Is It Un-Feminist to Want to Lose Weight for My Wedding?

I can't get over the feeling that I'm succumbing to the patriarchy

Q: I have more than a year to go before marrying my amazing fiancé, but I recently went bridal shopping and bought my dream dress—a silk crepe fit and flare that shows off my curvy, hourglass shape. The problem? I’ve struggled with negative body image in the past, and while I’ve gotten comfortable with the extra pounds over the last few years, I’d like to focus on eating healthier and toning up to look and feel my best on the “biggest day of our lives.” I just can’t get over feeling like I’m succumbing to the patriarchy and constant pressure to be smaller. I’m setting realistic expectations for myself and want to achieve my modest goals in a healthy way, but I feel like I should just be happy with the way my body looks, however it looks. Is it anti-feminist to set a weight-loss goal for my wedding?

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A: Lady, you are processing a lot right now! Let me try to break this answer down a little bit for you, because I’m seeing a handful of ideas getting muddled together in your question.

So first things first, let’s start with the easy one: wanting to lose weight and feeling good about your body aren’t mutually exclusive. You can love your body, and still want to lose weight. (In fact, I’d argue that you should only ever try to lose weight if you’re in a good relationship with your body, but that’s a conversation for another day.) Also, it should go without saying that you can love your body and not want to lose weight, regardless of what the number on the scale looks like.

So now that that’s out of the way, can I ask a question? It sounds like you might not be having an honest conversation with yourself about your motivations here. Are you trying to eat healthier and tone up, or are you trying to set a weight-loss goal? Because one does not guarantee the other. And I suspect the reason you’ve lightened the language around wanting to lose weight is because you’ve made the idea of losing weight something bad. You’ve told yourself that wanting to lose weight makes you a bad feminist. (And for that, I’ve got a whole article for you right here.)

The short answer is, I can’t tell you if wanting to lose weight makes you a bad feminist. But I can tell you that answer might not matter. I mean, aren’t we all bad feminists? There are lots of un-feminist reasons for wanting to lose weight. We live in a patriarchal society that pushes women into a narrow standard of beauty. We’ve conflated thinness with health. Women have more value than the way we look. So here’s what I recommend: take a minute to examine your reasons for wanting to lose weight. Does it have to do with any of the aforementioned patriarchal bullshit? It’s okay if the answer is yes. Because the next step is to cut yourself some slack, because dude, you live in this patriarchal society. And undoing a whole life’s worth of pressure and expectation isn’t something you do overnight. So if you want to lose weight right now, and tackle the feminist implications later, that’s also fine. Feminism is a great tool for examining our choices. It should not be a barometer for how good or bad a person we are in this moment.

And one last thing, just because I see so much of myself in this question: it sounds like you’re trying to tie up your pre-wedding feelings into a neat little bow. You want to lose weight, and you want to be happy with your body, and you want to feel like a good feminist, and you want it all to happen before your wedding. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself, and I’m worried about what’s going to happen a year from now if you feel like you haven’t been able to do All The Things with your physical and mental health. So try not to beat yourself up, okay? Don’t let your wedding date become a deadline for perfection. And in the meantime, give up the idea that any of the things you’re thinking about are Good or Bad. If you can remove that value system from the things you want, you will probably find an answer to your question that weighs less heavily on your conscience.

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