First, a disclaimer: Any comments along the lines of “But you look great!” or “You don’t need to lose weight!” will be deleted. Never has a person with body issues heard someone say things like that and gone, “You know what, you’re right! I love my body now!” I am grateful for the love, kindness, and affirmation such comments represent, but they miss the point and don’t accomplish their well-intended goal anyway. Also, this is not an invitation to assess my body size and shape (such assessments include but are not limited to guessing my weight or dress size and commenting on whether you believe I have gained weight or not). If anything, it is an invitation to assess your relationship with food and with your own body, and to have empathy for the people in your life who may be struggling with theirs. Thanks for understanding!
The week before her big day, my friend called me in a panic. She had just tried on her wedding dress one last time, and she claimed that her itsy bitsy waist had widened a tad since the last fitting. It felt most obvious to her in the back of her dress. “It’s like back cleavage!” she moaned.
“Are you complaining about having DOUBLE cleavage?!” I joked. We laughed, and then I sympathized while she vented, because I knew it really was stressful. Of course, I also knew—and I think she did too—there was no way it was as bad as she thought.
Sure enough, on her wedding day, she looked beautiful. There was cleavage on only one side, and, most importantly, it was a joyful, fun, celebratory day. She says now that she has so many happy memories of that day that the dress not fitting quite as perfectly as it might have was just a blip on the radar.
Of course, I didn’t want to have that same crush of anxiety the week of my wedding, so I made a plan. I was going to lose 10 pounds for my wedding. I would stick to a strict calorie deficit, work out daily, and watch the pounds melt away. It looked great on paper.
The problem is that, although I’ve never had an eating disorder, I have definitely wrestled with disordered eating off and on throughout my life. For as long as I can remember, my relationship with food has been characterized by shame and guilt. The more I focus on my eating, the more obsessive my thoughts about food become—and, therefore, the more I eat.
Before long, I was not only failing to make progress on my weight loss goal, I was actually moving in the opposite direction—I was gaining weight. I beat myself up, agonized about how fat I was going to look in my wedding photos, and worried about whether I would fit into my dress.
Of course, all of this just led me to shame-eat more. The calorie-counting app I had downloaded wasn’t helping, either; it just made me feel worse.
I finally talked to my counselor about it. We quickly discovered that my compulsions around food have been with me since I was a little kid and that disordered eating runs in my family in one way or another. He challenged me to consider that it might not be my weight that was the problem but my relationship with food and, on a deeper level, my relationship with my body.
He recommended reading up on an approach called Intuitive Eating that is all about listening to your body. I discovered, much to my surprise, that I’ve spent most of my life profoundly disconnected from my body’s natural hunger cues. I tend to eat emotionally or because it’s time to eat or because something tastes good; my efforts at dieting have led to more distrust in my body when I’ve denied it the nourishment it knows it needs; and I’ve so often ruined what could have been enjoyable gastronomical experiences by eating too quickly or too much.
So a month before my wedding, I stopped trying to lose weight. Kind of. I deleted my calorie-counting app. I quit visiting the scale on every trip to the gym. I’m focusing on getting back in touch with my body and letting it guide me instead of responding to every stressor by stuffing something in my mouth.
I definitely have moments where I am terrified I’ll look awful in my wedding dress. I had my final dress fitting this morning (2 years to the day after I bought it!) and ended up texting my mom in tears. Of course, I know I’m being overly self-critical. The dress fits, and if I focus on giving my body what it needs in terms of nutrition and exercise for the next 26 days, I know I will feel better in it.
But it’s made me think of something else: this idea that I should look different on my wedding day than I do the rest of the time. I’m shunning professional hair in favor of doing it myself; I’m refusing fake eyelashes and heavy makeup; I’m being intentional about the fact that, although I want to dress up and look extra beautiful for my wedding, I still want to look like me.
After all, Colin is marrying me—the woman who doesn’t know where her hairdryer is, whose makeup collection fits in the palm of one hand, who has always had a hard time finding pants that fit her figure. Although I have grown my hair out a little and am going makeup shopping with a friend this weekend, I’m not trying to make major changes to my look for my wedding because I want to be myself. Why hasn’t it occurred to me that my weight might be part of that?
For years, I’ve treated my extra weight as if it were temporary. But what if this is just what I look like? I’ve been about this size almost all of my adult life. I could definitely be healthier, and I am working toward eating better and becoming fitter, but although the disciplines of calorie counting and frequent weigh-ins work for some people, they just become idols for me as I worship a fictional self. It reminds me of Philippians 3:19—”Their god is their stomach.” How often has my god been my stomach, whether I’m indulging it or trying to change its shape or size?
So I gained weight for my wedding. I didn’t mean to. I need to work on my relationship with food and with my body, but I can’t expect myself to get that all straightened out during wedding planning, when I’m juggling the demands and expectations of every other relationship in my life all at once. I’m already starting to eat better, but it’s going to be a process. And there’s simply no way that process is going to yield the results I was hoping for by my wedding date. And I’m OK with that—or at least, I’m trying to be.
What does this have to do with the patriarchy? I’m reminded of my best friend’s abuela, who always told her to eat more, because (in a thick Mexican accent) “boys don’t like skinny girls.” Of course, what boys do or don’t like should be irrelevant here. Besides, as illustrated by my friend’s abuela, the standards vary from culture to culture. I told a black colleague of mine that I was trying to lose weight, and he was shocked.
Thankfully, I have a partner who loves me as I am, who encourages me to be healthy not because he wants me to look a certain way but because he knows I feel better when I eat well and exercise, and who, as the cherry on top, is a phenomenal cook.
And the truth is, societal standards of beauty affect men as well as women. The patriarchy doesn’t just impact us ladies. So brides-to-be, remember that your guy or gal chose to marry you knowing full well what you look like; and grooms-to-be, keep the same in mind. As I said in this blog post, self-acceptance doesn’t mean not pursuing fitness and health, but it has to be a starting point, not a goal.
And if there’s any day in your life when you hope to be able to accept and love yourself, it’s the day that you and your partner promise to accept and love one another forever, am I right?