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Elisabeth: Body Politics


Love your body on your wedding day

by Elisabeth, Contributing Editor

Elisabeth: Body Politics | A Practical Wedding

I began my APW writing internship with a story about how forgetting to pack work clothes begat yet another spiral of feeling badly about my body. A year and some change later, it seems like the perfect time to close the loop and write a final intern post about the current state of my relationship with my body.

A few weeks ago, I pulled the final, horrible stroke of a two thousand meter piece on an ergometer, or rowing machine. I looked at the clock, gasping, and felt deeply satisfied (and only slightly like I might throw up). Since November 2012, I’ve knocked twenty-six seconds off my 2K time. That is no small feat. That is a big deal. I worked really hard for every damn one of those seconds (particularly considering I would almost always prefer to be watching Pretty Little Liars than participating in athletics). I returned to rowing in 2011 after a decade-plus hiatus, at a time when city life was wearing me down badly. I remembered that being on the water is incredibly restorative for me, and a respite from the hectic, crowded city pace. So without really thinking about it, I threw myself into training, and a year later, I was euphoric when I saw how much I’d improved.

Afterwards, K and I went out for burgers to celebrate this milestone in my adult-onset athleticism. I hobbled into one of Park Slope’s many organic free-range locavore haunts on legs that felt like sour punch straws, and it wasn’t more than thirty seconds after sitting down that I noticed the guy sitting next to us. I met his gaze the first time he looked at me, but the next time, and the time after that, I ignored him. “That guy will not stop looking at me,” I murmured to K. “Do you want me to take him?” she joked. I settled for meeting his eyes and staring back at him while eating my burger, and his smile eventually faded and he started looking uncomfortable, but he still kept glancing my way. To the point where I couldn’t really focus on what I was eating, I was so annoyed.

Was he looking at me because he was deeply impressed by the super high tech sports bra I was wearing, the one with the a thousand hooks that turns your chest into boob pancakes? Was it my matted, sweaty ponytail? The deeply fragrant t-shirt from 2001? Or was it the side effect of all that training, the loss of forty pounds, which means that I’m that much closer to a body that our society considers attractive?

“So that’s happening more often, huh,” K commented neutrally as we walked out. “How do you feel about it?” Oh. How to fit that into an eight hundred-word piece.

I started losing weight long before we started wedding planning, and at first, it was because I wanted to see the health benefits of losing five percent, and then ten percent of my body weight. There are a lot of stairs in this city, and my commute comes with 127, to be precise, and I was tired of how my knees hurt when I climbed them.

And you know what? I can bound up those stairs now without losing my breath, and my knees don’t hurt. I like that. I like seeing my thigh muscles emerge like Easter Hams from all the erging. I like that the coat that was uncomfortable a few winters ago is now loose. Me and my body, on our own, we’re fine. But I do not like that it’s okay, that it’s considered appropriate, for other people to notice how I look and to comment on it.

That sounds strident, no? But when you compliment me on how good I look now, what I’m hearing you not say is that I looked less than good forty pounds ago. And that makes me feel lousy. It makes me feel like all the good work I did to accept my body at any size, all the years I spent actively talking about body image and acceptance, and consciously using my body as a plus-size public teaching tool, like it gets a little smaller as I get a little smaller. And that feels really troubling. I don’t know how to walk the tricky line between body acceptance and acknowledging that I wanted to, and did, change my body. It feels like a terribly personal thing that is nevertheless on display.

So in the midst of all of that, I got married. Last year I wrote about how I was stuck, how I wanted to see myself the way K sees me, but couldn’t figure out what to wear that would get me there.

We got a few early shots back from our wonderful photographer, and K forwarded them to me while she was traveling. I scrolled through them on my phone, greedy and excited for first glimpses. K looked wonderful. I still remember a moment from when we were first dating, when she straightened up from fixing her bike, and I felt a little sick to my stomach with how good she looked, and I felt the same kick in my gut when I saw her in those pictures. She was glowing, handsome, dashing. All day our friends kept laughing and saying they’d never seen her smile that wide. When she fell into bed that night, she kept saying how much her face hurt. Her happiness is all over those pictures.

Then I saw myself, and the outfit I crafted so carefully and lovingly. The charm bracelet from my mom, the pearl earrings my grandfather brought back from a tour of duty, my great-grandmother’s ring, the perfect fascinator that a little old lady put together for me after my best friend and I climbed five flights to her funny little Upper West Side walk-up in the July city heat. When I put on that outfit that morning, I was delirious with joy.

But when I saw the pictures, I started down the well-trodden path of criticism. I started to think the things I always think when I see myself in pictures, which seems to be part of the human condition, that you think and feel one way and then when you see the pictures, you wonder who that slightly foolish, goofy person is that took the place of you in your perfect outfit. And I pulled myself out of it, and instead, I remembered how many people marveled at how beautiful and happy I was that day. And how different those compliments felt than a well meaning, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” On my wedding day, they weren’t commenting about changes, about how my past body compared to my future one. They were seeing a moment in time where I felt such deep, authentic joy that it couldn’t help but show, and I was so present that I didn’t think about the politics of my body once. I felt and looked radiant.

Just the way I hoped I would.

Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell

Elisabeth

Elisabeth is an MPH working in public health in New York City. Her old okcupid profile said she’s really good at: fixing socially awkward situations at parties, return trips to Ikea, whipping up excellent mac and cheese on camping trips, leaping into the ocean, being chronically late, and having Friday night adventures all over Brooklyn. In September 2013, she married her introverted, punctual K.

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  • Jessica

    First, your description of K made me smile like none other. The perfect way to start a day is reading about how in love someone is (and you are in deep, lady friend, which is beautiful).

