I became a mother.
I could be so incredibly mean to myself when I would binge. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at me, but I can be a vindictive little b%&# when I want to be. But not to other people. Only ever to myself. This had to stop.
Yes, so my goal in 2021 was not to deal with binge eating, nor was it to deal with the social anxiety. The first thing I needed to do was to stop throwing money at my self worth problems.
Glad you are back, those of you who skipped the previous section!
One of my marques de fabrique in this world is that I am a study in contradictions. In the first episode of the podcast, I say that as I see it, my husband might not get up to speak at my funeral, but he would probably wear a neck brace “to signify all the ways I have given him whiplash over the years.”
I can be both “yes” and “no” at the same time. The two can co-exist quite peaceably inside of me. I can be both “cold” and “hot” at the same time. I am a nightmare to live with. Believe me. I know.
Being constantly a thing and its opposite is a miserable way to live, and in no small part contributed to my post-partum depression. I was happy to be a mother, but I hated being a mother. I loved my body for what it had just created: two little lives who were just so perfect, but I hated it because after two babies in a row, it didn’t quite look or work the same way it used to. There was no gray in these things.
That’s why I am so fond of the zebra.
Zebra. As in, black and white. As in, my motif obsession ever since I read Living with a Creative Mind, the book which helped me come face to face with the obsessive, maniac creativity that I possess, and helped me learn how to live with its ebbs and flows. In the book, it is explained that a creative person is either all-in or all-out. On or off. Black or White. There is no gray area for a creative. In that way, they compare the creative to a zebra: white and black co-exist, side by side, each retaining their essence, but do not mix to create gray.
Knowing that this was what permitted me to be creative, I stopped worrying that there was something wrong with me (I am an armchair psychologist, you know!) and came to accept that I was more of a zebra than a gray elephant.
I learned that as a parent, I could also be a zebra. I could love my children and hate them sometimes, too, and sometimes within minutes of each other.
Living with a Creative Mind describes people like me as being “skinless”. Meaning, every piece of sensory input suffices to distract, to motivate, to inspire…nothing passes unnoticed and everything has meaning. This is so true for me that I am on the synesthesia spectrum: that is, my senses get mixed up and I experience flavors as colors. (This is fascinating and I wrote about it here.)
The Zebra Experiment
It didn’t start out as a zebra hunt, but a little more than halfway through my “Buy No Clothes in 2021” challenge, I decided to see what it would feel like to go back into stores (I had heretofore all but forbidden myself to go in.) I wanted to see what it would feel like.
That was when I saw the Zebra Dress. I wrote about it here.
The Zebra Dress became an obsession for more reasons than “it was just a pretty dress.” It was what it represented: a reminder that I am allowed to be conflicted about who I am. I am both heroine and villainess.
My father, in his mercy and fandom, took it upon himself to send me a Zebra Dress for my birthday. I. Love. This. Dress. I love it because it is zebra, I love it because it has pockets, I love it because it is stretchy. It is not a style I would typically wear, though: it’s above the knee, which I don’t usually wear because I have some deep resentment towards my knees.
However, this Fall and Winter I have worn that Zebra Dress with abandon, because I could wear it with tights and leggings and no one had to know that my knees look like something out of a horror movie.
And yet I still continued to obsess over the Zebra Wrap dress I had seen. My sister and I conspired ways for me to get my hands on it (as a gift, because, as you know, I was not to be buying anything for myself), but ultimately, we decided not to. The one we could find online was simply too expensive and would have required quite a bit of refashioning.
So I wore my cute above-the-knee Zebra Dress proudly.
Oh Dear. Oh Dear.
So on January 1, I had completed my Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge. On January 1, I downloaded an app called “Vinted” which is like a big thrift-store-in-the-cloud here in continental Europe. A friend had told me about it, and I warned myself that this was just a mistake waiting to happen if I so much as looked at it before 2022.
The first thing I typed into the search bar? Robe Zèbre. Taille 38.
The page filled with zebra dresses in my size. My heart pounded. I wanted a wrap dress. Wrap dresses have become, since my babies were born, my go-to. Wrap dresses do wonders for the figure when you don’t know exactly what size your body will decide to be on any given day.
I eliminated anything non-wrap dress. I set the budget for between 10€ and 20€. (Figuring I could easily get 20 wears out of a zebra wrap dress in 2022.)
There were three. Three zebra wrap dresses size 38 between 10€ and 20€.
Two had long sleeves, one of them was exactly the dress my sister and I had been considering. Then, there was the third one.
It was long, with a little zebra ruffle around the low-high skirt. And it had those floaty little sleeves I love and refashion all of my sleeves to be.
And it wasn’t just zebra. It had the teeniest, tiniest, most delicate and discreet sparkle. It was a Zebra Dress with Fairy Dust.
I did not think twice.
The dress arrived yesterday.
Zebra on the Hedonic Treadmill
The Hedonic Treadmill is real. The Cycle of the Imperfect Life is a real phenomenon. Always wanting something more. No satisfaction could ever be satisfying. A dopamine loop
Buying myself things as a way to gain forgiveness for how objectively cruel I could be to myself used to be a way of life. This time, though, I was not seeking forgiveness for anything.
This time, I wasn’t rewarding myself, either, the way I do sometimes as a carrot to get things done. This time, I was buying myself something because I love myself deeply, contradictions and all.
Yes, I bought this dress because I love myself. I love Lily Fields, and I wanted to give her something nice. I won’t always buy her everything she craves, but I will buy her something perfect that she wants so darn much because who wouldn’t give someone they love a special gift when it’s within their possibility to do so?
I was just my own Fairy Godmother.
Zebra Dress, Meet Prince Charming(s)
I dragged my boys to the package relay to pick up my new dress within seconds of receiving the text message that my dress had arrived.
They helped me unbox it. The lovely woman who sent it had neatly folded it into a gorgeous little shopping bag from a chocolaterie in her hometown. She even included a few little perfume samples. I felt so spoiled.
The dress was so much heavier than I expected–in a good way. It felt more sturdy than the one I had seen in the store back in July. It was fully lined. The sparkles made my heart pitter-patter.
I disappeared into my bedroom to try it on while the boys played. I had put on some music for them, some YouTube mix of songs.
I tried on the dress and fell in love, but then, I had to go out to settle what sounded like a quickly escalating dispute between the boys.
I walked out to the living room. It was a song I hadn’t heard in years but had always liked that was playing.
The boys heard me arrive and they stopped fighting, as they sometimes do. They looked at me in my new dress.
“Mama!” my eldest cried. “You look like a princess.” (This is not the first time he has said this to me. He is very good at compliments, but does not give them lightly.)
“Mama!” my youngest shouted. “Dance!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (This is his go-to response when he’s happy. The child neither walks nor runs. He dances.)
So we did. In the kitchen. Listening to Billy Joel sing about the River of Dreams. We had a dance party.
In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To a river so deep
I know I’m searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
It’s an unlikely first dance for Cinderella and Prince Charming, but it felt like something.
“Look Mama!” my youngest said while we were dancing. “Your dress has sparkles on it.”
“No, darlin’,” I replied. “That’s fairy dust.”
Please give a listen to my new podcast! In it, I bring the fairy dust to help you start loving yourself again, too.