I’ve been chubby since I was a baby. It’s well-known family lore that I was born small, but immediately started remedying that by eating as much as I could get my tiny infant fingers on. At 100 days, my cheeks were so chubby that my head looked like a pyramid. My aunties would greet me with pinchy squeezes of fleshy arms. They did it with love, but coupled with their own constant (and vocal) struggles with “weight,” a harmful precedent was set early on.
When I was nine years old, a doctor conducting my immigration medical exam touched my chest with freezing fingers and advised, “You must be careful not to eat too much chicken. The hormones have made you develop too early.” What did she mean, too early? I thought growing big was a good thing? This marked the beginning of an extremely fraught relationship between my body and my health. As a teenager, I spent years hiding my chest in baggy T-shirts and dreading doctor’s visits.
How could I trust my senses, my hunger, and myself, when my primary sources of authority told me that I was wrong?
Obesity is viewed as a public health issue. But the reality is, most public health campaigns download responsibility and culpability onto individuals, rather than fixing systematic structures of wealth and access.
There are countless anecdotes relating to the world’s sizeism problem. Many people still use the lazy BMI index as a core measure of health. I’ve had (former) doctors use it as a menacing predictor of doom. They vaguely gestured at my body and suggested that I lose some weight. None of them have given me much more than an inactionable sense of dread. I saw the effects of these conversations in members of my family, who often cited the notion of an “ideal weight” as they disparaged their own midriffs or lectured me about what not to eat.
I spent the last decade of my life trying to internalize body positivity. I worked on it by learning about anatomy and physiology, consuming media that celebrated all bodies, and becoming a part of communities working towards fat acceptance in the wider world. I also went to therapy, where I gained some essential tools in navigating my feelings.
The Change Room
Despite all of my work on my body image, wedding dress shopping turned out to be a pressure cooker for my long-held body image-related insecurities.
Perhaps it was naïve, but I really thought that I’d be able to make it without all of my insecurities resurfacing. I believed this in large part because I didn’t think what I wear to my wedding is that important. In any case, I didn’t want to wear white, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and I didn’t mind wearing something that would look appropriate for a nice Sunday brunch. I had lots of store options besides traditional wedding dress shops. So, I didn’t really care… right?
For my wedding dress shopping experience, I picked a cute little bridal boutique that’s independent, womxn-owned, pastel-colored, and offers free gummy bears. I bookmarked a few simpler dresses from the bridesmaid section to try. When we arrived, I saw rows upon rows of beautiful chiffon and silk, lace and satin, shiny rhinestones and irresistible glitter. With encouragement from the consultant, I said yes, why not try on some ballgowns? I had no dreams about a magical moment when I met the right dress, but I wanted to have some fun.
At size 14-ish, I expected to rely on expanders to fit into sample sizes. But I didn’t expect to feel so foolish, like trying to squeeze a Mr. Potato Head into a Barbie dress. It felt like every garment in the store was whispering, “We are not for you.”
I desperately wanted to feel resilient, be resilient. And I was resolute that I would make this experience work “for me”—me and everyone who looks like me! I put on a smile and ignored the bodice that awkwardly made an arch between my boobs. Focus on the glitter, I thought; glitter is for everyone.
An hour later, after I got home, I sobbed into my pillow. As much as I wanted to, no dress felt right to me. The experience made me vulnerable by reminding me of how my body is different from current society’s ideal. I also felt bad for feeling this way, because how could my years of hard work on body positivity crumble at such an important junction? What a failure!
But I’m not a failure. The experience failed me, because it didn’t allow me space to feel like myself. Although I had tried to lower my expectations of the wedding salon, being surrounded by manufactured ideals made me feel like I should conform my values to its exacting standards. When I entered the pastel shop, I didn’t even want to wear white. But very quickly, my expectations soared. Flashback to reality television shows, which emphasize that wedding dresses are Very Important, and the price is worth it. The images of magazine brides and the allure of shimmering fabrics had taken over my brain.
Finding Me Again
Although I’m big into DIY, I couldn’t really commit to making my own wedding dress. I’d seen a friend’s mother make her gorgeous lace dress a few years ago. The result was incredible, but the process sounded far above my skill level. Besides, I’m the bride. Isn’t there some saying about how brides couldn’t make their own dresses?
But the truth is, my wedding outfit is Very Important to me—there is no denying that. And I tried to follow through by being someone not-me, a bizarro version who is thin and tall and can wear white without ever spilling sauce.
I’m a crafter, an aspiring seamstress, and I like a good DIY challenge. Those things are important. And it makes sense to make my own wedding outfit, even if it means the design will have to be simpler. So, my fiancx and I went shopping, and we splurged on the cutest fabrics for a tutu skirt. The top was bought from my favorite clothing store around Christmas time, when shiny things are always plentiful. At our wedding, the theme will be soft and warm and wonderful. I will wear red, and I will have glitter!
And if we’re being be honest, I’m also pretty relieved, and impressed with my gumption. It feels like me.