    Second, I agree about the “have you lost weight! you look so good!” debacle. About two years ago I decided to get healthier, and that involved losing a certain amount of weight. Only a little bit of it was vanity, mainly I wanted my arms to stop falling asleep at night and to feel more comfortable in my clothes that now pinched. Everyone thought I was losing weight because of the wedding, and while that put a good date to have reached a goal by, it was not my motivation. I think people are so caught up in others trying to look good for society or whatever that it’s hard for them to see the relationship between how good I looked then, and how good just my body looks now.

    I have a friend who just lost 55 pounds in the same period that I lost 20 (and she’s about a foot shorter than me so it’s extra visible). I try to be careful when talking to her about this stuff because she has always been beautiful, it’s just that the achievement of losing that much weight is something to be recognized, because she worked really hard for it. It’s a fine, fine line to walk and I think most people are unaware it exists for those who have a lot of body positivity no matter what weight, BMI or dress size they are.

    • Lauren from NH

      I would really like to discuss more about this line. The complication seems to be that socially accepted body image is tied to this concept of “skinny” or “thin” but your body itself is a representation of your health. So part of the challenge seems to lie with trying to encourage bodily health without damaging body image by measuring it by “skinny” standards. Because adopting healthy habits, be it eating, exercising or sleeping, and seeing the positive results are huge accomplishments when so much of US culture encourages an unhealthy lifestyle. I wish it were easier to celebrate these goals and separate them from “skinny” standard shaming.

      • Jessica

        “I wish it were easier to celebrate these goals and separate them from “skinny” standard shaming.”

        Me too! I see things like the Dove ad campaigns or the recent Aerie campaign where they won’t photoshop their models and just think that while it’s a step in the right direction, the models size and skin color needs to be more diverse. The fact that those women aren’t photoshopped just proves that they are really beautiful models according to the society standard, and it would be great to see really beautiful models that are a size 12 and up and not of white European ancestry. The media plays a big part in this, and they like to put the blame on the consumers. I think the consumers have the power to change this, but it’s going to be slow going.

      • never.the.same

        Actually, this: “your body itself is a representation of your health” is not a true statement.
        Your body itself CAN BE a representation of your health. But it is not always.

        Commenting on someone’s health (good or bad) based on their looks (usually weight loss or gain) requires making a number of assumptions, none of which are necessarily true about an individual.

        • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

          It is SEEN to be a representation of your health though. Joe Public assumes that if you are fat you are unhealthy, if you are super skinny you are anorexic etc etc

    • Gina

      “It’s a fine, fine line to walk and I think most people are unaware it exists for those who have a lot of body positivity no matter what weight, BMI or dress size they are.” I think you hit the nail on the head.

      I have to admit I don’t often think about what I say in terms of body size when congratulating people on weight loss. I’ve been athletic my whole life, and with a history of heart disease in my family, I have a healthy respect for how much being active can lengthen your life. My quality of life is directly tied to how much time I spend skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and climbing outdoors. So when I see people lose weight, and I know it’s because they’ve recently rediscovered exercise/the outdoors, I congratulate them! Do I always articulate it as “I’m so happy you’re being more active for your health and quality of life”? No. Sometimes I just say “you look amazing! Congrats!” This article (and your comment) made me think harder about what I’m not saying when I’m saying that.

      • Jessica

        I wonder about this too, how best to express my support for folks who are clearly working hard to live a healthier lifestyle.

        It might be as simple as “have you been working out? How do you feel?” This is a question about them, lets them explain what they’ve been doing (because weight loss can be a medical problem, not something to be excited about) and how they feel about it. If they’ve been working hard, they get to do the bragging if they want, if it’s a medical thing they can explain that if they want, or they can just be passive and not explain anything if they don’t want to talk to you about it.

        I think it harkens back to the article on wedding planning when people deliver the line “you must be so excited!” To put excitement on someone about weight loss puts your feelings about it first without really considering their experience is presumptuous, but is socially accepted right now.

        • Gina

          Yes! I definitely try to say something only when I know the reason the person has been losing weight. When I took the opposite approach regarding my MIL’s weight loss over Christmas, and just ignored it, she was super offended that I didn’t notice. Perhaps it’s a generational difference. I like your suggested approach :)

  • js

    Well, I just love this.

  • Stephanie B.

    “But when you compliment me on how good I look now, what I’m hearing you
    not say is that I looked less than good forty pounds ago. And that makes
    me feel lousy. It makes me feel like all the good work I did to accept
    my body at any size, all the
    years I spent actively talking about body image and acceptance, and
    consciously using my body as a plus-size public teaching tool, like it
    gets a little smaller as I get a little smaller.”

    This is so familiar. I’ve been fat my whole adult life. I’ve recently lost some weight because of a more intense gym regimen thanks to high blood pressure. And friends ask if I’ve lost weight, and compliment me, and I think the same thing: I guess I didn’t look good 3 months ago, huh? One friend went so far as to say “Good job! Keep going!” She didn’t ask me if I was *trying* to lose weight, because it’s just assumed that a fat woman is ALWAYS trying to lose weight. And “keep going” is the rudest comment-disguised-as-a-compliment to me, because what I hear is “I think you need to lose MORE weight, because you are not acceptable the way you are.”

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Jacky Speck

      I really hate those “keep going” comments, which I’m still hearing even 2 years after a significant weight loss. I’m happy at my current weight, my body fat percentage has been well within the widely-accepted so-called “healthy” range for quite some time, yet people still do the “keep up the weight loss!” thing. I know they mean well, but it definitely implies “you’re not good enough yet.”

      Some people assume weight loss is the be-all, end-all goal for ALL women, regardless of their size. One friend posted a Facebook status about how she “needs to lose weight.” Someone commented, “But you look great!” The next comment, from a woman, said “Every girl needs to lose a few pounds.” It made me so sad. That comment wasn’t even about achieving some goal “healthy weight” and then maintaining it. There is no way that “ALL women need to be smaller” is a healthy mindset.

