Overexposed: A Self-Love Project.

Overexposed: The Graduation Gown That Didn’t Fit.

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Alexa! Play “Pomp and Circumstance”!

Isn’t Graduation season the best? It’s truly a great feeling if you’re the one that’s graduating in that specific year. As a 25-year-old woman, I’ve graduated 6 times. Yes, you heard that right: Kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, 12th grade, college, and grad school. It’s been quite the journey for all of us, especially my family that attended all of them. Nevertheless, I like the feeling of graduation, and nothing felt as special as the time I was about to graduate college with my bachelors.

Being the first one in my family to graduate college, it was a very big deal for me. I felt like I accomplished something that felt so far away, and here I was, in 2016, about to graduate. Of course, the weeks leading up to graduation where some of the most stressful weeks I’ve had that year. For starters, I ordered a dress that was twice my size by accident. I looked like Jesus in his rope, to say the least. Last-minute dress shopping was stressful, but I was happy to find a dress that flattered me, and that was extremely pretty. Everything was going well until I had to pick up my graduation gown.

Hi, my name is Liz, and I cried my eyes out when I realized the graduation gown I got didn’t fit me.

It was a warm, Spring day and I was excited to pick up my cap and gown from my college. To finally have one in my hands felt completely insane; it felt like it was ages ago when I wore my burgundy cap and gown at my high-school graduation which sucked by the way. Anyway, the college had its graduates sign a cap and gown form prior to picking up our gowns. Once I saw the sheet and what I had to write down, something seemed extremely fishy.

Why would they ask what our height in order to get a cap and gown?

Normally, it would make more sense if they asked what our size was instead of just our height. I understood at the time that maybe they just wanted to get the proportions right so that the gown wasn’t hitting the floor, but still something didn’t click. I shrugged off the thought and wrote down my height: 5 feet tall.

After the two hour commute to my campus and then waiting another hour for the doors of the cap and gown room to open, I was finally about to receive my cap and gown. A nice gentleman took my slip and saw my height. He gave me the 5’0 to 5’3 gown. I analyzed the bag and it appeared quite small. I asked the man if this was actually going to fit me, and he said: “the extra fabric for the taller graduates in that range will allow it to fit.” I trusted his judgment. He’s been doing this for years, right?

Wrong. 

I came home around 2pm and excitedly wanted to try on the cap and gown. The cap was all size fits all, so the cap fits like a glove. It was now time to unzip the gown and try it on for the first time. I screamed in shock and absolute fucking fear.

The gown had ripped and it didn’t fit me.

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I was angry, furious, upset, and damn right embarrassed that within their “height system”, I was now too fat to fit in it. Although I was only 5 feet tall, and I did get the gown that was meant for me, it ripped and it didn’t fit. I think I remember telling my father at the time that “graduation is canceled” and… well… “fuck this shit.”

My father offered to drive me back to the bus stop and go back to campus and exchange the gown for a bigger one. I agreed only because I didn’t want to wait that long to go back and get a new gown; I just wanted to get it over with. So, I got my 20 sixes too small gown, put it back in the bag, and went back on campus.

I felt humiliated throughout the entire bus ride to my campus. I kept thinking about my weight and just how big and obnoxious I must’ve looked to everyone. Still being insecure about my body, I felt like a goddamn fucking whale, I kid you not. I see other students on campus with their cap and gowns, without a care in the world if it fits or not because most likely it would. It was embarrassing to go back to that room and ask for an exchange because the one I got was absolutely too small. I felt sick to my stomach.

When I got back to the cap and gown room, it was flooded with other graduates trying to get their gowns and leave. I’ve had a couple of people yell at me for “cutting the line” and I simply had to explain that I was there earlier and needed an exchange. Once I got to the table where they collected your name and sheet, I had to constantly explain to the people that I was there earlier, my sheet was already taken, my name is already checked off in the book, and I’m here for an exchange. Some guy brushed me off and made one of their other workers “handled me” and gladly enough I wished this woman was there earlier in the day to help me out. I told her my situation and she explained that the system is extremely messed up. She continued to say how she tried, FOR YEARS, change the policy of how they distributed cap and gowns. When I told her I didn’t know what size would fit me, she handed me a gown that simply said “Size: HORIZON”. It fit perfectly, to say the least, but it didn’t make me feel any better that I basically got a gown that was size: so fat, you need a special one that would hit around your large, horizontal self. I still felt so ashamed and ugly, and for a moment I was looking forward to was simply tarnished by an experience that remained me just how fat I truly am.

I finally knew better after the second time, now a Master’s gown, in size: HORIZON, two years later.

It was times like that that remind me that there are people in this world that are just not inclusive enough to acknowledge that all body types exist, and that height doesn’t determine whether or not something will fit or not. I am a short, fat girl. I may look small in height, but I’m big when it comes to my weight, and I know that my body type isn’t the only one that doesn’t work well with such nonsense of a system. You can be tall as hell, yet big-boned. You could also be tall and skinny as hell, yet you now have a gown meant for “average-sized tall people” and now your gown is touching the ground. There is a reason why we don’t buy our clothes in clothing stores with height as the system; height doesn’t mean shit.

This cheap, graduation gown that I threw out once I was one with it (I kept my Master’s gown for reasons) made me feel like I was different in an ugly way. It made me feel “special” in a sore-thumb type of way. It made me face the reality that yeah, I am completely overweight for my height, and I knew that already, but this gown had to remind me that I was. It hurt at first until it didn’t anymore.

Times like this are the reason why clothes shopping is an experience on its own. I’m not complaining whatsoever, I’ve mastered the art of clothing shopping for my size, but it’s not like a person with my body can walk into any store and pick up something their size. For fat people, it doesn’t work like that. But, that’s a different chapter for a different day.

At 25, I reflect that time in my life when I was 22, insecure, and feeling like a whale when I ripped that graduation gown. I look back and wished that 22 was a bit more assertive about the situation instead of allowing people to judge and say that “extra fabric will help zip it up”. I wish 22 had a better understanding of the situation, that it wasn’t her fault, and that the only thing she should’ve done differently was try on the gown in the bathroom before taking it all the way home. This event in life doesn’t affect the way I see myself, but it is a reminder that we as a society have a lot more work to do in order to become inclusive.

As to that cap and gown company: listen to that one girl with the actual common sense and change the system.

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