a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Let’s start with the black dress.
The lady at the checkout turned it upside down as she tried to remove the security tag pinned through the bowed collar while checking for the final time, “You like the style? Is this the right size for you?” I nodded. I did like the dress. It was one of those rare ones that fitted my small waist perfectly. It was one of those that fitted my very own, strict criteria - not too bright, not too ostentatious with pearls or glitters, and not above the knee.
Throughout the year I wore the dress for my community orchestra performances, merging into the unified black with all the other players and stepping into the black background. The unified colour gave me a sense of inexpressible security when I unsnapped the straps on the metal clasps of the violin case, or when I walked on stage, sitting down quietly in the position that I could walk to even closing my eyes. First violin. Third row. Outside player. My place, as a part of the unified black, never had to be determined by me, nor did I have to frantically search for it as it was always arranged for me.
The best part was, the dress never reflected the light that shone on me once or twice on stage. Rather, it seemed to absorb every ray of light into its unwrinkled velvet that had unmeasurable depth, embracing every particle with its smooth fabric.
You say it fitted perfectly, right? A black dress for an orchestra. But, the reality was, I bought it for a Father and Daughter Ball.
It was supposed to be the red dress.
As I strolled past the eye-catching discount posters on the walls, selecting one dress and another from the neatly organized hangers as if arranged in an ombre spectrum, two very different dresses caught my eye - one black with perfectly ironed pleats that gave the dress a smooth flow, swaying gently in the air as I lifted its hanger; the other, right beside the black evening gown was a glaringly red evening dress with fabric ruffled and wide edges that floated upwards as if resisting the pull of gravity. The contrast gave me a peculiar feeling of satisfaction, particularly when the red dress was placed in the darker coloured section of gowns - it was like a blooming flower amongst a dark night sky that created just the perfect background for it to showcase all of its energy and beauty. Perhaps someone took it from its original place and misplaced it. Yet no matter what brought the red dress to that section, or what brought it in front of my eyes, it had a power that made me unable to resist but to wish to put it on.
Standing in front of the mirror, I gasped at how the red dress fit on me - the shoulder length was just right, the waistline lending right above my hips, and even though it looked longer on me than it was supposed to be, it rested just a little under my knees. As I moved, the layers of ruffles bounced on each other, reflecting the small but concentrated ray of light that shines upon it into the mirror. But behind its beauty, I found a sense of discomfort and insecurity as I stepped into the dress. If I wore it in the Father and Daughter Ball, everyone’s eyes would be on me, on my dress with a texture that would reflect too much light. I would stand out too much.
Too bright, too bold, too eye-catching.
As I walked out of the changing room, I hung the red dress back to its place and took the black dress beside it.
I wore it to the night of the ball, when I was shocked just by the sheer amount of color and styles in the dresses the girls wore - ones with puffed sleeves, ones with laced collars, some even full of glitters and patterns. Standing under the warm, dazzling ball light I found not only my overly assumed self-importance exposed as the red dress no brighter or bolder than any other in the room, but also a burning sense of regret for not having chosen that dress.
When I asked my friend, who wore a short sheath dress with lace in champagne pink, if I looked fine that night, she gave a puzzled look over me while handing me a cupcake, “I like it. It’s plain and simple.”
No passion, no character, no colour.
Aren’t those what I always wanted? Merging into the background and stepping into the warmth in the blackness?
When I received the photo from the Father and Daughter Ball three weeks later, I saw myself smiling, standing rigidly straight in that black dress. My mom loved the photo so much that she sent it to my grandma, who became so proud that she showed all her friends in China and bragged about how “grown-up” and “confident” I have become. Yet whenever I stared at the photo I could not help but imagine myself standing in the exact same position, but wearing that bright red dress just like the day I saw myself in it in the changing room. I wanted to see light illuminating every part of me in that dress.
Modesty flows in my blood, yet sometimes, I want to see myself taking pride and cherishing my individuality and unique place in a diverse society. Maybe the background isn’t a unified colour at all, but a landscape of all types of colours.
The black gown is unique in its own way: calmness and humbleness sewn into the intricately tied ribbon around the waist, and a sense of warmth my fingertips caress through the velvet forever flowing down, carrying the whole weight of the dress as it rests just above my ankles.
But, maybe I’ll pick the glimmering red dress next time.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.