Shelby Swink, 23, met her ex-fiancé in college back in 2011 and they hit it off right away. The two were happily engaged by March 2014, planning for a November wedding.
“I poured my heart and soul into the wedding plans, because I wanted the day that would celebrate our love and commitment for each other to be absolutely amazing,” Swink told BuzzFeed News.
But when the week of the wedding arrived, Swink’s then-fiancé told her that he was not in love with her and didn't want to get married.
“Bam. My dreams of marrying and having kids with what I thought was the man I would spend the rest of my life with vanished,” she said.
“I was in complete shock and had no idea what to think or do. I was numb. The next few days were a blur of calling guests and canceling vendors.”
Swink said she was lucky to have her friends and family supporting her, but none of them knew what to do or how to act when what was supposed to be her wedding day rolled around.
But she knew one thing for certain: “A pity party was the farthest thing from what I wanted or needed," she said.
So the wedding photographer brought up an idea to have a “trash the dress” photo shoot where they would ruin her wedding dress and take fun, nontraditional photos in rebellion.
“At first it sounded crazy, but after really thinking about it, I knew that it was the perfect thing for me,” Swink said. “After all, it was just a dress, a material item.”
“Nov. 1 was supposed to be a fun and happy day surrounded by friends and family who loved me,” Swink continued. “I decided that I would not let my ex-fiancé's mistake of letting me go take that away from me.”
The former bride-to-be asked both of her parents to be involved in the photo shoot.
“My mom is the one who paid for the dress, so I was nervous as to how she would react when I told her what I wanted to do with it. But both of them were 100% supportive and wanted to be there for me.”
Swink’s dad even brought along some champagne and cigars.
She also wanted her bridesmaids to be there, and they ended up being just as excited as Swink to take the photos.
“I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends.”
Swink’s dress is also being displayed in a local bridal shop in Memphis through the beginning of January. A portion of the proceeds from each dress bought while it's on display are going to a local nonprofit called Be Free Revolution.
“I can't even describe how liberating and cathartic the experience was for me,” said Swink. “The moment the first bit of paint hit my dress I was free.”
Despite the fact that she was broken up with a week before her wedding, Swink remains positive and full of inspiration for others.
“Instead of lying down and letting life trample over me, I decided to get up and face it head-on,” she said.
And if she could say one thing to her ex, this is what it would be: “Thank you for sparing me greater pain and loss down the road. Thank you for pushing me to realize my own strength..."
"...Thank you for teaching me that no one can take away my happiness. Thank you for letting me go so I can one day experience true reciprocated love. THANK YOU!”