Hitched: The Wedding Dress Body Project

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Andrea is taking a much needed week off from her Hitched column this week, after spending the last few days reporting live from the Texas State Legislature as they attempted to rid the state of nearly all its clinics that provide abortions. (Thanks to Senator Wendy Davis and the rest of the “feminist army,” they failed.) So this week, I’m rerunning one of Andrea’s first Hitched columns, originally published on November 2, 2011. 

Wedding dress shopping. Here’s what happens to me: I walk into a bridal salon and tell the nice maternal saleswoman that I want a tea-length gown with no flowery accents. I am ushered into a dressing room where I am told that they have one tea length gown, it is covered in flowers, and did I want to try on, say, this $1,500 satin gown with a 14-foot train? For funsies? Repeat nine times. Nine. Nine.

“This is your one chance to be a princess!” one saleswoman told me. When I explained to her that my “princess” vision actually, like, seriously really did include a tea-length dress and she was just going to have to see if she could manage to wrap her mind around that, this total stranger looked at me like I had just shot her kitten point-blank in the face in the middle of the dress shop.

So, I went to the custom dressmaker. I told her what I wanted. She said she could totally do that, but she wouldn’t start the dress until next year, even though we’re getting married in April. Why?

“So you have time to get your weight where you want it.”

One of the most exciting things about being a bride, besides finding your forever partner and being showered with expensive knife sets and y’all, Tupperware with lids that actually match, is repeatedly being told that your body is, and do take your pick, insufficiently toned, insufficiently thin, insufficiently void of cellulite, insufficiently hourglass-shaped … really, plainly, just basically insufficient in some ways that will absolutely, positively ruin your wedding day because oh my God, who in her right mind would have the gall to profess undying love in front of her closest friends and family with BINGO arms, can you imagine anything more horrifying?

Oh, sure, your body is the one that your partner fell in love with, and it’s the body in which you have the strength and fortitude to plan a huge, complicated party, and it’s the body which will help you build a forever life with someone special, but ugh, girl, have you looked in a mirror lately because really, we need to talk about getting you on some kind of regimen, because being thin one day out of your entire life is the most important thing a woman can do after she gets a ring on it.

I’m not saying I was surprised that the custom dressmaker I talked to works with a lot of brides who are trying to lose weight for their weddings, because for women, losing weight is currently like, step two on the wedding planning list behind “meet person to marry.”

No, I wasn’t at all surprised. Wedding weight loss is something we expect almost exclusively of women. Do a Google Image search for “wedding fitness,” and you’ll find a grand total of one groom exercising. It’s a shitshow out there, folks, with millions of blogs and websites, you know, really helpfully and supportively encouraging women to believe that their bodies are inadequate. (Hey, this is fun: I Googled “groom weight loss” and before I cleared the top 10, I was recommended an advertisement for weight loss in Groom, Texas and a Men’s Health article about how to shave properly for a job interview. So.)

Perhaps the wedding industrial complex’s greatest achievement has been setting up a joint partnership with the body shame industrial complex. The beast that is “bridal fitness” seethes and heaves and feeds on worry and anxiety, a two-headed monster that grows ever more powerful through what have to be the two greatest insecurities manufactured especially for women: fatness and singledom.

What I’m saying is, the custom dressmaker wasn’t wrong to assume I’d be trying to lose weight—after all, at a size 10, I am basically on the brink of instant death by cupcake and should thank the Lord Jebus every day that Patrick has deigned to look twice at me, let alone marry me, in this grotesque form. What am I thinking just going ahead and buying a dress and getting it tailored to the body that I have without consulting The Raw Food Diet For Brides or Bridal Bootcamp or The Wedding Dress Diet or Bootcamp360 For Brides: The Few, The Proud, The Fit or Perfect Bride: The Complete Beauty, Diet & Exercise Countdown?

Here’s what I’m thinking: what I don’t need is another expectation for myself on my wedding day. Patrick and I are already trying to keep multiple plates spinning at once so that 100 of our closest friends have the best possible time on our tiny budget. We are already trying to assuage guest list dramatics and soothe our more conventional family members who don’t believe a wedding can happen without, say, a garter toss or a priest.

Quite frankly, If I have to get on a scale every morning and berate myself for that extra glass of wine or decision to use 2 percent milk instead of skim, there will be no wedding day because there will be no one left in my life who wants to listen to my self-loathing bullshit and incessant chattering about good carbs and bad carbs. At that point, I really, actually will have serious problems, not fake problems made up by people who want to sell me a diet guide with inspirational phrases like, “Til muffin tops do us part.”

Here’s what I know: when I stop demanding things of myself, and when I stop trying to squeeze myself into someone else’s box—or dress—good things happen to me. This is not an easy thing to do, especially not when salespeople click their tongues and try to find another waist cincher, or when a dressmaker assumes you’d never dare get married with those thighs, or when you can’t pick up a wedding magazine without being encouraged to start! cutting! carbs! now!

When the bridal fitness beast starts to eat at my brain — and it totally does because it is a complete and utter jerk — I try to remember that my wedding is a beginning, rather than an end. The bridal weight loss industry encourages women to actively find things wrong with themselves, buy a book that will fix it, and view their wedding day as a finality that has everything to do with a number on a scale or on the tag of a dress.

Take this Buff Brides book: there is no part of your body, no matter what size you are, that might not need some work. And I quote: “Having sleeveless-dress anxiety? Easy-to-follow exercises will show you how to tone your arms and make your back look fabulous!” and “From thighs to abs to triceps, Buff Brides has the exercise for every bride-to-be’s problem area!”

Because every bride-to-be is a woman, there’s no way she doesn’t have a problem area! In the wedding diet world, simply being a woman with a body and a wedding date is a damned problem area. But look here, brides of the world, you are not the problem area. An industry dedicated to making you feel like butthole is the problem area.

Wedding planning is a non-stop exercise in managing other people’s expectations for you—and that means friends and family as well as random strangers shilling body shame and princess fantasies. So far, I’ve managed those expectations with my two favorite things: yoga and drinking.

Yoga keeps me focused on positivity and possibility, and on loving what my body can do instead of being disappointed at how it doesn’t look. And drinking? Well, drinking lowers my inhibitions and frees me up to, say, surf the internet on my iPad at the bar on Sunday afternoon, and, after a couple strong Bloody Marys, order a tea-length ’50s style white dress from London on a whim.

It just got here, and you know what? It makes me feel like a pretty fucking princess.

Contact the author of this post at andrea.grimes@gmail.com.

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