I am currently planning the details of my wedding, and I say “planning the details” to mean figuring out literally every single aspect of the day except for my earrings. I have already picked those out.
One thing I know for certain is that when I picture my wedding day, while we do not yet have a venue or a date, I have a clear picture in my mind of how I want to look. I picture myself thin and graceful, almost dancer-like (this coming from the person who was put in the very back row of every middle school musical.)
“Shedding for the Wedding:” The practice of brides-to-be losing weight before their weddings is so ubiquitous it had its own reality TV show in 2011, the premise of which was, you guessed it, overweight engaged couples competed to shed pounds. Even if you have never heard of the show, chances are you have heard the catch phrase — or know a bride who is on a “wedding diet.” It is not uncommon for gyms and fitness studios to offer discounted workout packages for brides. The desire to lose weight before a wedding is so prevalent that a Cornell University study showed that 70 percent of women wanted to lose weight before their weddings and over one third of surveyed women were going to drastic measures to lose weight, including fasting, diet pills and skipping meals.
Without going too deep into numbers, the weight I imagine for myself is about 10-12 pounds less than I am now, which would put the scale at a number I have not seen since freshman year of high school. I was not fully grown then; there is a real possibility that while that weight still falls in what my doctor considers “a healthy range” for my height, it is not a weight my adult body would ever naturally hover around without strict exercise and a serious change in my diet.
70 percent of women wanted to lose weight before their weddings. Over one third were going to drastic measures.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to lose weight before your wedding, especially if you think it will help you feel more confident. The problem arises when a bride feels that they must lose weight, or go to drastic, unhealthy measures to do so.
And there is a vast and complicated difference between wanting to lose a few pounds for a big life event and having an eating disorder. For me, and for others who have survived eating disorders, the desire to lose weight can easily spiral into old patterns. Sensing my own behavior beginning to shift (skipping dinner, drinking on an empty stomach, working out sometimes twice a day), I decided to arm myself with knowledge. By interviewing experts, other brides, and people in the wellness and wedding industries, I hoped to find out why brides feel a need to lose weight and what can be done about that pressure.
Why Do Brides Feel a Need to Lose Weight?
Control: “Although [the drive to lose weight before a wedding] can be easily explained by simply wanting to look great for the photos [or] to really show off that great dress, I also think there’s something deeper at play here,” says Jamie Katoff, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “A wedding is the symbol of a huge transition into another phase of life. As with all transitions, there is a complex mix of emotions going on internally. In addition to the joy and excitement, there may also be fear about the unknown, sadness about leaving behind aspects of single life, and even confusion about the whole process. It’s really hard to be with those feelings, especially when our culture expects women to simply be elated to be getting married! Focusing on weight or body image becomes an easier focus than those darker emotions. When women (or men) feel like they can have some control over their bodies, it can also give them a sense of control over their feelings as well.”
Instagram: “Another mounting pressure is social media,” says Jenna Miller, creative director at Here Comes the Guide, a website that helps you find your wedding venue and vendors. “Once upon a time you really only had to be concerned with your professional photos, but nowadays anyone with a smartphone can snap wedding photos at any time, from any angle. And they can share these images with their entire social media following. There’s a real loss of control for the couple here, as it’s really difficult to manage where your wedding photos will end up and who will see them. Plus, being constantly inundated with Insta perfect photos of celebrity and influencer brides only reinforces the notion that a bride must be flawless on her big day.”
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The Wedding Industry’s Obsession With Perfection: By some estimates, the wedding industry is a $72 billion entity, largely appealing to brides looking to host “the perfect day.” Amy Shack Egan, CEO of Modern Rebel, an alternative event planning company, says: “The wedding industrial complex is obsessed with perfection. So, is it any wonder that women feel a pressure to be and look perfect on [their] wedding day? If you tell women this is the best day of your life as the wedding industry does, we have to expect a certain amount of anxiety and imbalance in the approach. If only we focused more on the relationship at hand and less on the picture-perfect day, maybe the pressure would diminish?”
But how can I avoid the pressure I feel to lose weight?
Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D. psychologist, blogger, speaker and author suggests recognizing what she calls “toxic girly thoughts.” In her words, “Toxic Girly Thoughts is an obnoxious, but memorable name I’ve given to how a girl [or] woman internalizes societal messages that tell her how she should act and should look, particularly on key days that she feels define her — such as her wedding day.”
But how can women counter the thoughts that their wedding day will be better if only they weighed 10 pounds less? Recognize the thought. To do this O’Gorman suggests you notice when you are having negative thoughts about yourself or your body.
When this happens:
1. Share [the thought] with your girlfriends so that you can all have a good laugh about this, and support each other in not fasting and not going on a crazy diet, all to be thin for this one day.
2. Decide to enjoy your wedding day, knowing that your beauty does not come from skimming a couple of more pounds off your body. Own that your beauty comes from embracing the love of your life, which is what this day celebrates.
Exercise to destress, not to lose weight
A friend, who had her wedding last month, says: “It was important for me to work out while I was wedding planning. It was a healthy outlet for the stress I was feeling. I didn’t really change my eating habits and my body stayed more or less the same.” She wanted to look like herself on the day of her wedding, and not look back on her pictures with a feeling that she had “let herself go” by returning to her natural weight. She found that exercise was a quick and healthy way to relieve her of some of the stress she was feeling about the planning.
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“What are you doing for your wedding diet? And when are you starting?” People. For the love of God. STOP ASKING BRIDES TO BE THIS QUESTION! Encouraging everyone to put an end to this madness and a stream of 10,000 other thoughts regarding my wedding because today it is officially ONE MONTH AWAY! If you are in the midst of wedding planning, or just looking for something interesting to read, go check out my recent blog post "F The Wedding Diet" (link in bio). I'm talking all the reasons I hate this question, why I'm not falling a victim to it, the things I plan to focus on this month, and my five tips I wish someone had told me before beginning this process. Let the official countdown to #camrogersthat begin!
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Remember that the people at your wedding love you the way you are
“The people in attendance are family and friends, not fans and spectators,” says Kevin Darné, author of “My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany).” “The person you are marrying chose to marry you the way you naturally look. They did not wait for you to lose weight in order to propose to you.”
“From the time many of us are little girls, there is this very odd narrative that we are working towards our wedding days,” Shack Egan adds. “It’s viewed as some sort of accomplishment. It’s such a disservice to women everywhere. I say, let go of this idea of perfection and your world opens up — more room for career accomplishments and investing in your relationships! Step off the scale and into a world with infinite more possibilities.”
A wedding is a very special day, albeit just one day in your life. It will go quickly, and something trivial will go wrong, and it will be lovely, and then it will be over. But the pressure to lose weight paired with the physical feeling of hunger can make the stressful work of planning a wedding even more difficult. I should know, I threw my laptop across the room last weekend when my fiancé and I were working at our guest list. I was hungry … and if we have not texted in over a year, you are not invited. But more on that another time.
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