      • KEA1

        AMEN. I have never been “fat,” though my weight and fitness level (I’m a competitive swimmer and runner) have fluctuated a bit over the past few years, mostly due to illness. When I finally managed this summer to return to a *kickass* level of fitness, I also slimmed down a bit in the process…and heard a somewhat-uncomfortable number of compliments on how “good” I looked as a result. Thankfully I also heard plenty of compliments on things like my fierce racing…but something is seriously bleeped up if people are going to gush over (unintentional) weight loss from what was already a perfectly healthy weight.

    • jashshea

      Thanks for saying this…because I’m one of the dreaded “keep going”-ers. I always INTENDED to mean “You’re feeling better and you’re more positive about yourself, so keep doing what you’re doing,” but I can very easily see how it could be misunderstood. Next time, I’ll say “I’m so happy to see you feeling well” or something similar.

  • Katie

    I felt the opposite when I was losing weight and received compliments on my progress, I thought it was great! I never thought it would be rude to compliment someone’s weight loss, should I not say anything? Is there something better to say? If no one said anything after losing 30 lbs, I would be a little bummed out. Does that make me shallow? Yeah sure, why not.

    • http://thevanillabride.blogspot.com/ Sonarisa

      I think it depends on where people are coming from. If you know a friend has made a healthy weight loss decision because of advice from their doctor, or is just trying to drop 15 lbs as a New Year’s resolution, and they talk about their struggle, then I think it’s fine to compliment them. However, weight and body image is important. Elisabeth talks about how “you look good, have you lost weight?” makes her feel like she didn’t look good before, and that’s pretty common. Comments like that made my sister become bulimic, and though she’s a year into recovery- comments about her eating habits or weight often set her back a few paces.

      The safest route is to compliment weight loss when you know someone has been working towards it, just like complimenting someone for running that 5k they’ve been training for, or got the promotion they wanted. And if you want to tell people they look good- just tell them that they look good that day. Smiles, clothing, and “there’s just something about you today” are all compliments that don’t cause issues.

      • Jacky Speck

        When I was in the process of losing a ton of weight, it was very hard to not hear thinly-veiled insults about Fat Me in compliments from *anyone*. At the time, “you look good [because you've lost weight]” had the same implications whether I heard it from my fiance or a semi-stranger. It took a long time and a lot of reassurance from my fiance before I understood that he was actually just proud of my hard work paying off, as opposed to saying that I “didn’t look good before.” So yes, it depends on where you’re coming from, but even if you know the person well I think it’s better to compliment their level of discipline or something, rather than the change in their appearance.

        I still get pretty defensive when I hear well-meaning comments about my eating habits or weight, even now that I’m going on year 3 of maintaining a healthy weight. I’m working on not being so insecure and recognizing that people DO mean well, but I know that all those well-meaning “wow, you look so skinny now!!” comments didn’t help.

      • anon

        (Potential TW for ED.)

        “…healthy weight loss decision because of advice from their doctor.”

        Yup. When I was 21, I weighed about 30 lbs less than I do now (and while I won’t list the number, it was quite low). I never received more compliments on my looks in my entire life and I still have people who comment that I should be strive to get to that point as well. Pretty much only my fiance and my best friend say that I look better now, and I think that’s at least partially because they know I’m definitely way healthier now…and also because my fiance is an ass man, ha.

        When I was at that low weight, I was exercising 2 hours a day and eating a not-technically-unhealthy-but-still-very-low amount of set calories stringently each day…and I was in the throes of undiagnosed celiac disease, which made gaining significant weight a near impossibility. I didn’t technically have an eating disorder, but I’d say my behavior and attitude towards body image was verging on disordered in general, in combination with my underlying autoimmune disorder. And as well-meaning as it was and as much as it wasn’t their fault (I truly don’t blame them), comments on how fantastic I looked only helped push that disorder further towards a breaking point that thankfully never came.

        I’m at a healthy weight now and I have stopped looking at scales. And while I do feel like I need to get back to exercising more consistently for health reasons (stairs on the commute really are brutal, man), it’s very hard to hear well-meaning comments from family members about how they just know I can get back to my old, better body since I was able to do it before. Again, they have no idea that it wasn’t a healthy initiative but it speaks to the societal assumption that ALL weight loss is inherently healthy, and I think people really need to combat that.

        • Jess

          “Pretty much only my fiance and my best friend say that I look better now”

          I’m sorry that is the case. I guarantee you are way better looking now than you were then. Being HEALTHY is inherently more attractive than anything else. Eff anyone who says otherwise.

          I also was once a very low weight, and am now 30lbs healthier. Those who knew me then and see me now will comment that I look much better and happier. It’s a reinforcement that helps me remember how far I have come and helps when I notice my eating drift away. Like you, I don’t check my weight. I have worked with weightlifting trainers and specifically asked them to never discuss nutrition or weight-gain with me, and I focus on my ability to DO THINGS when working out, not how many calories I burn.

          Also, hooray for ass-men!! Some of us will be members of the itty-bitty-titty-committee forever, but will always have a nice big ass no matter how little we weigh. The world needs more people that embrace that (and design clothes for it, darn-it).

          • Rachael

            Here here about not checking your weight. I haven’t weighed myself since August. At a doctor’s appointment I asked to stand facing away from the numbers and had the nurse keep the number to herself. It’s a no-win situation, I’m either upset that I weigh a lb or two more, upset that I don’t weigh less than my “normal”, or upset that I am under my “normal” weight but still want to be lighter still. I just go by how my clothes fit now and try to eat “normally” and work out at an effective level.

        • Rachael

          This article brought up my own past with, in my case, an eating disorder. I was ~25 – 30 lbs lower than my then “normal” very lean, athletic body, and probably about ~15 – 20 lbs less than my new normal (I lost a lot of muscle mass that I never recovered). My normal is size small to low-end medium and I went down to size skeletal with a side of amenorrhea. I was working out like mad and going days without eating. The people close to me were horrified. But I will never forget when a girl I went to high school with came up and gushed over how amazing I looked.

