Becoming Less

A story of hope

Becoming Less | A Practical Wedding

I had always expected the wedding dress shopping process to be an exciting time in my life. I suppose I had never really thought about how being a recovered anorexic would affect the process. Or, rather, how the process of dress shopping would affect my recovery. As I began to look at pictures of dresses, the actual prospect of trying them on and looking at myself in a mirror filled me with dread. Downright panic, even.

Brides are iconic. They’re supposed to look a certain way. To be beautiful, and, of course, to be thin. Years of looking at pictures of models in wedding dresses, their humanity Photoshopped right out of them, do take their toll, no matter how much I tell myself I’ve risen above. This isn’t a story about me coming to terms with not looking like a model, though. This is a story of what’s happened since then.

Since becoming engaged, I’ve started dieting. Falling into old patterns is so easy—the diet plans and the calorie counting are so comforting. The charts and lists and numbers are like old friends, and they give me the steady assurance that I am becoming less.

For years, I worked tirelessly to be less. To take up less physical space in the world, yes. But also to need less from the men I dated. To be the girl who gave her boyfriend (whoever he was at the time) everything he wanted, without asking for anything in return. To be less myself, and instead, to attempt to be the exact woman that particular boy wanted. If only I could disappear into the image of his ideal woman, I’d be worthy. I’d be chosen. I never really succeeded in that endeavor, but I tried. Oh, I tried.

I still have those thoughts—I must make myself less in order to be the kind of woman who’s worthy of marriage. But then my fiancé comes in and reads me like a book and tells me, without any prompting from me, that he doesn’t want me to be less. He wants me to be more. More of everything that I am, because he knows me and loves me, authentically and fully, and it hurts him to see me become less of myself. With him, I am chosen, and it did not require disappearing into his ideal.

Like magic, he knows that I’m dieting, too. He’s told me that he’s worried, and I know that if this gets out of hand, he’ll be the one who asks me to seek treatment. In the meantime, he offers and he loves. He offers me food. He offers with authentic love and without judgment, and that really does make it easier to accept. I don’t need to be less for him. The urge to starve is still there, but my rationalizations for it are not. I’d be lying if I said I always accept what he offers. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lose another pound last week. But it’s something. It’s a start.

If I could tie this story up in a neat bow, I would. However, our wedding is still a year away and this battle is far from won. This is not a victory or a moral of the story—this is merely a hope. When I stand with him on our wedding day and we commit our lives to one another, I hope that I won’t enter our union withering and less. I hope I am able to enter it as myself, authentic and full.

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  • Thank you for sharing this, Anonymous. I am rooting right along side your fiance that you become more of who you are. I’m sure this will bring up a lot for all the readers- I know it did for me. Like a empty-faced ghost from my past wondering why I left her. It does get better on the other side. When I think back to how my mind constantly ruminated on food- how much I could eat, adding up what I had already eaten that day, etc…wow it’s like a different person. I am so much freer and happier now. More me. I hope the same for you. What makes you beautiful is your will to be so utterly yourself. I’m glad you have wonderful love in your life and I hope you will seek help if need be. There *is* a way to be free from it all. Sending lots of love, and a friend if you ever need to chat.

    • and i must add, Thank You APW for publishing this!

    • macrain

      So, so right on. Sometimes when you are entrenched in it, you feel that recovery is just this thing you have to tolerate, the taking away of something that has propped you up. BUT- there is joy, so much joy. There is freedom and gratitude. There is love, both for yourself and for others. All of that shocked the hell out of me.

      • Stella

        Wow, so true, both of you! I was really shocked by the relief… which I guess is like freedom. That and having to do less arithmetic (I’m so bad at math and adding up calories was such a drag!)

  • ItsyBit

    I’ve tried to write a few comments and deleted them all because I’m afraid they would sound condescending. All I really say is that I think you’re strong for fighting this battle and so, so brave for talking about it. I’m hoping with you.

  • Kayjayoh

    [I am *not* going to cry at work today.]

  • Sara P

    Lots of love from over here, too, Anonymous.

  • Jess

    I am here with you. I share your hope for you, and me too, to be able to one day allow ourselves to be all we are, including women who appreciate and don’t regret a meal.

    I hope you can get the support you need to take steps back to yourself, just as I hope I have the strength to keep trying to stay on that path.

    I hope his voice, the one that tells me every day he chooses me as I am – loud and not-as-small and driven and interested and active, hope it sinks into my heart somewhere and settles in, becomes an echo to my own voice. Countering “less” with a resounding “MORE.”

