This isn’t just a red dress.
It’s the Traveling Red Dress and it has its own Facebook page.
Because it has magical powers. It can help lift spirits, bring people together, transform lives. If you haven’t heard the story of the Red Dress, you can read it here. I promise you will feel inspired.
In just a few years it’s gotten a lot of mileage; and recently it traveled to the set of the Katie Couric show along with some of the women who have worn it.
Katie showcased the story of the dress as an example of Daring Greatly, a book by research professor Brene Brown, who was Katie’s guest. If you aren’t one of the six million people who have seen her TED talk describing her research on vulnerability, you can watch it here.
How to describe Brown’s decades of research in just a few words? I can’t claim to be well-informed; I’m just starting the book. But from what I understand, her theme is that we benefit in all areas of our lives by acknowledging fear and embracing vulnerability. Daring Greatly is being your authentic self; putting yourself OUT THERE. Thinking less about “what will people think” and more about “I am enough.” (Since my explanation isn’t much longer than a tweet, you can learn a lot more here or here.)
Every woman who’s worn the red dress understands the power of the support chain and the power of allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
And I think I understand it, too. Seeing Katie’s show reminded me of my own experience—which was also colored red.
There was never a time when I felt more vulnerable than when I got cancer.
Cancer couldn’t have come at a worse time—not that there’s ever a best time.
For me it came a year into a re-marriage, moving with my children to a new community and working at my husband’s new business.
Pretty ironic, too—his business was all about health. Only now the boss’s wife was not quite the poster girl for what we were preaching.
Long before I had planned on heavy duty chemotherapy, a big event had been planned for the business. That would mean a lot of people coming into town, who knew I had cancer.
I didn’t want pity. And I certainly didn’t want attention–not when I was so self-conscious about everything I was missing—starting with a breast, all my hair, my eyebrows, and eyelashes (did you know you lose those too?).
I wasn’t one of those brave cancer warriors who proclaimed her struggle publicly, going around with just a scarf or a bald head. I hid my bald head from everyone– even from my husband and children, even from myself. I never went out without a wig and usually a hat over that to camouflage the wig. Really I was trying to camouflage the cancer.
I was physically strong enough to attend the event; and I knew my absence wouldn’t be good for the business—and on some level, not for me, either.
But a month or two before the event, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t figure out how I could pull off looking like a confident, successful businesswoman.
I told my husband I wasn’t going to go.
A few weeks before the event, I went to a cancer conference, pretty much the only place that I felt safe. And there, somehow I found myself on stage in front of a huge audience, doing stand up comedy, telling a funny story about losing my hair.
I didn’t realize I was Daring Greatly—but now I realize, I was.
And something shifted in me, by putting my authentic self out there.
When I got home, I decided to put myself out there again—to go to the event.
Only once that decision was made, there was another one: what would I wear?
I looked thru my closet—all my work clothes were black, or neutral. Businesslike.
Suddenly I knew —with absolute conviction— what to do. I wanted to send a message to everyone—including myself—that I was not just showing up, I was putting myself out there—with guns blazing.
And my instinctive way to do that: I needed to wear red.
Finding a red suit became an obsession. Internet shopping was in its infancy; I scoured every site. My friend Nancy met me after one of my chemo infusions in Los Angeles and took me shopping to try on every single red suit in a 20 mile radius.
You gotta love the irony that a woman with just one breast chose a suit that was double -breasted.
Somehow, wearing it made me feel powerful—at least way more than I was feeling then—and somehow the ability to be vulnerable gave me courage.
It was a small personal victory; a step along the way that helped transform my cancer journey from feeling like a victim to feeling like a victor.
I gave the suit away years ago; (even if I still had it, I couldn’t fit into it) and I never thought of passing it around.
I never wore it again.
Maybe I didn’t really need to.
Wearing it just that once helped me see the power of red….and of daring greatly.