The Power of Red and Daring Greatly

Photo of Jenny Lawson by Karen Walrond

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.

It started with this picture in this post by Jenny Lawson (known far and wide as The Bloggess).  She wore the dress during a tough time in her life; then passed it forward  woman to woman.

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.





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  1. says

    I am so moved by this post, on so many levels. Your gorgeous honesty and brave heart amaze me. I am also a cancer survivor (tonsil) and adore Brene Brown’s message; it is transformative.

    I was reading about the work you do with art/tiles and I cannot wait to meet you in person at CA12 to tell you how incredible I think you are in person! :)



  2. says

    Haha—first of all I was young and thin. Lots of makeup, eyelashes, the wig–all fake, especially the smile. What I remember about that whole year is constant stress and fear. It was truly awful. Honestly I look at that picture and I think I looked so much better than I felt. I feel so incredibly lucky to still be here. Thanks so much, Denise.

  3. says

    Ellie, I’m so touched. You’re SO sweet and even before I read your comment I couldn’t wait to meet you! I read about you too and knew you also had cancer and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all we have in common. Glad to know how much you think of Brene Brown; I’m just getting into the book and though I’m not usually a fan of self-help stuff, I really like her message too. I’m so looking forward to CA12–
    Here’s a link to Ellie’s post explaining it:

  4. says

    Wow, Darryle, loved this! ASAP, I’m going to go find a new red dress to inspire me to find my passionate self, to dare greatly. Somehow every post I’ve read online today has had that message–think it’s time to listen?

  5. Barbara canter says

    Darryle – you continue to be an inspiration! Also your writing is always strong and true – you shine a beacon with your words. Love you – Barb

  6. says

    Ann, I’m really appreciative than you liked this. And as you surely know, red dresses (or suits) not necessary for daring greatly. I too feel I’m reading, hearing and seeing that message around me constantly—and the great part is that it’s never too late to listen. Thank you.

  7. says

    Barb–I’m just glad you were inspired–even to comment! Thanks so much for YOUR words about MY words—love and miss you too and hope to see you much sooner than later–

  8. says

    So I read and reviewed this book for BlogHer Book Club but this is one of the best testimonies for Brene’s argument that I have read. I do not know much about your journey and even though we sat on a panel together, we did not share much. Great post.

  9. Sherri says

    Oh, this is amazing…simply amazing. I loved the story of the red dress when I first stumbled upon it, love seeing you in these words.

  10. says

    Patricia; so nice to hear from you and thanks so much for commenting. BlogHer was so hectic, I’m sorry we never got a chance for more personal connection, but hope you’ll stay in touch online and will be sure to find you in Chicago. Truly appreciative of your words about the post; and I’m really becoming aware of how much Brene’s work has played out in my life.

  11. says

    I’m so glad to hear from you, Brene, I don’t even know what to say—other than thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and for taking the time to read my post and comment. I have to tell you that your name and your work are brought up constantly in conversations I have, both online and in my “real” life–and certainly not only by me; everyone I know seems to be an admirer of yours. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to know how much impact and contribution you’ve made–You are truly changing the world—and in such a wonderful way. Deepest appreciation on behalf of all those whose lives you’ve touched.

  12. says

    I’ve also followed the story of the red dress for awhile, and was thrilled to see it on Katie’s show. Funny that I wrote this post right before Creative Alliance where Brene Brown was mentioned so often.
    Thanks so much for commenting, Sherri; I really enjoyed meeting you; hearing you read your post; and know we’ll have a chance soon to reconnect.

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