  • It’s so heartbreaking that body dysmorphia and eating disorders are plaguing so many women and men, and weddings seem to capitalize on them, saying that we must be our “best” by being less. Oodles of love are coming your way, Anon. I think I can speak on everyone’s behalf by saying that we’re here for you if you ever need to talk, and we’re so so grateful that your partner is so wonderful.

  • TooMuchNotEnough

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve struggled with disordered eating since elementary school, and when I got married a year ago, it was after two years of weight swings, drastic diets and so much self hatred. I still have real trouble looking at my wedding photos because I don’t feel I was thin enough. During the same time frame, my sister (who could pass for my twin) has had a dramatic weight loss that makes me worry about her and it is very triggering for me.

    • TooMuchNotEnough

      I hope you don’t find this triggering, but I found it comforting:

      • ItsyBit

        Oof. That poem. I nod emphatically, murmur in agreement and tear up every single time I watch it.

    • Anon

      Oh wow. Me too. My sister maintains an impossible standard of thinness and it is always triggering for me to be around her. She is pregnant now and is still impossibly thin, which somehow is even worse.

    • Elizabear

      Yes. I have struggled since elementary school too. My photos, because of my (self-perceived heavy) weight, are also a struggle for me to look at. I have to step back and realize how much happier I am now than I was when I was much, much thinner. I don’t think it ever goes away once it is a part of you. So much solidarity to everyone struggling with it.

  • Anon

    I so feel you on this. I am also recovering from ED issues, my wedding is in this fall, and I am currently dieting. It’s so hard NOT to when it offers so much comfort and relief. A wedding makes it more tantalizing in about a million different ways. Recovery is a process, not a static thing, like magazines and celebrities would have you believe. Sending you big, big hugs, Anonymous.

  • amandat

    Wow. I wish I had read this as an 18 year old. The paragraph starting with “For years, I worked tirelessly to be less…” rings so true, it hurts. If only I could be perfect, then he would love me… Every rejection feeling like a gut kick. My SO now has helped me be okay with being me as I try to figure out who that is. I still struggle with trying to not be small, to minimize me, to not throw anything that is mine out the window because it’s in his way.

    Thank you for putting this into words and having the courage to publish it (and thanks Meg!).

  • Oh woman, what a powerful essay. Thoughts, prayers, and good vibes are headed your way via the internet monkeys. And hugs, lots of hugs!

  • Katie

    I love your observations about trying to be less / need less. I think to some degree, this is a common pressure when planning a wedding (typically for women, though I imagine men might feel similar pressure). We want to look like a bride (model-like), but we also don’t want to be seen as needy/demanding (in short, a “bridezilla”). I hope you (and all of us) beat this pressure to be less, because frankly, you sound awesome and you’re future spouse is right – more is better (just ask those Capital One credit card commercials).

  • Grace

    One of my best friends became less. A lot less. Less than half of what she was in every way imaginable. Until 2 minutes ago I did not think of it in that way, but something about this essay has just clicked in my mind. It was such a difficult time and honestly I wanted to be there for her but just didn’t know what she needed. She is now more, so much more, but I know that this is still and probably always will be something she struggles with. Thank you for writing this, I hope you find the strength to keep becoming more and not less. Not just for your wedding but for the rest of your life.

  • JDrives

    Thank you for being brave and sharing this story. One of the most beautiful and touching pieces I’ve read in any corner of the interwebs. I hope with you, and support you, from afar.

  • swarmofbees

    Thank you for sharing your story before it has a nice neat bow. Sometimes I feel like I should not talk about something if it is still open ended, if I don’t have a resolution to the problem. Maybe it is because my FI is always trying to find a way to help, to find that resolution, which is a lovely position, but makes me feel like I can’t just explain what is going on. It is hard to admit that you don’t know how something will work out, so thank you for taking that leap to share.

  • “If only I could disappear into the image of his ideal woman, I’d be worthy. I’d be chosen.” This. So much this.

    Thank you for writing this, however hard it may have been, however hard it is to deal with now. I completely understand the desire to be less of oneself in order to make the world love you more because you’ll fit into what everyone expects from you. For you this is anorexia, for me it’s just trying not to be me, to say less, to provide without engaging, to stop speaking. This is so powerful and will always be a struggle, for me if not for you. But, thank you for putting into words so beautifully, the struggle ongoing.

  • NB

    …just another member of the interwebz out here, offering a giant e-hug, directly to you.

  • Stella

    Wow, thank you for sharing this. I had similar worries with the wedding of trying to diet (reasonably) knowing that’s something that quickly gets out of hand for me especially when I have big organisational things on that don’t necessarily fit with my not-so-healthy need to control *all the things*. So, yeah. Solidarity fist bump from me.

