Body image issues don’t have to ruin your wedding. If you read my last wedding post or have ever been to a wedding, you know there’s a lot of emotion when folks tie the knot. Much of that emotion gets wrapped into body image: the dress, attendee’s desired weight loss to meet a size goal or look good for photos, reevaluation of life goals…everyone seems to have their own agenda when it comes to body image and weddings.
I was stuck when it came to wedding planning because of these hangups. But, surprisingly, wedding planning, dress hunting, and some awesome support people helped my eating disorder recovery.
Ask any bride and they’ll tell you that finding a wedding dress is one of the most challenging parts of wedding planning. It may not even be bride specific stress, but the kind of annoying, mosquito-like stimulus of sales people and well-meaning (or not) friends and family asking about the dress, talking about “shredding for the wedding” and assuming you want to lose 4 sizes before you commit to buying the damn thing.
Beyond that, the images of bridal gowns mostly feature thin, white women with skinny bodies, big boobs, and perfect skin. The way our brains work makes us personalize the images we see. If these images are all we’re sold, no wonder the 98% of us who don’t fit straight sizing, Photoshop perfect bodies get discouraged–we literally can’t see ourselves as a photo-worthy bride! If a bride has a speck of body image doubt, it usually flares into bigger body image fears. “Should I be shredding for the wedding?” “Well, I guess I should look good for the photos.” The pressure can be overwhelming.
My body image hangup was my arms. They’re swimmer’s arms. Muscular. Difficult with dainty tight sleeves and cap-sleeves. But they can do lots of things and I’m generally proud to be able to push our non-self-propelled lawnmower up hills and carry shit by myself.
Early in wedding planning, my eating disorder brain struggled with fears. I couldn’t see myself as a demure and delicate bride. I felt frustrated about having Rosie the Riveter arms on my wedding day. I feared having them squished against the sides of my body in wedding photos. My inner critic whined, “Why did I have to spend so much time doing swim team and land with these giant shoulders? Everyone is going to see them!”
(Too late! Everyone has already seen my arms. It’s not like my husband was going to suddenly notice my arms (or any other body part) for the first time in five years of partnership and fall backwards, disgusted by the stunning girth of my biceps. He’s seen me doing chest presses in our office.)
Thankfully, I tend to be cynical and know enough about the slimy depths of diet culture to change my tune. I armed myself with some positive body image self-talk. I got serious about letting go of arm jiggle fear. I wasn’t going to fall for my inner critic’s complaints or the wedding industrial complex that fits brides (and grooms) into boxes. Body image was not going to ruin one (special) day of my life.
I write that like it was easy, but it wasn’t always a walk in the park. Wedding planning wasn’t just about invitations and the seating chart. It also included deeper work in recovery. Here’s a glimpse of my process and some advice if you find yourself in my shoes:
First, I had some tough conversations with friends and colleagues who knew more about body positivity and recovery than me. They became my cheerleaders. People I could go back to when I was having a bad body image day and remind me why doing a last minute raw food diet wasn’t actually a rational decision, but one stemming from my anxiety and need for control. (If you’re thinking of doing this kind of thing, don’t waste your time and money).
Second, I limited my choices to make wedding decision making easier. I know that I get easily overwhelmed by too many choices and that most choices available were good ones. So, for each thing I needed to pick, I selected three options and picked one from my gut instinct. I rationalized that not all things would be perfect but they’d be good enough. And good enough is perfect for one day of my life.
After that, it was time to dress shop. After one trip to a dress store, I realized that I get overwhelmed easily and I needed to find my dress online. This step made my life a million times easier. I bought a few different dresses online, tried them on at home, and picked the one that felt best to dance in. (Always a solid way to choose clothes!). My dress had a lot of stretch, it was breathable, and I could go pee in it by myself. Win. Win. Win.
Next, I kept reminding myself “It’s just one day of your life.” The next day is going to be a regular day (even if you go on a honeymoon). People don’t suddenly change at weddings or on vacation or with weight loss. We all stay our same shitty selves. (Meaning, we’re all human and we all fuck up and we’re all generally ok. That’s how life works.)
Then, I made sure to limit conversations about wedding stuff or had some canned comments like, “We keep making decisions and if we need anything we’ll let you know.” Or, “We don’t have much to share now but we’re looking forward to the wedding!” No bridal magazines. No excessive Pinterest boards. No scanning the internet for wedding stuff unless absolutely necessary. NO WEDDING FITNESS PLANS.
Finally, I did a lot of internal work unpacking the bullshit beliefs about wives who “let themselves go” after marriage. As if they’re some expired food item that needs to be tossed. (This is going to be another post in the future, so I’ll hold the bulk of my rant until then). Bottom line: other folks’ perceptions of women’s weight gain and loss is 1) based in cultural fat phobia where people would rather die than be fat; 2) is more about others’ fear and judgement of their own bodies than it is about you. Oh, and 3) your fuckability and prettiness is none o’ their damn business.
Bring on the Rosie the Riveter Arms with all their majesty!
Here is a picture of my alleged arm jiggle I was so worried about (hello, skewed perception!). I think the picture speaks for itself in that I didn’t end up worried at all. Squished against my sides and in cap sleeves.
And a special word to the brides (and grooms) to be reading this: YOU ARE FUCKING AMAZING AND YOUR WEDDING IS ONE FUCKING DAY. Enjoy the imperfections of the day because they make memories. Dance your face off! Have fun!