[CW: Discussion of wedding weight loss and restrictive exercise and diet behaviors]
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 still 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 for Getting Married
Wedding weight loss as preparation for my big day 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 cosmetic procedures done before the wedding. Thankfully, he reassured me that he thought plastic surgery was completely unnecessary (and unnecessarily risky too).
Instead, I settled for hiring a hard-ass personal trainer to kick my butt into gear. 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 look back at my wedding photos and I see the joy and fun, yes. It was a truly special day. But it’s bittersweet because I also see a woman with many insecurities who was desperate to be viewed as flawless on her wedding day. Behaviors I thought were “normal” at the time were anything but.
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” was code for 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, “most beautiful” is defined by a tiny and toned physique that is unachievable for the vast majority of 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 more 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 my belief that wedding weight loss was a necessity for getting married.
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 for someone who had not yet worked through her body image issues.
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 (a lifelong pursuit). 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 shortly after 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 feeling like I had 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 doing the lion’s share of planning for our wedding.
The last thing I needed was to put additional stress on my body by trying to 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 anxiety.
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 through it all.
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 (and if you have a partner who puts pressure on you to change your body or makes comments when your body changes, that is a red flag that needs to be addressed). 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?
4. Don’t forget what your wedding is all about.
Lastly, 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.
It doesn’t matter if you didn’t achieve that perfectly flat stomach you were hoping for because it’s not genetically possible for you (this actually happened). It doesn’t matter if your carefully chosen desserts were delivered hours after they were supposed to be because your bakery had an oven malfunction (this actually happened). It doesn’t matter if you had to argue with the venue about the use of a golf cart to help your elderly grandma who was running late make it to the ceremony site (this actually happened).
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.
Wedding Weight Loss 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 don’t blame myself for buying into the fantasy, and I don’t blame you either. I place my blame squarely on the culture around us. 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 choice that is best for you, but please 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 professional 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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