Taylor's Marilyn-Inspired Birthday Dress with a Side of Honesty
“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” -Marilyn Monroe
Spoiler Alert: Marilyn Monroe didn’t actually say that quote. Sites like Pinterest and Tumblr say she did, but more credible sources argue that the quote can’t be attributed to her and that it doesn’t even align with her character historically. Everything that history says about her indicates that she was kind of a perfectionist, and I’d guess that she probably spent most of her life trying to live up to other people’s standards. Nonetheless, it is a fun quote. I have no idea who actually said it, but props to them! I think it’s probably one that most people would like to believe, or even believe that they believe, despite the way it completely clashes with our culture’s way of living life.
I’m not a bombshell movie star, but I have been described as a perfectionist as far back as parent-teacher conferences in the first grade (Ouch, right?). I like this quote because it’s a good chill-pill reminder to stop taking everything so seriously.
I’ve been pretty sick for the past year and a half and it’s really put a damper on my type-A, perfectionist standards for my life and my intrinsic “5 year plan” that people my age are supposed to have. To say I’ve been frustrated and discouraged would be a gross understatement.
I’ve had to learn some things.
It’s been hard for me to write about my brain injury because I have this looming fear that no one could possibly understand. When people look at me, it’s very hard for them to tell that I’m not ok, especially if they don’t know me that well. I’ve been afraid that people wouldn’t believe how hard it is for me to form a single sentence or even take a shower.
But everyone can understand suffering, especially the kind of suffering that other people don’t see.
I have been a fashion designer since before I could walk. I have been draping fabric around figures, selecting trims and colors, and creating for my entire life.
A year and a half ago I was hit on the head and woke up in a world where I could not create. Yet. My doctors told me that it was likely that that part of my brain would never heal. I have been able to do heaps and bounds above THAT prognosis, but there is still a big part of me that fears I won’t create at the same level again.
I have made two wedding dresses and a dozen other smaller projects and for the most part they all came out beautifully. People see that. It’s harder to see what it takes out of me.
I sit down with my tools and I say, “Katherine, you have to do this now.” That might work when you’re solving an equation, but it just doesn’t work with art. Much of what I’ve made in the past year feels as rigid and ingenuine to me as a forced apology.
When Taylor asked me to make this dress for her, I jumped on the opportunity. The dress was commissioned to be worn for her 1950’s themed 21st birthday party in Bend, Oregon. Taylor went to school with my cousin, Kelly, and reached out to me via instagram. I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t want to face the idea that it might be too large a project for where I am now. I wanted to show myself that I was fine and that I could do it.
Some days I just stared at the pink satin pinned to the mannequin and waited for thoughts to arrive. Sometimes they did, and I would muster up the energy to get up tackle the next steps. More often, though, I just kept staring.
I only had 2 fittings to work with, so I started by creating the lining and fitting that to Taylor before moving on to the under-corset. It was the first dress I’ve ever built an underwire into, and I was very happy with the extra support it provided.
I fought with the pins as I attached the lining to the hem of the skirt. Deep inside my brain I knew how to do it, but everything I could reach to felt fuzzy. I spent days doing something that used to take about three hours.
The second fitting would be the last before she returned to collect the dress, so I did my best to guess much of the fit, and thankfully it laced and zipped perfectly when she came to get it.
I slid the dress into the garment bag and let it go. I let it all go.
I made the dress.
It’s been a month since the dress left and I’ve only just started to create again. I’ve sat down with unfinished projects and started to try to finish them: a hem on a pair of pants from January, some shading to an unfinished drawing from June. I ended up sticking myself with pins and ruining the drawing for lack of coordination. Now that I’ve finally given my brain permission to rest, it’s a lot harder to go back, even if I want to. I’ve learned that I need to use this time to come up with a process that will fit for where I am now instead of constantly comparing myself to pre-accident Katherine.
The teeth of my hairbrush scape across the squishy concave in the back of my skull and remind me how lucky I am to be alive every time I comb my hair. I can do a lot and I am so thankful for that, not to mention the support of my family and boyfriend. I have so much. But I don’t think that ever takes away a person’s right or need to grieve loss.
In the past year and a half, I’ve lost the only place that has ever felt like home to me, a school I fought for five years to get into, friends who I identified with and shared the same interests with, a community that felt like family, and the ability to function in and control my own mind.
Out of everything, the hardest has been losing my creativity. I’m talking about the free-flowing power to see the world through an artist’s eyes. Letting go of my creativity feels like letting go of who I am.
I have to hold so tightly to, or in most cases, reach for, the fact that my identity is not in what I do, but rather in who I am.
How can I be Artist if I don’t make art? How can I be Love if I feel like everything I love is gone? But I am Artist and I am Love. I am made in the image of God and that means I am not only Artist, but I am Creativity, Wisdom, and Truth. It means I am not only Love, but I am also Grace, Kindness, and deeply Loved. Who has made greater art than God? Who has loved greater than God? The same way that I am made in the image of my mother’s crazy curly hair and gift of hospitality, or my father’s genuine smile and gift of drive, I am made in the image of the author of those values that shape who I am.
I’ve always been a very convincing liar. I didn’t tell actual lies, but I definitely used it to mask a lot of what was true. As a kid, I used it to conceal the pain of a broken arm, to appear unfazed at my father’s funeral, to seem fine in school after a half-dozen moves. I used it as a teenager to hide the way I was being treated by the wrong boy and to get through my first term of college with mono. I use it today to pretend to be “normal” and say “good” when someone asks the infamous “How are you?”
I’m not giving up on my dreams or who I am, just letting go for a while so I can find some truth.
I’m not saying you have to tell the cashier at the grocery store your whole life story when they ask “how are you?” but, I think the people you care about deserve to know how you really feel. I think that the people who have been supporting me and following my blog for the past five years deserve to know how I feel.
I want to be honest. I don’t want people to write to me and say “you’ll be ok.” I am aware of that and I know God will use this time in my life for good.
Edgar Allen Poe has a quote that says “There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”
Likewise, consider the famous Japaneese Kintsugi art of repairing broken pottery with gold. A My Modern Met article describes the ancient repair method as “celebrating each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them.”
“Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.”
I think that’s how God works with the fractures in our hearts. We can’t set our hearts out on the mantle to remind us that our cracks have made us more beautiful, but I do believe that time helps us identify those golden seams if we are patient.
What I want is for one person out there who thinks they are alone in their suffering, to read this and know that they aren’t. I want them to know it’s okay to be real with people and to let go of things that might be weighing them down, even if it’s just for a short time while they heal.
The truth is, I am healing. And as I do, I think I want to write more about my experience in case it might help someone else feel even just a little less isolated or helpless. American philosopher and activist, Cornel West, wrote that, “The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak.”
The non-Marilyn quote talks about finding beauty in imperfection. The idea has almost reached cliche-status in our world, but it’s popular for a reason. Madness, ridiculousness, and brokenness aren’t celebrated qualities in our society but if everyone was perfectly honest, we have a lot more of those qualities in common with each other than any of the “perfection” persuasion.
So here’s where I’m at, from a very non-medical front. Here’s a simple dress that I actually struggled with. A lot. Here’s a long blog-post about suffering and not about an exciting adventure around the world with pretty people and tasty food. Here’s a glimpse at some cracks in my heart. Here’s some honesty. And I hope, here’s a safe place for anyone who’s suffering to feel like they aren’t alone and maybe even to share. Whether it’s in the comments below, private message, or a phone call to a friend, you may be surprised by what a little imperfect, mad, or seemingly ridiculous honesty can do.