Symbolic Annihilation

We are more than you can possibly imagine

When I got engaged, one of my best girlfriends surprised me with a delicious stack of bridal magazines, lovingly wrapped in a pink paper bag and gold ribbon. We hugged in her San Francisco apartment, fog and sunlight beyond the windows, the Pacific a blue glimmer. We ate strawberry shortcake and watched trashy TV, flipping through glossy pages of cream and taffeta and sugar and lace. It was a lovely moment between two women who know each other’s worst and best, and who can revel in the fun of (finally!) getting hitched.

But there’s something odd—even cruel—about these magazines. There’s a phrase for it: symbolic annihilation. My fiancé, weeks later, pointed it out. “You know,” he said, “All the brides in these magazines are kinda… the same.”

True. They’re white, skinny, dewy, young, and rich. There’s no flies on that, to be sure; but, dear Martha, why refuse to testify to the truth about marriage, love, and beauty?

Brides are everything you can imagine. They look like the women you see at Macy’s, at the beach, drinking coffee at the next table. It’s worth repeating: women get married even when they aren’t thin. (Or white, or young, or rich.) Lots of them. Do we need to declare ourselves? Just because you don’t invite us into the fantasy of your magazines doesn’t mean we don’t exist.

Some of us are chubby, some are curvy, some are fat, some defy all categories. We’re dewy and juicy as summer-dawn strawberries. We’re rich as gelato. We’re skinny in fingertips and inches and the lines of our curves. We’re old like stones and young, too, with the living-giving succulence of fresh herbs and puffy rain clouds right here in our sunlit bodies, tucked in our soft arms and big feet and tender earlobes.

And, yes, we’re getting married too.

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  • swarmofbees

    Thank you! What a beautiful way to affirm all brides out there.

  • Lawyerette510

    Yes!!!! And it’s not just the magazines, a lot of other wedding sites/ blogs continue with the narrow portrayal of who a bride is. Pretty much I just keep to here and OBB because I’m someone who is getting married fat-ish, with many people in attendance who are of color and/or GLBTQ and I like seeing portrayals of weddings that include more than just wealthy, thin, white people.

  • macrain

    After I got engaged I happily picked up a Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, and tho I suppose I had fun leafing through it, it was zero percent helpful or applicable to my own wedding. I’m sure there are ladies out there who can handcraft their own chandeliers out of recycled paper, but I am definitely not one of them.

    • Speaking of Martha Stewart: Last weekend I bought a special issue of Martha Stewart Weddings that supposedly focused on “REAL” weddings. I specifically picked this particular wedding magazine thinking it would include a wide range of weddings on the budget spectrum. Nope. I stopped reading when I saw an article featuring a couple that decided to get married in their vacant newly-restored nine-bedroom mansion in Georgetown D.C. The Village People played at their wedding.

  • Courtney Kelsch

    So very true, and beautifully written. Thank you!!

  • LIKE.

  • Fiona

    Bamph! *Applauds*

  • This is something I’m genuinely having trouble with. The way that I started viewing my body since becoming engaged has been rather startling. I openly criticize it loudly and fervently in front of my fiance, who loudly and fervently defends it. I cried after taking my measurements for my dressmaker on Etsy, hoping and praying that she wouldn’t be judging my numbers. Inane attempts at taking diet pills and overworking a fitness schedule pockmarked these last few months, which gave me nothing but a sour stomach and aching joints. Before the engagement, however, I wasn’t like this. Sure, I had put on a couple pounds since last year, but I’ve been weight training. I know how all the biology works. I know that I have a soft belly that’s perfect for playing bongos and squishing. Yet, this pressure to be “perfect” on what is supposed to be “the best day of your life”, that I swore to myself that I would avoid as much as possible, has gotten to me. Rationally, I know I shouldn’t feel like this and that my fiance loves me exactly for who I am, and on any other given day I love my curvy body. Emotionally, however, I have found myself battling a much larger hurdle. Posts and messages like these help me in climbing over that hurdle. Thank you so much for the encouragement.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Girl, I feel you. And I’m sorry that the wedding industry has gotten us all so twisted. I’m going to shamelessly plug a post I wrote for Etsy a while back. Because I think it’s important that we acknowledge how the industry sets us up to fail.

      ETA: I wrote that after gaining fifty pounds post-wedding. My perspective totally changed once I actually put on the weight I was so scared of. Turns out, it’s not up to you to fit your body into the wedding industry. It is the responsibility of the wedding industry to acknowledge you as a real person and give you the tools to fee awesome on your wedding day. They fall short ALL the time. You are not the one falling short.