          As a side note, my husband was a friend of mine before, during, and after this episode and hands down likes me better at a “normal”, healthy weight.

    • GCDC

      There is also something about the idea that those “you look great, have you lost weight?” comments presuppose that everyone should or does WANT to lose weight. I know a person who, every time he greets a woman, he compliments how she looks and asks if she has lost weight. Every. Single. Time. Putting aside the insincerity of his comment, every time he says it, it reinforces the idea that women should be at least thinking about losing weight. Even when I hear him say it to other people, my inner voice asks me if I’ve lost weight, and if I haven’t, it asks me if I should.

      As other commenters have pointed out, it’s different if someone you know has shared that they have been trying to lose weight. Then the compliments aren’t so much about their body and its acceptability or attractiveness, but acknowledging that they are accomplishing a goal.

      • Sarah E

        Your last sentence says it best. It’s awesome to encourage your friends when they are accomplishing a goal. If you don’t know the person well, though, there’s no need to comment on their weight when giving a compliment. Also, I’d follow up with the question we always come back to in yoga: “You’re looking fabulous today! How do you feel?” Asking how they feel can give them room to say “I have tons of energy today!” or “At least I look good, cuz I feel crappy.” Or just a cursory “fine, thanks.” As long as you avoid a statement (you must feel great!), it puts the emphasis back on how they are inside, rather than how they are outside.

        • Jess

          Oh, I like that “How do you feel” question.

    • TeaforTwo

      I would take cues from your friend.

      I have twice lost in the range of 30-40 lbs, but it was never intentional. Once was over the course of a 32-day 800km hike, and once was while living in Europe where I walked everywhere and was too broke to eat very much. When people commented on it, I took it the same way as other folks have reported: I was super uncomfortable that people were paying so much attention to my body, and started to wonder if they had been doing the same thing when I was bigger. (And now that I’ve gained every one of those pounds back, I wonder if those same friends are still sizing me up every time I see them.)
      On the other hand, if you have a friend who is talking about losing weight (note: talking about working out isn’t necessarily about a focus on losing weight), I think they would probably welcome the encouragement.

  • scw

    “Me and my body, on our own, we’re fine. But I do not like that it’s okay, that it’s considered appropriate, for other people to notice how I look and to comment on it.” YES. for all body sizes.

  • ktmarie

    This is one of those APW posts that makes me consider something that I would have never thought of before… (you always do that to me!). Although I don’t make the assumption that anyone who is heavier is trying to lose weight, if I’ve noticed that someone has lost a significant amount I’m one of those people that says things like “Have you lost weight… you look great!”

    I hope that from the other side, those who take offense to that realize that I am in no way intending to comment on your previous self, but simply that I thought you’d appreciate someone taking notice since I (maybe incorrectly?) assumed an effort was being made. I guess I thought of it along the lines of when someone gets a haircut, you might say something similar (you cut your hair! it looks great!). Now I realize somebody’s weight is often a much more sensitive topic than hairstyle, but just to give some perspective on how I’ve always thought about it.

    I’d love an alternate phrase since the APW community seems good at that. Or maybe as another commenter noted, no comment should be made unless you know that the person has been making a goal of it?

    • MisterEHolmes

      Just “you look great!” should be fine–and that’s a phrase you can use even if you’re just complimenting someone on their lipstick.

      • soothingoceansounds

        This this this!!! It’s so easy to just say “you look great!” Who doesn’t like to hear that? If an individual wants to talk about changes they may have made that contribute to said looking-greatness, they have the opportunity to bring it up themselves, on their terms.

    • Contentezza

      Maybe something like, “You look so strong!” or “Ohmygosh, you’re totally glowing!” or, if it’s a close friend, “You look so bootylicious!”?

    • malkavian

      “I thought you’d appreciate someone taking notice since I (maybe incorrectly?) assumed an effort was being made.”

      As a note on this, I have a chronic illness, that when I’m flaring, causes weight loss for various reasons. I’ve had people comment on my losing weight when I’m sick, and while externally I try to be polite, internally I’m all “But I’m not trying to lose weight and I’m hungry and eating all the time and I’m still losing weight OMG this is scary.” So, assuming weight loss always involves effort assumes a lot.

      • YOQ

        Also, as Elisabeth’s piece notes, there’s often significant effort involved in accepting and loving one’s body at ANY weight/size/shape–not just in losing weight.

      • ItsyBit

        ktmarie, while I totally see where you’re coming from and you are clearly good intentioned, I’d like to echo what malkavian said about not knowing why someone’s really losing weight. I’ll never forget the day I learned that an old friend of mine had been hospitalized for anorexia. First and foremost, I was sad and concerned for her. Second, I immediately remembered a day several weeks earlier when I had complimented her on her now-thinner figure. It killed me to think that I had inadvertently said “good job” to a serious illness. While this is definitely not a common situation, it just drove home for me that you never *really* know what someone else is going through and it’s probably better not to assume.

        • Alyssa M

          With the prevalence of eating disorders today, it’s probably a more common situation than we all realize. As someone who has always had a stable body weight (I’ve fluctuated within about 20 lbs. since I was 14) the sticky feelings around body size never really occurred to me until over the years I spoke with several friends of varying body types who ALL had complicated emotional relationships with food. None had been hospitalized, but several went through bouts of near starvation and/or experimented with bulimia.

      • ktmarie

        Thanks everyone for the insights – as I’ve done so many times before after reading some of the APW discussions, I’ll be more conscious of this in the future

      • KC

        Also, if you have a friend who has lost weight due to an illness, saying “Man, I wish I had that! I could stand to lose a few pounds…” will not have happy results. For anyone involved.

