At 9 a.m. on May 17, Vanessa Reiser was in position, all decked out in a $ 3,500 wedding dress from Lovely Bride in Manhattan specially designed for her first solo run in New York City. The 285 miles, starting in Oswego, NY, and ending in Jay Hood Park, NY, would be completed over 12 days. For each of the nine counties she passed through, a donation would be made to a local domestic violence shelter.

Mrs. Reiser is not getting married; she has been married twice previously (in 1998 for eight years and in 2013 for five years). And in July 2020, she broke her third engagement with a man who she said was a narcissistic abuser.

Ms. Reiser, 48, a psychotherapist who lives in Congers, NY, said, “But I’m a strong girl. Once I left and regained my power, I took a turn. I’m proud to say this strong girl never left.

Her decision to raise awareness about narcissistic domestic violence in wedding attire was simple: “If I run in a white dress,” she said, “people might be careful.”

The white wedding dress has long been a symbol of purity, femininity and once virginity. It was worn to signify the beginning of a marriage in what is hoped to be a long and happy relationship, and therefore life. Historically, it has remained one of the most iconic visuals.

In recent years, however, that visual has changed. Women deliberately shape the white dress to raise awareness for a variety of issues and causes.

Ms Reiser, a two-time Ironman triathlon competitor, came up with the idea of ​​running in the dress while jogging near her home. “The white dress is the symbol of a fantasy,” she said. “In our culture, this represents a commitment that we are made to think complements us. Narcissistic abusers use it to exploit women. I hope that when women see me walk past them in the dress, they will feel empowered. If they are in an abusive relationship, I hope they gain clarity, courage and confidence to walk away.

Over the past year, Ms. Reiser has rebuilt herself and her practice. She now focuses on narcissistic abuse and has over 300 clients. She also co-founded Coaching of monarchs, a life coaching program.

While some wedding dress wearers support larger calls to action, others draw attention to more modest events and celebrations.

On April 11, Sarah Studley was vaccinated at the vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in her unworn wedding reception gown.

“During the pandemic, I only left my house to shop for groceries,” said Ms Studley, 39, a senior investigative adviser for American Oversight, a government watchdog group.

Like thousands of others, Ms Studley’s initial marriage has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than gathering 100 guests at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in San Diego’s Balboa Park, as originally scheduled for November 14, 2020, she and her husband, Brian Horlow, had a micro-wedding on November 13 outside the nation’s administrative center in San Diego with just six family members. “I had a beautiful reception dress that I never got to wear,” she said. “It has been a difficult year for everyone. Wearing the dress, it was me trying to regain some joy.

For the first time in six months, Ms Studley did her hair and makeup, put on her beautiful jewelry, put on a stylish pair of shoes and even grabbed a dressy handbag.

“Getting vaccinated is a matter of hope,” she said. “It was a ceremonial moment worth celebrating. It does not mark the end of the pandemic, but I am more protected than before and it is also something to celebrate. “

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Ms Studley said the response was overwhelmingly positive. “Seeing me in the dress resonated with people because I was the one taking control of a symbolic little thing,” she said. “I felt chic and pretty. It is a moment of hope; a signal to a better future. I wanted to celebrate it.

Not so long ago, however, wedding dresses were much less revered. After their weddings, some women chose to throw off the dress and photograph themselves doing so.

“Essentially, this was a second set of photos taken of the bride, or the couple, where the dress is destroyed, like the bride walking in a lake while wearing it,” said Amanda Miller, professor of sociology. at the University of Indianapolis. “It was individualized and personalized, the opposite of what we see now. Today, people are focused on the outside rather than the inside. We are very vocal on social causes.

Ms. Miller also spoke about using an image understood around the world to gain attention. “This is what you want people to instantly see and understand when you are trying to promote a positive cause,” she said. “Few things are more eye-catching than a wedding dress. And because we have spent so much money on this item, there is a desire to use it again. It’s upcycling for a good cause.

For others, wearing the wedding dress is a larger movement, if not a group effort.

“I have five wedding dresses, which is a lot for someone who has sworn to never get married again,” said Fraidy Reiss, 46, the founder of Finally unleashed, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriages in the United States. In 1995, at the age of 19, Ms Reiss, who was raised in an ultra-Orthodox household, was forced into an unwanted and abusive marriage for 15 years. In 2011, in an effort to help others in similar situations, Ms. Reiss, who lives in northern New Jersey, began organizing events and protests with her non-profit organization.

In July 2016, more than 35 supporters gathered for the organization’s first wedding dress chain. Black tape was placed over their mouths, plastic chains tied their hands as they stood in a sea of ​​silence outside Penn Station in Newark.

“Anyone who passes knows this is about marriage, the powerful visual juxtaposition is impossible to ignore,” said Ms Reiss, who added that 10 chains have since followed in various locations, including Philadelphia and Boston. “The wedding dress is normally associated with something joyful and festive. The ribbon and chains are shocking. They are universal symbols of oppression and captivity.

The pandemic has suspended channels, but social media and the political climate continue to spread their message, as supporters don dresses and participate in events virtually.

“Putting on a wedding dress as a group and closing each other’s gowns to tell the world to free others who find themselves in this horrible situation as we try to change the law is a very calming, emotional and powerful act,” said Ms Reiss, whose non-profit group is fighting to change underage marriage laws. “It has become a hobby to find wedding dresses and modify them to fit them. And I wore them all for a good cause.

Child marriage remains legal in 46 states. “Since 2015, we have been pushing for a law prohibiting marriage before the age of 18,” Ms. Reiss said. “So far, our efforts have resulted in four states changing their laws; Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Minnesota.

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