There are many narratives about First Communion dresses (See Raining Stones). They are often about the parents’ struggle. On some level, these dresses are like prom dresses or even wedding dresses. They trigger parents’ need to establish a sense of prestige in their community and fantasy about who their daughters are. These garments’ high stakes often overshadow any connection to their daughters or even to the ritual events.
How a Dress Can Hold so Much Meaning
My aunt took a photo of two seven-year-old girls who made their First Communion at the same time. One girl is me; the other is my cousin. Her mother was my mother’s sister, who was an excellent seamstress. She worked for a famous New York fashion house as a sample maker. The model Twiggy wore some of my aunt’s samples in fashion shows.
My mother took me to a high-end department store and bought my First Communion dress. I wanted a veil with a full crown. My mother refused because she said only queens get to wear crowns. I was heartbroken. I had envisioned what I wanted.
My aunt purchased beautiful, expensive fabric and created her daughter’s dress. Afterward, she took my cousin to a photographer’s studio to take pictures of her daughter and the dress.
That afternoon my aunt showed up unannounced at our home with my cousin wearing her communion dress so she could take a picture of us together. My mother was not happy because I was playing in the yard with my friends, and she didn’t want me to change into my dress and get it dirty.
I didn’t want to take the picture because I thought my cousin’s dress was so much prettier than mine, and she had the full crown and veil that I had wanted. Also, my aunt often used me to show my cousin why she was “the best.” The dress experience was full of shame for me.
A New Perspective
Forty years later, my aunt gave me this photo. I was amazed because my body immediately recognized the shame I felt at having an inferior dress. However, when I looked closely at the picture, I saw how the dresses were almost identical.
The experience of being treated as inferior to my cousin was my designated role in our extended family. It was part of my mother and aunt’s issues with each other.
Letting Go of What Is Not Ours
The picture added new information to the experience. There was no inferior dress nor inferior girl, just a need to support an elaborate illusion that somehow addressed the suffering my mother and aunt experienced. I played with the photo in Photoshop and removed everything that was not me from a felt sense. Somehow, I found a knowing smile in that moment. It helps me remember that the illusions others create do not define me.
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4 thoughts on “The Illusions of Others Do Not Define Me”
Thank you for sharing your story. It helped me revisit and release one story I also created to keep myself in a cage while blaming others. The power of the mind!
What a beautiful way to illustrate the unveiling who we really are! So free of who we and others think us to be. Loved it. Kevin
Thanks for commenting. I am happy that the post helped you. What I remember at the time was that my anger was directed at my mother because she didn’t “spoil” me the way my aunt “spoiled” her daughter. What comes for me now is how none of it was about my worth or that of my cousin. I doubt my cousin was left unscathed by our mothers’ needs. I also hold space for my little girl who, amidst other’s chaos, was still able to find a steadiness and know on a deeper body level that it was only an illusion. Writing about it helped me feel compassion for my cousin and also for our mothers who had so little kindness in their own lives that they lost sight of the daughters who loved them deeply and would do anything to please them.
Thank you Diana for once more sharing your journey with us. This is a wonderful journey of going back into the past thanks to the photo! and revisiting the shame of the situation back then. Focusing allows us to sit with what was there then and what comes next. So many of us get stuck in our childhood traumas for the rest of our lives. With Focusing the ability to relate to our body wisdom we can come to the place of feeling compassion for our mothers and for our younger selves and release ourselves from the old feelings about ourselves. We re-write this in the present. Bravo!