        (people: they put their feet in their mouth. All the time. Including me.)

        • malkavian

          Yeap, I’ve definitely had people say that to me. “Oh, I wish I had your illness for a little bit so I could lose some weight”

          And then I’m just like, “Nope, no you do NOT wish you had this. Trust me”

    • Jess

      I usually don’t mention it unless you know they’ve been exercising to lose weight and there’s been a major milestone they talked about recently, e.g. “I just ran a 5K!” “Wow, way to go! That’s a huge accomplishment!” or congratulate them if they tell me a metric like, “I’ve lost 5lbs in the last month.” and it’s something they are doing to be healthy.

      It can be really harmful for anybody listening to comment on weight loss to other people, too. It reinforces that “We all need to be skinnier” message, rather than the “focus on health” message.

      • never.the.same

        Yes, this, Jess. It goes along with my life rule of complimenting people’s choices and effort and not their body. Things like, “I love that dress you chose!” or “I know how hard you’ve been working going to the gym after work, it’s inspiring!”

  • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com/ Rachel Wilkerson

    Pardon my self-promotion, but I could relate to SO much of this and just wanted to share a post I had written on this rather than writing it all in the comments :) http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/stages-weight-loss-grief-220600718.html

    • Jess

      That was actually a pretty cool look into how one persons significant weight loss can affect the way everyone around them acts.

  • MisterEHolmes

    Since the new year, I’ve been on a diet my doctor recommended for the express purpose of losing weight. Sure, it was something I’ve been meaning to getting around to, but — and I feel like a failure of sorts for this –really it’s for the wedding. Because the dress lady took my measurements and then looked down at her paper and recommended we order a whole size up just based on my waist size, which (apparently) was out of step with my hip and bust measurements. I was humiliated and embarrassed.

    I’ve worked hard on my current diet, and I’m already seeing significant changes, but I feel like a failure for giving in to the societal peer pressure about looking “a certain way” for my wedding. It’s very complicated.

    • Jacky Speck

      You said “it was something I’ve been meaning to getting around to,” so finally getting around to it definitely doesn’t make you a failure. It sounds like you’re giving yourself a deadline– your wedding– for something that you always wanted to do.

      It’s one thing to be happy at your current size and have people pressuring you NOT to be happy because you don’t fit their standards. But being unhappy and deciding to change that? It’s a good thing.

    • jashshea

      I feel you – I change my workouts/diet in the lead up to the wedding (more muscle tone, fewer long nights with a wine bottle). I felt weird about it as well.

      BUT. I don’t think there are any bad reasons to start treating yourself/body better. Would you feel like a failure if you’d decided to get healthier after a bad breakup or after a health scare?

      Aside: I’m sorry to hear that your dress shop experience was unpleasant. You’d think the people who work at those shops would have seen enough body types to know how to a) be gentle when suggesting a different size or b) stfu.

      • Jacky Speck

        Well, I don’t think the “stfu” option is a good idea because sizing up for one measurement means taking in the dress to fit the other measurements… Which usually costs money. I think most customers would want to know if they should expect to spend money on alterations down the line.

        What would be the best way to gently say “this is the size that fits your largest measurement, and we’ll have to take in the rest”? Saying “your waist measurement is out of step with your hips and bust” like MisterEHolmes described is definitely insensitive, because that says “there is something wrong with your waist measurement.” In my opinion, saying “these are your measurements, and they correspond to this size on the chart” is as gentle as they can be, because numbers aren’t a judgement.

        • Jess

          They use the same phrase, “Well, your bust and waist put you at this size, but your hips put you at this size. I recommend we order for your largest measurement.” for people that aren’t plus-size too.

          As much as it sucks to hear, and as much emotional baggage anybody commenting on size/weight/proportions can carry, I’m not sure there’s a better way to have that discussion. I think that’s one time that it’s vocal tone that makes the biggest difference, but the words can still carry some hurt no matter what because of what they mean to you.

          • Jacky Speck

            Exactly: getting hurt by simply hearing your measurements, without any judgement on whether said measurements are “skinny” or “fat” or whatever, can only mean you don’t like your measurements.

            Unfortunately some people still get hung up on numbers, though. I had a bridesmaid get very upset at hearing her dress size at one bridal salon. The size was larger than she expected, because the designer sized differently than most makers “normal” clothes. Even after the consultant explained their different sizing, she couldn’t get over the idea of herself as a “Size [Whatever].” But again, that’s her own insecurity and there would have been no way for the consultant to know that a number would bother her that much.

          • Jess

            I really hope someday we [society] can move away from that feeling judged for what numbers come attached to our clothes.

            There’s so much baggage associated with numbers and sizes and the way people comment on people’s bodies. I don’t want anybody to think I don’t understand and respect that, I just really wish it wasn’t the case.

            Your aunt commenting on the fact that you’ll need to order a dress size up with a snide look? Way uncool.

            The girl behind the counter saying “You fit here and here. We generally recommend this. What do you want to order?” Trying to do her job.

            There are kind ways to say those words and nasty ways to say those words, but she needs to know so she can place the order correctly.

        • Stella

          Mine were actually pretty cool about it, they just said when they measured: “we’ll order based on the largest measurement if you’re between sizes” but didn’t (a) say what the measurements were; or (b) what size that meant…and then gave me an idea for the cost of alterations. I thought was pretty sensitive as these things go… if I’d been interested in the exact size I could have asked but I didn’t really want to, so it worked out OK for me…

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I’ve said it before, but I do wish women’s sizing would go measurement-based, or at least that salons would emphasize the measurements, not the “size.” I suppose we may still need sizes for simplicity, but salon staff can learn to de-emphasize them. “I’ll submit the dress order based on your measurements and the designer’s recommendations. If you’re calling about your dress and someone asks the size, it’s [x].”

        • Jess

          Interesting idea.

