Throughout 2021, Good Housekeeping is exploring how we think about weight, the way we eat and how we try to control or change our bodies in our quest to be happier and healthier. While GH also publishes weight loss content and endeavors to do so in a responsible, science-backed way, we think it’s important to present a broad perspective that allows for a fuller understanding of the complex thinking about health and body weight. Our goal here is not to tell you how to think, eat, or live — nor is to to pass judgment on how you choose to nourish your body — but rather to start a conversation about diet culture, its impact and how we might challenge the messages we are given about what makes us attractive, successful and healthy.
Content warning: Discussion of specific clothing sizes.
When I was planning my wedding, I put time and effort into choosing the venue, making the guest list and picking the flowers. One thing I didn't waste mental energy on? Losing weight before the big day.
That might not sound radical on the face of it, but so many women feel extra pressure to drop pounds before their wedding day. In fact, there’s a whole phenomenon known as “shedding for the wedding” or “sweating for the wedding,” in which women put themselves through varying degrees of rigor to diet and exercise their way into a smaller gown. I’ve even been down that road myself, at my first wedding in 2014. But my work since then as a body-acceptance advocate has given me the perspective I needed to embrace my body the second time around and free myself of the pre-wedding weight-loss stress that so many brides are subjected to.
I remember feeling really badly that I couldn't lose weight the first time I walked down the aisle, and it added to the stress of planning a wedding. But life carried on after we were married, and eventually I went through a divorce, launched a successful body-positive platform and happily, I hit it off with someone new that I could tell was a good match for me. That's how, in the lead-up to my second wedding in 2019, I found myself in a totally new headspace. This time around, I thought, What is this phenomenon that as soon as you get engaged and you make a commitment to someone, the second thought you have is, I'd better lose weight?
The strange link between weddings and weight loss
It's really weird when you sit down and think about it. There’s this idea that you have to start your marriage at your thinnest and most of the time, it has nothing to do with your spouse. It's really about this strange societal moment where it's understood that 1) you get the engagement ring; and then 2) you have to lose the weight. The two should have nothing to do with each other. You're in this exciting time and you’ve made this really big choice to give your whole self to someone and build a life together, but immediately you feel you have to change your body. Then you take all these photos at your wedding and you print them out and you put them up in your house.
But after the nuptials, most women gain back the pounds they shed. That may well mean that you look like a different person and for the rest of your life, and the pictures are there to remind you, Well, I'll never be as small as my wedding weight.
Going into this marriage, I realized that this concept didn’t make sense, and no, actually my body did not need to change so that I could tie the knot. I’ve seen so many of my friends do a lot of drastic things to get down to a certain size for their wedding. Instead of radiating positive, glowing energy, they show up tired, stressed, not as themselves and not really in a good mental spot because they haven't been eating properly for months.
A wedding industry issue
Not only is there pressure from media, social media and sometimes even close family or friends to embark on this weight-loss journey, but it’s reinforced by the wedding industry. For starters, trying on dresses is a whole messed-up experience because you go in and they only have sample sizes (about 10 or 12 in bridal sizing — the equivalent of 6 or 8 in streetwear), which are much smaller than the 16 or 18 in streetwear that research shows the average American woman wears. You can't really see how you're going to look in a particular gown style, which is not helpful.
Then, to top it off, the salesperson or the seamstress might say, “Well you'll come in a couple of months before the special day for another fitting because you'll have lost weight.” Those are real things that you hear from wedding professionals! And if you're a size 8 and they're implying that you have to lose weight, what will the saleswoman say if you’re a size 18 like me?
I receive messages from women weekly who want wedding or bridesmaid dress recommendations because the entire wedding experience for bigger women can be really upsetting. For sure, the search for a dress is much different for plus-size women than for those who wear "standard" sizes. Bigger brides have to think less about what is my dream dress? and more about what's going to be available to me? In fact, some people don't even have traditional wedding celebrations because they're so scared to go shopping for a dress.
That brings us to the issue of thin privilege. Thinner people don't always understand that when you walk into any clothing store and you assume they're going to have your size, it's not a mindset plus-size women can share, especially when it comes to a big-stakes item like a wedding gown.
All of this takes away from a time in your life when you should be thrilled that you finally connected with this human that you want to spend your life with. You should be able to bask in all that love and energy and focus on treating yourself well, connecting with friends and family and generating a lot of happy feelings instead of generating a lot of feelings of restriction, fear and anger.
But it doesn't have to be this way — no matter what size you wear. It's a matter of embracing who you are and marrying someone as you are now and not this version of yourself that you think you have to be at your wedding. Don’t get me wrong — everyone wants to look and feel like a 10 on their wedding day. I'm all about getting your teeth whitened or your nails done, but this goes deeper than that. Needing to change your body, in my experience, speaks to a feeling of unworthiness in the body that you're in right now.
The path to body acceptance
My own journey to body acceptance actually started when I was in a much smaller body than I am now; I still wanted to lose weight and yet I felt much worse about it. I started my blog The 12ish Style in 2015 with the intention of creating a place where women who are over size 12 could find cute, stylish clothes and styles for their size. What I learned talking to women was that it wasn't just the “big” girls who had problems accepting their body. I was hearing from women who were a size 4, a size 2, a size 6, a size 10. So many hated their bodies, wished it were different, wanted to lose weight and were constantly thinking about it and striving for it.
All of a sudden it hit me: So you mean that even if I'm in the size that I think would bring me peace, I will still want to be smaller? Oh my God, what's the point? What is the point of this whole merry-go-round? That kind of snapped something in my brain, and I thought, Well, if she's not going to be happy at a 4, I'm certainly not going to punish myself for not being physically able to get to a size 4.
Then I had a second realization — the people who really love me aren't paying attention to my body the way I'm paying attention to my body, anyway. Why am I so hyper-focused on this body and speaking to myself so negatively and punishing myself when no one really notices if I'm a size 12 or a size 14 or a size 16? Like, it's all kind of in the same space. So those are two realizations that I had, and my messaging to women since then has really been to just embrace where you are. It doesn't mean you can't try and lose weight if that's what you truly want. It just means that you should start thinking about your body in a way that is less critical or to stop striving to be something else.
My platform has evolved and now Instagram is where I connect with women every day, through my #SuperSizetheLook and #MakeMySize hashtags. We also launched Megababe in 2017 when I wanted to create a solution for thigh chafe and we currently carry an array of personal-care products for women in all types of bodies. The goal is to create innovations, solve problems and break down taboos.
We're all works in progress
One thing people don't like to admit is that the journey to body acceptance is never done. It’s something you have to work on every day and it’s very easy to fall back into that negative mindset, but learning to recognize your triggers can help you recover faster.
When you're not feeling great about your body, you’re always feeling negative. Changing your mindset and finding peace and acceptance in your body brings along a new form of confidence and positive energy in every aspect of your life. And once you have more peace with your body, you're able to do more with your brain, which is why I wrote my book Body Talk. I realized we waste so much time thinking about our bodies in a negative way and all of that focus and attention could be going toward solving real problems that we have.
Because so many people assume every bride will attempt to slim down before their big day, it can be difficult to go against the tide. To accept and love your body as it is and say “No, I don’t need to change myself to fit your beauty standards” is seen as weird. The best thing a bride can do is take a deep breath and have honest conversations with people who make comments about "shedding for the wedding."
For instance, if the person selling you a wedding dress mentions ordering a smaller size, consider a response along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m not going to be losing weight so I can just get fitted right now.” Not only will it give your own mental health a little boost, it’s encouraging for other people to hear that you’re confident in knowing that you don’t need to fall into this joy-draining cultural phenomenon.