      • lolauren

        I LOVED this article although again I felt bad that I didn’t also have “bridal willpower” to whittle down my body (I kept waiting for it, but apparently at 14 days out its not going to hit). But, I hear what you’re saying. It’s never going to be perfect. Thanks :)

      • SM

        Great article Maddie! When I helped pick out my friend’s wedding dress a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that it is apparently normal to buy a dress that doesn’t fit you… and then pay extra money to alter both the dress and yourself to fit! At the time my friend first tried on the dress, she was unable to do up the back. I distinctly remember her (otherwise very practical and un-girly) mom convincing her to buy the dress, saying ‘you will have lost weight by the wedding anyway’! My friend does not have the body of a model, but she generally quite active and eats well, and I couldn’t believe her mom said that. But sure enough, over the year leading up to the wedding my friend started going to the gym most days a week to lose weight.

        I don’t know how my friend felt/feels about her body as it’s not something she’s ever mentioned to me, and perhaps she felt her wedding was just a good excuse to get more exercise. But the idea of her being shamed into losing weight.. I just… :(

  • Emily

    THANK YOU! None of those magazines have any resemblance to me or the wedding we are planning. I am easily weeding out vendors by telling them that my dress will be red, I will be wearing sandals, we will be eating pie, and we made our own rings. The ones who are left are getting it- we want simple and meaningful.

  • Lisa

    Oh so, so beautiful. To know this piece’s writer is a complete gift in my life. Such freshness, Savala! I love it.

  • cg

    Really great – thank you!

  • Last night I think I hurt my fiance’s feelings after I came back from my workout. He’s been sick, so hasn’t been to the gym in a couple of weeks. He must have been feeling a little guilty, and so he told me he was going to get back to running this weekend. I told him, “Oh, don’t worry, no one cares what you look like at the wedding! People only care how I look.” I was just trying to reassure him that I did not think he was a slacker, but apparently I have been feeling a little pressure to look perfect for our wedding. It was one of those things I’ve been thinking for a while, but when I said it out loud, it sounded crazy! Might have to take it a little easier on myself…

  • streets

    Love this. As an adopted Korean woman (curvy and short!) whose wedding includes: my (very tall!) white parents, my white bridesmaids, my groom who is half Mexican and half Vietnamese, both sides of his family, his black groomsmen, my two sisters who are gay and their families, your writing definitely speaks to me. Most weddings are NOT cookie cutter….. Why oh why are they still being portrayed as such in magazines, movies, TV shows?

  • AG

    This is so spot on. I’m used to the idea of fashion magazines not really being applicable to real life, but I had thought that wedding magazines were supposed to be helpful. I loved flipping through them before I was engaged, but once I actually had a wedding to plan they did more harm than good. They made me question my own taste and style (which has NEVER been an issue with me before), feel bad about our very generous budget, and wonder if our pretty traditional wedding is going to seem completely alien to people. I had to cut all those magazines and blogs (except APW) out of my diet for sanity’s sake.

    Personal favorite advice: Having a destination wedding? Fly your makeup and hair stylist out with you so you know you’ll look your best on the big day. So helpful, WIC!

  • Jenna

    Thank you a million times for this. My wedding is in 9 days and I have been working on embracing the fact that I am who I am – jiggly arms and all. I have come very far, with APW to thank for most of it.

    • Savala

      My wedding is in June and I’m in the same boat, girl! It’s horrible that women are supposed to literally shrink themselves in order to enjoy this happy and profound day. I’m working to do something different, too.

  • Kirstin

    LOVE! And add…Some brides wear glasses on their wedding day! On purpose! (GASP!) : )

    • Caroline

      Yes! I’m getting so much pressure to wear contacts, but it feels inauthentic and I hate them. I literally only wear contacts when swimming. Why shouldn’t I wear glasses on my wedding day like every other day!

      • InTheBurbs

        Amen! I wanted to look like ME in our wedding photos…which equals glasses!

    • UpstateNYBride

      I even purchased a new special pair to go with my wedding day attire. It was my splurge. They are cat eye style with no bottom rim and are flecked gold and white!

  • Alexis S.

    Gorgeous. Getting married in a week and that’s just what I (and I’m sure many others) needed to hear.

  • H

    Oh gosh yes. I originally discovered wedding blogs through the traditional manner, thought that they were pretty, but that something was off. They didn’t look like what I thought a wedding looked like, and I’ve been to lots as a string player. Then I realized that many were photo shoots with EMPTY CHAIRS, at about the same time I found APW. And, then I saw all these people that looked happy at their weddings or their friends’ weddings. And I stopped looking at pictures everywhere else, unless it was to look for a particular thing and/or develop an opinion on something. Because all I needed to know was that these people were HAPPY, and they looked amazing, and so would I and so would my family and friends. And that was all that mattered.