          I wonder how they would decide what to order when you fit squarely in two sizes. In the past, it was left up to me to make the decision, and I went with what they recommend. My hips/wonderful butt are a good two sizes larger than my waist and chest. They recommended I fit my rear end, but found out when the dress came in that they could not take in the top appropriately. If I had known that would be an issue (which I now do, and will always always always ask) I would have told them to NOT follow the recommendations and fit my upper body and we can figure out how badly the butt needs help later.

    • SarahG

      Oh, I feel you, MisterE! When my partner and I first started talking about getting married this year (as opposed to next) my first thought, which I was too embarrassed to articulate, was “can I lose 10 pounds in time?” Not, wow, this is so exciting, or man, how are we going to find a venue. I felt like a total feminist failure and bad partner. There’s the layer of crap we (well, I anyway) internalize from culture about our bodies, and then the additional layer of crap that is the guilt over not being totally focused on love instead of body image. I wish I could remove the part of my brain that gives a hoot about this stuff.

      • Elisabeth S.

        You’re NOT a feminist failure! I was very careful about deciding to get healthier for my life, not for my wedding, but at the same time, the wedding was looming. This stuff is nearly impossible to disentangle.

        • SarahG

          Aw, thanks :) It is difficult to remember to direct the rage outward (towards this sexist culture) rather than inward.

    • Laura K

      Don’t let dress sizes get you down, they don’t make any sense and don’t account for different body types! I’m really happy with my body, but when I went to get fitted for a bridesmaid dress, they told my my bust, waist, and hips are 3 different sizes (hips being the largest and bust being the smallest) and they would have to order for the largest size and take the rest in.

      • a single sarah

        Echoing Laura, you are so not alone. I just ordered my bridesmaid’s dress for a wedding in June. I ordered my dress based on my normal bust size (I’m currently smaller than normal after a bout with appendicitis this month). It is five sizes larger than the smallest size recommended based on my current measurements. I’m telling myself this is what alterations are for.

  • Lindsay Rae

    That word.

    RADIANT.

    It’s both a look and a feeling I’ve tried to capture. Some days it feels like trying to put sunlight in a bottle. I’ve found photos of brides with the sunlight behind them, laughing with their new partner, their girls, their mom, nothing at all — these pictures are everywhere as a reminder for me. It’s a feeling I’m striving to put into my life every day. Even before I was engaged, I got a small sun tattoo on my wrist as something to acknowledge every day.

    While my relationship with my body and weight is along the healthy lines, I work out regularly for mental and physical health, and I absolutely want to look and feel like the best version of MYSELF on my wedding day.

  • Elise

    This post means so much to me. I’m teary! I lost 35lbs for my wedding (which was this past July). It felt great, of course, to fit back into clothes that had been way too tight for a couple of years (I gained a significant amount of weight fairly quickly due to medications and some other factors), but I can COMPLETELY relate to your comments about how it actually does NOT feel that great to be constantly told how I “look so much better”, etc. “Better”. As if I’d had some horrible disease or something. It just made me feel worse about where I had come from, and what people must have thought of me. I had one close friend who said “You look great now but you will NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN” (as in gaining weight)–as if that was supposed to be encouraging. Food is completely tied to emotional issues for me…so, it just makes it all really tough.

    Everyone said I looked “beautiful and tiny” (tiny? haha–no, I’ve never been a tiny person) at my wedding…but I also had a similar experience when getting my wedding photos. Frankly: I HATE them. I think I look awful in nearly every single image. They make me want to cry. All I can find in those photos are big faults, over and over. And then I think…if I am so miserably unhappy with how I look in those photos, when I was supposedly “beautiful and tiny”, after having to get my wedding dress taken down several sizes, after feeling so good in the couple of months leading up to the Big Day…then what did I look like when I was 35lbs heavier? And what do I look like NOW, having gained back 12 pounds (which I put on during our honeymoon and now can’t seem to get rid of)??

    But you’re so right that none of those nagging feelings matter. I was happy that day, and everyone saw that. That’s what it’s about.

    BTW I think you BOTH look gorgeous and radiant in all your photos!

    • Elisabeth S.

      Elise, I hear you on this one. It’s a full-time job to look at a picture of yourself and re-frame the judgmental instincts that pop up immediately.

  • Anne Schwartz

    I love the red shoes blue dress combo. Amazing.

    Also, I feel you hear and really feel the struggle to look for joy in pictures (instead of chins/fat/legs whatever your poison).

    • Gina

      I really identified with that too. No matter what size you are, it is hard to fight the urge to look at “parts” in pictures rather than the whole person that others see.

  • Sara

    I love this post, and most people have said what I wanted to already. But I also wanted to add – I feel you on watching PLL vs working out. I have my friend tape it and we work out together so its a reward when we’re done :)

    • Elisabeth S.

      OH THAT IS A GOOD IDEA.

  • Laura K

    Congratulations on your athletic accomplishments! The biggest thing I learned from getting into sports as an adult is that I can feel great about my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it looks. Mastering a new skill or getting a personal record is so rewarding. I am proud of my powerful “Easter ham” thighs, even if it makes finding jeans a lot harder.

    • Superfantastic

      “The biggest thing I learned from getting into sports as an adult is that I can feel great about my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it looks. ” YES. I started running at 31 and the very best part of it for me has been finally having positive feelings about my body, based on what I now know it can do. When a friend told me at my wedding that I looked great, I remember responding, “I ran 400 miles!” Because that’s what I was proud of, far more than the weight I lost as a result. (I ran 400 miles in the five months before the wedding, training with a group for a half marathon.)

    • ItsyBit

      Exactly!! In the last few years I stopped doing the sports I was into throughout high school & college and although the change in my body shape has been frustrating, I think what’s made me super insecure is realizing that I’m nowhere near as strong as I used to be. But it’s also encouraging to know that once I start feeling stronger and more fit, I’ll start loving how I look (or not care as much).

