[CW: Discussion of weight loss and dieting behaviors]
Today is my four-year wedding anniversary. In September of 2015, my partner and I got married on a sweltering day in the Texas Hill Country surrounded by towering oak trees and the people we loved most.
I was (and am) so proud of our wedding because we infused it with as much of our personalities as possible. Our wedding color scheme was bright and cheery. For the proceedings, our talented musician friends played arrangements of some of our favorite pop punk songs, and we removed all the traditional patriarchal bullshit from the ceremony and did it our own way. We had Persian food for our guests plus an epic dessert spread, and the DJ played both American and Persian music for dancing.
However, looking back, there is one thing I regret, which is that I chose to pursue weight loss before the big day. If I could go back and do it all again, I would give a giant middle finger to the pressure I felt to be smaller in order to get married.
Changing My Body Felt Like A Prerequisite To Getting Married
Pursuing aesthetic changes to my body as preparation for my wedding felt both normal and expected, even as someone who already had a small body and a lot of thin privilege. It’s just what brides do, right?
Weight loss? Check.
I was hyperfocused on every flaw of my body during the 10 months I was engaged before getting married. It was like wedding planning magnified every insecurity I’d ever had about my appearance.
I can even remember talking to my partner about the possibility of having procedures done for things like removing fat from my belly or finally evening out my eyebrows. Thankfully he reassured me that he thought plastic surgery was completely unnecessary (and unnecessarily risky, too).
Instead, I hired a personal trainer to kick my ass especially hard. I had already been exercising regularly for years, but I felt like I needed that extra push to look amazing. The trainer was so intense that I almost injured myself doing his workouts.
I also cut most carbs in the month leading up to my wedding, causing me to be hungry and cranky. I definitely lost weight, but I also lost muscle, and I ended up with a prominent vein in my forehead that always shows up when I’ve gotten leaner than is healthy for my body.
On my wedding day, my appearance prompted a friend of mine to ask another friend if I was okay because he feared I might be taking extreme measures to maintain my size. I look back at my wedding photos and I see the joy and fun, yes. But it’s bittersweet because I also see a woman with many insecurities who was desperate to be viewed as flawless.
The Expectation To Be A Beautiful Bride
Almost every single bride I’ve known felt the burden to “look their best” for their wedding day (where best = thin). And ultimately, most succumbed to that pressure in one way or another, just like I did.
We live in a culture that prizes thinness to the detriment of health and well-being. So it’s no wonder that on the day that is typically billed as the most important day of a woman’s life in particular (oh hey there, patriarchy, I see you), our expectations for our bodies are sky-high.
Diet culture takes advantage of brides by preying on their self-doubts. Bridal boot camps, juice cleanses, pre-wedding body wraps, and bridal fitness apparel (#sweatingforthewedding) are advertised everywhere.
Your big day is the perfect excuse to get in the best shape of your life!
Everyone you know and love will be there looking at you!
The wedding is just one day, but the photographs will last forever!
Not only are brides supposed to put on the perfect party for their guests, but they also have the additional responsibility of being their most beautiful. For some reason, this is defined by a tiny and toned physique that is unachievable for most people.
Brides are made to feel like ornaments on their wedding day for others to enjoy instead of like equal partners in the marriage they are about to enter into.
If I Could Do It All Again
Between my wedding day and now, I have done a lot of inner work to break up with diet culture and learn to respect my body no matter what it looks like. I have completely changed my relationship with exercise, food, and my body, and I now help others do the same. [Note: this inner work has, admittedly, been easier for me than it might be for someone living in a marginalized and stigmatized body because my body has always been seen as societally acceptable.]
If I could go back and do my wedding all over again, there are very few things I would change. But I would definitely change how I thought about my body in the wedding planning process.
Here are some things I know now that I would tell Shohreh the bride-to-be:
1. Choose a dress that fits your body, not a dress you have to change your body to fit.
I chose a wedding dress that was objectively beautiful and that other people loved, but it was wrong for me for a number of reasons. I never wear tight tops or dresses because I don’t like to feel restricted, and I’ve never liked the emphasis they put on my stomach.
Choosing a wedding dress that accentuated an area of my body that had always made me feel uncomfortable was a disaster waiting to happen. Additionally, because the back of my dress was lace, I couldn’t wear Spanx or anything similar underneath it, which launched me into obsessively trying to “flatten” my stomach. At one point in our engagement, I even bought a second wedding dress in a more comfortable A-line silhouette, but I ended up selling it and not wearing it because the people in my life were much more enthusiastic about the original dress.
I should have listened to my own fashion sense from the beginning and chosen a dress that I felt beautiful and comfortable in without having to change my body.
2. Dieting and worrying about changing your body will only add stress to an already stressful time.
During the course of our engagement, I finished my last semester of law school, moved cross-country from Chicago to Austin, studied for and took the Texas bar exam, and worried about finding my first job as an attorney. I did all of this while also planning our wedding.
The last thing I needed was to put additional stress on my body by trying to lose weight and change it, particularly through intensive and unsustainable means. I wish I had remembered that, at the end of the day, our wedding was about our love story, not my dieting story. I deserved peace in my relationship with my body when so many other things were causing me immense stress.
3. Your partner loves you exactly as you are right now, not x pounds from now.
My partner and I had been together for four years and had known each other for over five by the time we got engaged. He had seen my body fluctuate over that time, as bodies do, and he had loved me no matter what my weight on the scale or level of lean muscle mass was. Clearly when he asked me to marry him it was because he believed we could have a successful life partnership as I was then without any expectations for me to change my body. Who the heck was I trying so hard to change my body for when the whole point of a wedding is to cement and honor the partnership at its center? Which brings me to my last piece of advice.
4. Don’t forget what your wedding is all about.
It is so easy to get caught up in the little details, family drama, and other minutiae of wedding planning and lose sight of the big picture. At the end of your wedding day, no matter what else might have happened, you got married to your person, and that is literally all that matters.
Didn’t achieve that perfectly flat stomach you were hoping for because it’s not genetically possible for you (actually happened)? Doesn’t matter. Desserts delivered hours after they were supposed to be because your bakery had an oven malfunction (actually happened)? Doesn’t matter. Had to argue with the venue about use of a golf cart to help your elderly grandma who was running late make it to the ceremony site (actually happened)? Doesn’t matter.
You got married. You did the thing. You proclaimed your love out loud for the world to see. That’s what weddings are all about.
Changing Your Body For Your Wedding Is Completely Optional
If you lost weight for your wedding, are currently losing weight for your wedding, or plan to lose weight for your wedding, I get it. The pressure is immense, and it is so difficult to opt out. I know, because I couldn’t do it!
I don’t blame myself for that, though. I blame the culture around me. And if you decide changing your body for your wedding is what you need to do, I know that you’re just doing the best you can to survive and thrive in the culture we’re living in.
Ultimately, you have to make the choices that are best for you, but just know this: You don’t have to change your body to be a beautiful bride. You don’t have to lose weight to be worthy of your wedding dress and hundreds of photographs. You can get married exactly the way you look right now, and the end result will still be the same.
Your wedding is a celebration of the love between you and another person, and that will always be more important than your dress size.
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