  • lolauren

    I’ll be getting married in 14 days and my body has suddenly become a major struggle. I mean, its always been a bit of a struggle but I’ve been straight-up panicking that I won’t be *thinnest* at the wedding. When I’m stressed I tend to eat even more, so naturally I won’t be the *skinniest* of my whole life at the wedding. I was actually feeling like I would be letting down guests to not be super-thin. And last night I finally had a realization that I will fit in my dress and I will look happy and that’s enough. I thought back to weddings when my friends had suddenly shrunk and I’d be alarmed when I hugged them and their bone-y shoulders would poke me. So I took a deep breath and realized I simply won’t be super-skinny at my wedding in 14 days and that’s okay. I also realize how obvious this all sounds but I had truly been overtaken with guilt for not dieting earlier. ::deep breath::

    • Savala

      For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the anxiety around being “not skinny” or “fat” at our wedding is just plain old anxiety about getting and being married. It’s such an incredible transformation, nerves are totally natural; and I think our anxiety often just gloms on to the familiar and constantly-reinforced idea that we need to fix our bodies.

  • macrain

    You guys, seriously go check out the author’s blog listed in her bio. I think that this is now my new favorite thing:

  • love this! and i must admit i am jealous of you and your friend’s engagement-fest in her apartment. sounds amazing. must plan to do that for myself ;)

  • EKS

    ahh. This one cuts to the heart.

  • Jessica Thompson

    This is beautiful Savala!!!!

  • Megan

    one of my other favorite websites to peruse in preparation for my wedding was rock and roll bride ( The contributions are still skewed mostly white, but there’s so much diversity there in terms of style, size, and (to a lesser degree) color that I found it really affirming that yes, everyone’s wedding looks different, and yes, they’re all awesome!

  • Jana

    You know what’s messed up? The fact that people assume that you are going to lose weight for your wedding no matter what size you are. I’m not stick thin, but I’d say I’m slender with some extra meat (oh hey, hips! What’s going on belly jiggle?). I don’t feel like I need to shed any LBs, but my married friends love to talk about how much weight they lost for their weddings, and I’ve definitely had not-so-kidding “jokes” made that infer that I should be worried more about losing weight as well. Between that and threads on Reddit wherein brides are obsessed with upping their exercise routines and cutting calories to lose weight, I actually have started to think to myself “Do I need to start running more than my current three days a week? Should I be training for a half marathon? Do I need to stop drinking beer for the next month?”

    But then I came to a conclusion: NOPE. I’ve been exercising regularly and eating well for the last ten years. This is my body.

    • Sharon M.

      The owner dress shop was actually concerned that I was losing about a pound a week after going on medication to manage my diabetes. Her seamstress said it was OK if I lost up to 5 lbs.
      The plus side – I ate like crap for a month to keep from losing weight too fast. ;)

  • Karen

    I’m not doing professional hair and makeup because (a) I don’t want to, but also because (b) I want to look like myself on my wedding day! I really don’t like the idea that you HAVE to do professional hair and makeup because you, yourself, are not capable of making yourself “beautiful enough” to get married. Please. Do it if it’s something that would be fun for you, but not to be “good enough.”

    • Sharon M.

      I did professional hair and makeup on my wedding day because I normally just pull my hair back into a ponytail while it’s wet, and don’t wear makeup at all. I wanted to look like myself, only better. My artist did that for me, with an understated makeup job. But let me tell you, airbrush is totally the way to go – that stuff stays on through sweating a lot better than any makeup I’ve ever worn.

      • Karen

        See, I don’t think I’d be comfortable being “airbrushed.” I have been training myself to wear 1 kind of eye makeup when I go in to work (because others see it as more professional…) I think I can handle it! But I’m glad you were pleased with yours.

  • Laura

    YES! When my best friend said, ” let’s get together and drink wine and look at bridal magazines and watch terrible girly things on TV!” I said “Yes but instead of bridal magazines can we look at APW and OBB?” I bought one magazine (Real Simple Weddings) for $14.95 which I thought would actually be helpful. The only helpful thing was the one page list of “where to get a marriage license and how much does it cost” type thing by state which is now ripped out and on the fridge and the rest of the mag went to recycle. I could’ve skipped the magazine and acquired the same info with a $15 bottle of wine and a couple hours on the phone and/or internet.

  • GreenBeans

    Exactly what I needed. So beautiful, bold, and true.

  • Melody

    This is amaaaaazing!!!!!!!!