  • Moe

    I was a plus-size bride (about size 16 or so). A few years previous I was morbidly obese (more like a size 26). Somewhere in between those two sizes I was pretty darn healthy and athletic (size 12). When I see my wedding pictures from last year I see a lot different things. I see a happy bride. I see enormous boobs. I see chubby arms. I see a full face bordering on a double chin. I see the 30lbs my husband and I have both gained since meeting. But I also see the miracle of two people finding each other and making a commitment to each other.

    I’ve been the invsible fat girl. I transformed into someone thinner and healthier and yes, got all of those compliments you mention. I had a friend confess to me that she didn’t notice how beautful I was as a person when I weighed 300+ pounds and she didn’t feel drawn to me until I slimmed down. She asked for forgiveness. I think it was more of a revelation for her than it was for me.

    I have days like today, when I’m rocking a killer dress and red lipstick and I’m so glad that I feel better and look better than I did a few years ago. Sometimes (like earlier this week) I see a photo of myself that is less than flattering and I get angry that I’ve put some weight back on.

    The topics of weight, health, body image, body acceptance is minefield that is precarious to navigate. You can accept yourself at whatever weight you are but it does not mean that people/society will do the same.

  • Laura

    I know this isn’t the point of this piece, but YAY fellow rower! I also came back to rowing after a short hiatus, and despite super early morning on the water practices, I found that taking the time to row really improved my mental health and clarity as well. Very insightful article, and congratulations on your 2k time (26 seconds is spectacular)!

    • Elisabeth S.

      Thank you!! Of course, it’s still not as fast as I was when I was 18 and had cat-like reflexes, like all 18 year olds do. But I’m thrilled about it. APW rowers, huzzah!

  • NB

    This piece is just so lovely and thoughtful, Elisabeth. (So, you know: the usual for you). Hooray for you and K, and for wedding pictures just totally bursting with joy!

    But, I also wanted to say, as one rower to another, is: DAMN, lady! 26 seconds off your 2K time is some serious freaking work (both physical and mental. That shiz is rough). And congratulations on not puking. (There’s nothing like having to wash vomit off your quads post-2k to help you remember that that 3rd 500 really *could* have felt more miserable). Huge kudos! Additional hoorays for rowing! Extreeemely half-hearted hooray for erging!

    • Elisabeth S.

      THANK. YOU. Also, I friggin hate erging, so much. I am counting down the days to getting back on the water (at least 50, sob). If you’re going to be at Crash-Bs — let’s find each other and hope we don’t vomit!

      • NB

        EEEE! You’re going to Crash-Bs? You are officially bad-ass. I am so excited for you, new internet friend!

        (Dear Everyone: Crash-Bs is like….the Superbowl of Rowing Machines. A “2K test” is a 2000 meter race piece on the rowing machines that coaches specifically designed lo, so many years ago, specifically to make people cry/vomit/seriously reconsider whether they loved rowing on the water enough to keep doing this terrible land training. Basically, you go into oxygen debt in the first 15-20 seconds, and then you scramble miserably on for the next 1800 meters or so, while an evil little screen rolls all your statistic off at you. Then, you get a giant endorphin burst at the end. It. is. Crazytown. (both mentally and physically). I once watched a seasoned triathlete and certified tough-guy literally crawl away from an erg after completing one. For realz. 2Ks make Chuck Norris cry for his mommy. Elisabeth is definitively bad-ass, and you all should go cheer her on.)

        I am not going to Crash-B(I am in CA, and it is a long ways to go for the pleasure of smelling terrible and walking around like a drunk person, and also, I am a little scared of it) but I will think very non-vomity thoughts for you. Will you give us a report when you get back? Will you give me a report, if I send you my email address? I strongly feel that the sisterhood of rowing needs to support/represent!

        Seriously, kudos. Go freakin’ you!

        • Elisabeth S.

          I will totally give you a report. Where are you in CA?? I hopped in with the Lake Merritt women’s team a few Saturdays ago!

          • NB

            I am in Sacramento! Although, I haven’t been out on the water in eons. I miss it tremendously.

            I sent a little comment submission form with my personal email. YAY for rowing! And good luck at Crash-Bs!!

  • elcee

    Not trying to spoil all the love here, but… Lets say you make the blood/sweat/tears effort to lose weight (or maybe your goal isn’t weight loss, but rather a side effect of healthier behaviors). Lets say its REALLY noticeable. If I went through all of that and my friends and loved ones DIDN’T say something to support me or congratulate me or, at the very least, recognize this major thing I’ve done in my life… I would be crushed.

    I think that 90% of women (or men!) who try to lose weight are doing it at least in part because they don’t like how they look. They don’t like how they’re perceived and received by society. They don’t like the (lack of) attention they receive from potential partners or even hot strangers on the street. Self-acceptance and self-love are critically important, but I personally can’t subsist on just my own opinions about myself. I don’t think many people can. So when I, or the many people like me, recognize and congratulate and compliment you for something you’ve clearly put a shitload of effort into, chances are really REALLY strong that getting that comment was an explicit goal of yours. Again, absolutely fucking amazing if you’re one of the rare people who don’t need or want validation/support/recognition from the world. But I think most of us do, and we behave unto others accordingly.

    All that said, I agree that this is problematic territory. Maybe there was a health issue involved, or dangerous behaviors leading to extreme weight loss. You gotta know your audience before opening your mouth in ANY situation. Offering your own opinion about someone else should always be done with respect and forethought. And I’m seriously disgusted that anyone ever says “Hey! Keep Going!” That’s just awful.

    But! I guess I’m just saying lets not put the kibosh on compliments and recognitions of a job well done. Because, seriously, people need that.

