People on the internet have been telling me I’m fat for at least a decade — since whenever the first full-body photograph of me appeared on a blog author page. I still remember one of the first times it happened. I was probably 22 years old, wearing a pink pencil skirt and cute black top, retro-style, in the photo.
“Just like I thought, she’s pear-shaped,” snarked one commenter, who apparently previously inferred from the quality of my writing that my body was not up to his high expectations, only to have it all confirmed by a photo.
I stood in front of the mirror in that same outfit, staring at my body from every angle, trying to figure out just how pear-shaped I was. Was it my thighs causing the problem? Had to be, right? I measured them. I calculated my BMI. I took more digital photos and compared them to the existing photo. I went through the size tags on all my clothes, trying to find the biggest one so I could prove to myself that I either was or wasn’t fat. Definitively.
Years and many additional pounds later, I now know that I will never, ever be skinny enough for the Internet. Anonymous commenters and angry dudes on Twitter tell me I’m fat at the same rate they ever did — my actual appearance has nothing to do with it.
But it wasn’t until I began planning my wedding that someone told me I was fat … to my face. She was a very nice, very talented dressmaker I’d gone to talk to about getting a custom wedding gown made, because my search for tea-length wedding gowns in traditional bridal shops had turned up next to nothing.
We looked at some patterns and some fabrics, and I was anxious for her to get started on my dress so I could see this beautiful hunk of tulle in action. But the dressmaker said she wouldn’t start on my dress for months. Why?
“So you have time to get your weight where you want it.”
Maybe the dressmaker says that to every bride, of every size. It wouldn’t surprise me. She never asked if I was unhappy with my weight in the first place. I never told her I intended to lose weight. There it was, the implication not that I might lose or gain weight due to wedding stress, but that I would actively, obviously be trying to size down. (Look, I guess it’s possible that she could have been implying that I might want to gain weight, but … no, that’s not what she was implying.)
Because if there’s one thing the wedding industrial complex says a bride needs besides a groom, it’s a weight loss plan. Preferably one she pays for in the form of an exercise video series or motivational book with supplemental food and exercise diary. Ideally, there’s a pseudo-celebrity “fitness expert”” involved, because people who make careers out of shaming women into a spiral of never-good-enough gotta eat too, am I right ladies?
This week, Jessica forwarded me a press release for yet another bridal weight loss book, and I’’m not going to do it the dignity of naming it, because it doesn’t matter whether you know the name of the book or all about its “appealing new system that turns classic training methods upside down.” (Breaking news: if you want to lose weight, try burning more calories than you consume. Sorry if that didn’t take two hundred pages and $19.99.)
This book could be any one of thousands of books marketed to brides — and it’s almost always brides, not grooms — that tell them that to look their “best” on their wedding day, they need to look thinner.
I’m not fundamentally against losing weight, or exercising more, or eating less processed food. I am fundamentally against doing it solely for one day, for one event, for one photograph, and I’m fundamentally against the disgusting convergence of those who would shame people’s bodies for profit and those who sell weddings as the be-all, end-all fairy princess event of a woman’s life.
Separately, these industries are bad. Together, they are reprehensible because they combine two cultural narratives that remind women that their worth is measured entirely by external forces — by securing the affections of a man, and by doing so in a conventionally attractive body.
But thinness is a moving target. If you’re a size 16, you should be a 12. A size six? Why not try for a four! But if you’re too thin, you’ve probably got an eating disorder and everyone’s entitled to talk about it behind your back. The only correct thing to do is to acknowledge that your body needs work so that other people aren’t offended by it. The bridal weight loss industry feeds on this insecurity, one that’s cultivated in little girls’ minds well before they’re ever old enough to say “I do.”
I did exactly one day of dress shopping before I visited the custom dressmaker, and after that, I gave up entirely on involving strangers in the dress-finding process. It was exhausting driving from shop to shop, only to be pinned into sample-size dresses that never looked right, sweating in and out of waist-cinchers and strapless bras. At one shop, I wanted to try on a vintage-inspired dress in a very 1930’s shape, only to have the saleswoman shake her head at me and refuse to even bring it to the dressing room: “That one’s not for your shape. You won’t like it.” Apparently that wasn’t a decision I was allowed to make for myself.
The emotional stress of 10 straight hours of being reminded that my body was wrong — tits too big, waist too full — was too much to take. So I ordered my dress online, got it tailored at a little shop down the road, and it looked fucking fantastic on the day.
For brides — and grooms, because I’ve a feeling the wedding industrial fat shaming complex will soon cotton on to the male demographic — who are tired of being told their bodies aren’t the right size for a wedding, I recommend immersion in the world of size acceptance blogs. See: Shapely Prose, Dances With Fat, The Rotund and the Big Fat Blog, for a good start.
I also recommend regular exercise, because wedding planning can be as shitty and stressful as it is exciting, and it’s good to get that energy out. Maybe boxing classes … with the bridal body-shaming book cover of your choice tapped to the punching bag.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.