I don’t think I’ve ever been thinner than I was on my wedding day. Through diet, exercise and the pure strength of bridal willpower I managed to lose about twenty-five pounds before saying “I do,” elliptical-ing my way down to a svelte size eight. When it came time to speak our vows, I felt confident and ready to take the aisle by storm in a $500 fake-taffeta David’s Bridal gown that I’d bought at the last minute two weeks before the wedding.
And yet. When I got my wedding pictures back, I kind of hated them. I’d lost all this weight, but I still looked…squishy. My arms didn’t have the definition I’d seen in all the wedding ads, and my back still rolled over the top of my dress (I guess that’s what I get for refusing to acknowledge any gym equipment that won’t let me watch reruns of Saved By The Bell). And while I knew objectively that I looked beautiful on my wedding day, I still felt…disappointed.
The thing is, looking back, I have no idea what was going through my mind at the time. I was hot! I had a rockin’ bod that I’d worked my ass off for, complete with curves to inspire Sir-Mix-A-Lot. So what happened? How is it that, even after gaining nearly fifty pounds of post-wedding weight, I have a more positive body image now than I did when I got married?
The answer lies where almost all of the complicated feelings of getting married lie: the big business wedding industry. Mainstream wedding media has created such an unnatural representation of bridal beauty that it’s nearly impossible to discern where, “I’d like to look pretty on my wedding day” turns into “I’ll regret it forever if I don’t lose ten pounds before the wedding and get Michelle Obama’s arms.”
Just a quick glimpse at wedding dress ads begins to unravel the complicated intricacies of brides, bodies and beauty. First, there are the obvious issues: the lack of diversity, the untamed airbrushing, the fact that none of the models ever seem to smile. But peeling back the layers unveils an even more subtle beauty standard: these women are you, only better. None of them are runway-model thin. They are just a little thinner than you. A little taller. Slightly more polished. Like you, on your best day, at the most flattering angle.
And of course, couple these pressures with the messaging that your wedding is the single most important day of your life and you’ve only got one chance to do it right (and a limited amount of time to do so at that), and we’ve got ourselves a problem. Before you know it, your brain starts playing a never-ending loop of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” while you paw through sample gowns trying to find your size.
And while it may be impossible to escape this harmful messaging about your body and your wedding, there are a few helpful hints I’ve learned since getting married that should ease the pain, and hopefully help you come out on the other side without the emotional battle scars usually reserved for Miss America contestants.
Photo by Hart & Sol West