    • elcee

      btw, all uses of “your” and “you” are royal here. Absolutely not directed at Elisabeth, who is clearly pretty awesome :)

    • Gymmer

      I agree with a lot of what you say elcee – I lost 50 pounds last year and many of my close friends (who know I was trying to lose weight) never said a thing. Nothing. It was really hurtful. The positive comments I did get from people really spurred me on because it’s often hard to recognise the massive changes I have made to my body. I see myself every day and I still nitpick things – having someone tell me I was doing really well or looking good gave me some comfort that even though I struggled to see the changes at times, they were actually noticeable. I personally am not offended by people who say to me ‘you look great’ post weight loss because I did really dislike how I used to look and was never comfortable or happy with my body at that size.

  • Karli Kruschel

    “When I saw the pictures, I started down the well-trodden path of criticism. ” I felt the same way when I looked at my wedding photos for the first time. Criticizing every lump, wondering why I hadn’t tried to lose weight, wishing I had done this or that so that my pictures would have turned out better. But why? I felt great that day! I married an amazing person! We were both so happy, slightly overwhelmed, surrounded by love, etc. Did the fact that I didn’t transform into a super model on my wedding day change any of that? No. Definitely not.

  • Anon

    I really identified with this. When I was in high school, I had a period of food obsession where I tried to eat less than 100 calories a day (still unsure as to why I picked that number). I became quite thin, but not enough to worry anyone. Then, when I went to college, I let that go and got to a healthy size 8. Now, I’ve gone down to a size 4 without really trying. That difference prompts comments from people I haven’t seen in a while who assume I actively tried to lose the weight and want to remark on how much “better” I look now. I always try to respond with “actually, I was really stressed out from grad school and didn’t eat as often as I should. It probably wasn’t healthy but this is the size my body has settled at.” The hardest is dealing with my mom’s comments–she always remarks on how “skinny” I am now in front of my heavier teenage sister. I try to instill self-love in her, but I’m scared she’ll succumb to the same control-freak eating habits I had in high school.

  • NicoleT

    About 2 years after I started college, I visited my high school for a concert. The mom of my best friend in high school was there and she said, “wow! You’ve lost some weight! You look great!” Before I could say anything, my best friend stepped in and said, “You can’t say that! You’re implying that she didn’t look good before, which she definitely did.” One of the many reasons said best friend has a place of honor in my wedding.

  • Melissa the Researcher

    While the whole piece is just excellent, my very favorite part is the turn of phrase that is “adult-onset athleticism.” Thank you for that one.

    • Elisabeth S.

      Ha! Thank you. A number of my friends are discovering this right now and we take a great deal of enjoyment in talking about our technical gear.

  • sallie beth

    Please tell me that “It’s Elisabeth’s last post as an intern (sniffle.) ” does not mean it’s Elisabeth’s last post ever. I would be so sad.

  • frances kirk

    Elisabeth, I have loved all of your writing here and I am so glad that your voice has been part of APW recently.

    So much of what you’ve written resonates with me, and especially this piece.

    Thank you.

  • Laura

    Oh, God, I could write an entire book on this subject so it was great to hear your thoughts on it! I have lost 100+ pounds and although I don’t have any issues with loving my own body, I still have a lot of bewilderment and resentment and just plain CONFUSION about how I ought to feel about myself as a “formerly fat person.”

    I feel resentful about what my obese self went through as a teenager, about how much verbal abuse I was subjected to at the hands of my classmates, how I used to wish that I could be anorexic and that if I was my problems would go away.

    I feel confused, as you did, about all of the positive affirmations I was suddenly getting when I did finally start to lose weight, as if I was somehow a worthier person than before because I was getting skinnier.

    I feel confused about the “friends” who, when I related how pleased I was to have reached a new physical goal at the gym, informed me that I was selling out the feminist cause and letting down the entire fat acceptance movement.

    I feel confused about my identity because I have dropped out of the plus sized clothing range. The stores I shopped at my entire life no longer have anything for me, and the stores that were formerly off-limits to me are now where I have to shop. If I mention this out loud, the response is invariably, “Um, are you complaining about LOSING WEIGHT?” Um, no, I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to articulate a massive and confusing identity shift that people don’t seem to understand can be really complicated, especially when your weight loss has been so great that former classmates don’t even recognize you.

    I feel confused about the social pressure that suddenly now, because I’m skinny, I should really be paying more attention to fashion and hair and makeup (but when I was fat, such interests would have been “inappropriate” somehow?).

    Finally, I feel REALLY confused about several family members’ recent comments that I’m “skinny as a rail” and that “It’s time for me to stop losing weight,” the implication being that I must have been trying. (I have taken up running and it just happened. I am also usually taken to task for describing weight loss as something that “just happened,” like I’m lording it over people, even though that IS actually how it happened.) Objectively, and I’m talking “doctor’s charts” type of objectivity here, I am a perfectly healthy weight for my height and build, technically still ten pounds overweight actually. I’m fine with this weight, but as it IS still a few pounds overweight, the “skinny as a rail” comments just totally stump me, because, well, I’m not!

    Argh, I know I am not the only one. I want to put together a book on this topic, maybe an anthology from others who have been through a similar experience?

  • ms.nak

    “But when you compliment me on how good I look now, what I’m hearing you
    not say is that I looked less than good forty pounds ago.” This really resonates with me, although I have a slightly different problem. I am not losing, or trying to lose, weight, and I am (mostly, except for some bad days) fine with my body the way it is. But when I see people I haven’t seen in a long time, I find I am often greeted with “You look great! Have you lost weight?!” No. No I haven’t. Not a single ounce. In fact, I may have gained a couple pounds. And while it was initially somewhat flattering, as it happened more and more often, I started to hear “Hmm, I remember you being a lot fatter,” rather than a compliment.
    If I do look thinner than you remember, it is probably just a more flattering outfit or something along those lines. And I would much rather be complimented on that (“wow, you look great in that top!” or something), than asked if I’ve lost weight when I haven’t.