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Who Decides Which Version of Yourself Is the “Best” Version?

On beauty expectations and weddings

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“Like the best version of yourself.” That’s the line you usually get about wedding planning and beauty expectations. And it seems innocuous enough… at your wedding, you want to look like you, but maybe the version of yourself who never has a bad hair day. Except, as I’ve learned from the monthly emails we get inviting the APW staff to join a Bridal Bootcamp (no joke), it’s also not as simple as that.

In my day-to-day life, I’m something of a lazy femme. I love makeup, but don’t wear it everyday; I can’t leave the house if my hair isn’t coiffed, but don’t bother washing it… ever. And I’m picky about my outfits, even if most of them come straight off my floor. But wedding planning did something strange to my beauty expectations. At first I was rebelliously resolved to avoid all beauty expectations, even though I enjoy getting gussied up for special occasions. And then over the course of my engagement, as the pressures mounted and the subtle hints that maybe I should grow my hair out became less subtle, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. I grew out my hair so that I’d look more “bridal.” I lost weight. I went tanning (I KNOW). And in an eleventh hour panic, I bought a more traditional wedding dress because it was more “flattering.” Did I look like my best self? Probably. Did I feel like myself? Yes and no. But I do know that the process would have been much easier if I was just making decisions in a vacuum like I am most days in my bathroom mirror.

“Like the best version of yourself.” The question, I realize now, is… who gets to decide what’s best? Is my best when I have long hair and am not experimenting with trendy hairstyles? Is my best twenty pounds skinnier? Or is my best just a little foundation and some mascara? I guess it depends on who you ask.

When you’re planning a wedding, it’s hard not to internalize the messaging about what the ideal couple looks like. (Which is why I had to talk Michael out of shaving his beard for the wedding, when he shaves… never.) We rake women over the coals for going to extremes (how much plastic surgery is too much for your wedding?). But those extremes are often just exaggerated versions of the decisions we’re all making. Makeup? No makeup? Hair up? Hair the way you wear it everyday? Wedding dress? Pants? How do you know when a decision is authentic to you, and when it’s a symptom of the wedding industry’s expectations of women? And perhaps more importantly, how do you decide which version of your best self is the one you want for your wedding?

So let’s talk about beauty expectations. Or maybe, better yet, working through them. What decisions are you having a hard time with? What are you feeling pressured to do, but don’t want to? What are you feeling pressured NOT to do, but maybe actually… want?

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