  • Anon for This

    So much love to you, OP, from one who is recovering to another.

  • c

    I don’t struggle with anorexia, but I do struggle with body image issues. I realized while reading this just how much I sold myself short in prior relationships because I thought I was too heavy to do better.

    I met my fiance when I was at my absolute heaviest. He still thought I was attractive. We’re getting married soon, and I’ve lost some of the weight, but not enough, and it’s been a real struggle to just embrace what I look like IN THIS MOMENT, because this is a moment I’ll look back on for the rest of my life, the time just before I became a wife. It’s a very difficult thing to do.

    I truly cannot imagine what you are going through, but I’m sending you all the hope and courage in the world to get through and win.

    • Sharon Gorbacz

      I’m 5’10” and down to 250, but still don’t feel comfortable with my size. However, my dress was altered to fit today’s me & that’s the person that he’s marrying Saturday. I guess I’ll just have to try to look through his eyes and see me as beautiful.

  • KatieD

    Yes. All of this. I have recovered from anorexia and thought it was well behind me until I tried on wedding dresses. Suddenly I was confronted with the disparity of what I think a bride “should” look like, and what I look like (to me) in the mirror. I wanted a really classic, simple, elegant dress. I tried one on. My Mom cried… and I winced at how fat my arms looked.

    I realise that this is not healthy. I actually like my body most of the time. I have a waist, and an hourglass figure, and ok my arms are not as toned as they could be, but I am healthy. I am strong. I can run, and cycle to work, and climb stairs without getting out of breath. I no longer have bones that are at risk of crumbling before I make it to middle age. I have regained my sense of humour and fun which I lost when my main priority was having ever more protruding hipbones.

    So I am trying not to worry. I am at a normal BMI. I know I think I look fat, but objectively I (hopefully) don’t. I am trying to focus on how happy I am to be getting married, how happy I am to be strong, and well, and how lucky I was to have the family to help me get better. I am happy to be able to love and sustain a relationship, which for so long I couldn’t, as all I was focused on was how much I weighed.

    So here goes. Embracing my shape has made me feel powerful. This may seem like a funny word to use for a bride, but powerful and womanly are the best words I can find for how I feel in my bridal dress. Like a superhero. I’m no longer girlish or sprite-like, which I mourn, but I hope to celebrate our wedding and feel beautiful on the day. Here’s hoping.

  • taoshka

    Dude, I needed this. I’m trying to recover from an eating disorder, and weddings are insanely triggering. Good luck.

  • Emily

    I have never had an eating disorder that has required me to have help (I’ve come to feel like all Americans have eating disorders). When I began planning my wedding this was the vow I made to myself: I would NOT diet for the wedding. Or schedule my workouts more intensely or anything else along those lines. It has been a struggle (and I bought my wedding dress (untraditional) in both a medium and a large and both are hanging in my closet (one dress is $100 for those of you wondering). I don’t know what size I will choose to wear on that day. But I’m giving myself options in the dress, not the forceful reshaping of my body because of this celebration.

    I wish you luck and please allow yourself to become MORE! I enjoyed your writing.

  • This is beautiful and so true. Thank you for sharing and I’m so happy you have such a wonderful support in your fiancé to help you through this.

  • Cheri Armour

    To the writer, please, please, please seek out some therapy! I think it is a good thing anyways, and with the struggles it sounds like you’re having, therapy would be so helpful. You should enter this union happy and healthy, smiling, and feeling great. Please take the steps to make sure that you’re happy on your big day!

  • Elodie

    I loved this…although I have not particularly struggled with food issues, your words about wanting to become less, to be the girlfriend who always gives and never takes, resonates. And your fiance’s words about wanting YOU, wanting MORE of you, touched something deep in me. Love is such an amazing thing, that freeing love that makes us realize being ourselves is GOOD, and that the world needs MORE of us. Thank you for this.

  • Clare

    Thank you for this. I went through a lot of this anxiety coming up to my wedding at Christmas (which is always a sort of challenging time anyway, as you know!) I’m 10 years recovered and still my reaction to stress is eat less and work out more, to be, exactly as you say, less. I wish you more than luck, and the continued love and support of your fiance, who sounds wonderful. I remember finding out that my now-husband understood my situation and was totally unfazed by it, and finding that so, so freeing. As another poster has said, your will to be yourself is a beautiful thing, and the fact that your fiance sees and supports that is great. The strength you have shown in sharing this concern tells me you are a courageous, mindful person, and I hope your wedding, your marriage and your life are full of more. Respect your needs and the time it takes to deal with the pressure and anxiety, and be gentle with yourself. Wishing you love, joy and continued strength.