Better Know A Memphian: Awesome “Trash The Dress” Bride Shelby Swink
Shelby Swink's wedding date was supposed to be November 1, 2014. She'd bought a dress, booked Club Windward in Lakeland as a venue, and invited all the guests. Just a few days before the date, her fiancé called it off.
In true Memphis fashion, Shelby turned this terrible situation into something creative and positive: she and her loved ones put together a jubilant trash-the-dress photo shoot. What happened next has turned into a viral story featured on Buzzfeed, USA Today, the Daily Mail in the UK, the NY Daily News, and more.
Shelby, a Germantown resident, agreed to give me an interview (in between calls from Good Morning America, I'm sure). As background, here's are some excerpts from the Offbeat Bride post, where Shelby originally shared her story:
Five days before the wedding the unexpected happened. My fiancé and I sat down and he told me that he was not in love with me, and did not want to marry me, or spend the rest of his life with me…
I knew that a pity party was the farthest thing from what I wanted or needed. A few people brought up the idea of trashing the dress, and at first it sounded crazy. My bridesmaids and parents supported the idea 100% and even joined me in their own dresses and suit. My friend Carolyn didn't even wait for my photographer Elizabeth to say "go" — she just kind of threw the paint on me…
The moment the paint hit my dress… I was free. All the disappointment, all the hurt… I just felt it leave me. I can't even describe how liberating and cathartic the experience was for me. I let go of all the hurt and became myself again.
Shelby lives in Germantown, works at Teavana, coaches volleyball, and is a nanny. She was born and raised in Memphis. I found her story incredibly inspiring and empowering, and her sudden international fame as a Mid-Southerner and local ties to the story interesting.
I also thought her reaction to being left at the altar to be very "grit and grind" of her, a particularly Memphis-y kind of perseverance, if you will, so I'm happy that Shelby carved out some time in her newfound fame to chat with me. Here's our interview:
Holly: How long ago did the photo shoot take place?
Shelby: November 1, 2014 was when we did the trash the dress shoot, which was supposed to be my wedding day.
Holly: This is a sensitive question that you don't have to answer, but I know people are wondering: Did you have any clue your fiance was going to do this?
Shelby: I didn't have any clue at all until a few days before he officially told me. He told he might want to call it off, and I chalked it up to cold feet and nervousness. "This is normal dude stuff…you're freaking out…you're gonna be fine, it's cool," I told him. A day or two later was when he sat me down and said it wasn't cold feet, that he really didn't love me anymore.
Holly: My friends and I were talking about this and we half-joked that we'd be tempted to, well, burn his house down or something. How did you keep those kinds of feelings in check?
Shelby: My mom raised me to believe that karma always comes around, that you should just go about your life and not be mean to people who are mean to you, because later in life they will get what's coming to them. I'm not gonna do anything to get back at someone. I'm sure at some point in his life he'll pay for what he did.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hoard Photography. Elizabeth's father and mother were there, too.
Holly: How did people close to you respond to the cancelled wedding?
Shelby: A lot of people were very confused, because I had been talking about the wedding all the time. Then to have it be the week before the wedding, and I say, "I'm sorry that's not happening anymore" was very confusing. But a lot of people were like, I'm here for you, and they were concerned for me. That felt good.
Holly: You seem genuinely happy in the trash the dress photos. but I'm sure that's not how you felt at first. What stages did you go through?
Shelby: The day my fiancé told me and and the next day were kind of really sad and down. We [Shelby’s family] were wondering, what do we do? what do we say? I got together with my bridesmaids and my family. I was very adamant that I did not want a pity party. I didn’t want people to tiptoe around me, I just wanted everything to be normal. My friends and family and photographer Elizabeth Hoard suggested that I do something fun on my would-be wedding day. I thought, “Well, what else am I gonna do. I mean, I’m not busy, I’m not getting married or anything that day!” [laughs]
At the beginning of the photo shoot I was a little nervous, though. I put my dress on and came out, and my friends were oohing and ahhing. I couldn't stop thinking "this is what it would have been like on my actual wedding day." And I was feeling a little uncomfortable. But once the paint started flowing, I thought, "this was awesome, I'm not even sad or disappointed right now."
Ed. Note: After the photo shoot (by local photographer Elizabeth Hoard) Shelby wrote a guest post on the Offbeat Bride. Then local news Fox 13 did a story. Then Buzzfeed picked it up, and now Shelby's strength and her hometown are an international viral story.
Holly: How did the Memphis community react?
Shelby: It's actually pretty awesome. When the local news story came out on Fox 13, I got a few people who recognized me, and reached out to say "You're famous!" [laughs]. Or they said, "We love you, you're awesome!" Now it's really blowing up. I've gotten tons of people that I haven't talked to in years being very supportive, saying things like "I always knew that you were great, we have so much love and support for you." It feels very good.
Ed Note: To see more evidence of the kind of support Shelby's getting from around the world, check her out on Twitter @shellbell412. It's pretty adorable.
Holly: You mentioned in your Offbeat Bride post about how him leaving was your fiancé's loss, which I found empowering. How did that attitude help you?
Shelby: I am very confident in myself. I know that I'm awesome. (Ed. Note: I wish more women had this kind of confidence!) But I made a point to never bad-talk him, so I'm really adamant about that. I'm never like, 'he's an a-hole', that's not what its about. This is not about him and what he did, it's about the positive and moving on from a difficult situation.
Holly: What advice would you have for people who are going through a breakup, even if it's not an engagement?
Shelby: Life throws us stuff that we think we can't handle, but we're never gonna be dealt more than we can handle. Life's too short to let something like that get you down.
Holly: What's all this been like? I heard that you've been contacted by many media outlets. Do you think this is an opportunity to represent Memphis?
Shelby: Yes, definitely. I was born and raised here and I love it. I was getting all these big sites doing stories, but then the Memphis Flyer did one, and that was the one I was really excited about!
Holly: This seems random, but I like to ask everyone I talk to. What are some of your favorite places to go in Memphis?
Shelby: I have a goddaughter and so she loves to go to the Zoo, and the Fox and the Hound in Cordova is a fun spot. I've been a bit of a hermit, to be honest, but I'm starting to branch out from that.
Holly: People in Memphis can actually see the dress, and you're using this as an opportunity to give back, right?
Shelby: Yes, it's on display at the Barefoot Bride (4726 Poplar Avenue Suite 4) and through the beginning of 2015, a portion of the proceeds of every wedding dress sold there will go to Memphis-based international charity Be Free Revolution, which helps other women find their inner strength.
Holly: Thank you, Shelby, and Happy New Year!
Shelby: Thanks for talking to me!