Wrapped in a long wedding gown that hugs every curve, I wait backstage with a mob of models in white dresses at Charleston Weddings magazine’s 2012 Spring Bridal Show. Admiring my frock’s delicate, layered design, I can’t help but daydream about my own Big Day and wonder what my boyfriend, who is waiting in the audience, will think about my look. We were high school sweethearts and now that we’re college students, we sometimes talk about our own wedding. (It’ll be small and “Charleston,” and will co-star our shih tzu, Oscar, as the ring bearer.) I peek out from the model tent into the crowd where I immediately spot my boyfriend thanks to his fiery red hair. We make eye contact for a brief moment and he grins like the Cheshire cat. Though I am a runway veteran, this is the first time he’s come to a show. Suddenly self-conscious, numb, and worried it might be bad luck for him to see me in a wedding gown before our actual wedding, I duck backstage. “Jennifer B., it’s time for hair and makeup,” announces a Charleston Fashion Week® intern, yanking me back to the moment.
As I slide into the makeup chair, heat rises to my neck and my stomach knots up. I nervously click my shoes together and my palms grow drenched. I can’t believe it—I’ve walked in dozens of shows over the past two years, but I am definitely on the brink of a meltdown. As this out-of-body experience continues, the makeup artist swipes my eyelids with gold powder, dusts my face with rouge, and paints my lips red. She coils my hair into a curly bun and secures the look with so much hairspray that clouds circle my head. Staring into the mirror, I’m amazed by the transformation from sweatpants-wearing college student to glamorous bride.
“You’re looking a little pale,” the makeup maven says. “You OK?” Instead of replying, I rush to the portable potties outside. Holding the heavy dress above my knees (I’m terrified that the expensive, couture gown will be ruined in the bathroom stall), I try to breathe as a rush of thoughts makes my stomach clench: What if I fall? What if my heels break? What if he doesn’t like the dress? What if everything’s not absolutely, completely perfect?
There’s a knock on the door. “Need some crackers?” asks my friend and fellow model Lindsey. “A Sprite for your stomach?” I open the door and take her gifts. You look amazing, she says, but I know she’s lying because her eye is twitching like it always does when she lies. In truth, I’ve gone from glamorous to sickly pale and ghost-like. Still, I appreciate her maid-of-honor-worthy attempt. Downing her gifts, I run back to the model tent and head to the fitting area for accessories. The designer grabs a long, red silk scarf and wraps it tightly around my neck. It digs into my skin to the point I can barely breathe, so I quickly loosen the knot.
“Time for all models to line up, please!” shouts the backstage coordinator. I struggle to strap on a pair of five-inch beige heels, then, like a bride looking at her congregation of guests before the big unveil, I peer out into the crowd. Their buzzing makes my pulse beat so fast I lose all feeling again. The first model, dressed in a lace gown and topped with a fedora, heads down the run-way and I’m next in line. I feel a gentle shove from an intern, and I’m on the runway.
Strangely, clarity washes over me. I imagine my boyfriend as my future husband, waiting for me at the end of the catwalk as though he is waiting for me at the altar. As I channel my inner bride, my confidence swells. Though I feel the audience’s stares going straight through my bones, I am suddenly untouchable.
Shoulders back, I push my pelvis slightly forward in textbook model posture. I cross one leg over the other and take long strides, letting my arms swing naturally by my side. It’s as though the “me” who will actually walk this walk someday has taken over, and we’re one, heading toward the photo pit together. The fear of falling and every other worry melt away, and, like all brides, I want this moment to last forever.