This week (May 14th-20th) is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to revisit this article. Written for Rock n Roll Bride magazine issue 18 by body positive blogger Megan Jayne Crabbe (aka @bodyposipanda), the message is something I’ve been proudly fighting for since the inception of this blog – that you do not have to lose weight for your wedding!
What colour will your flowers be?”
“Which caterer did you choose?”
“Will there be live music at the reception?”
“How much weight are you going to lose?”
23 pounds. That was the average amount that brides-to-be wanted to lose in a study conducted by Cornell University in 2008. In a study of 272 women, 70% wanted to lose weight, some by any means necessary. Out of all the pre-wedding dieters, 40% used at least one extreme weight control behaviour such as weight loss pills, skipping meals and fasting. Of women surveyed who had already bought their bridal gowns, 14% purposely bought a wedding dress one or more sizes smaller than their then-current dress size.
I wish that those numbers were surprising. But they’re not. Because as soon as that first ‘yes’ brushes past a bride-to-be’s lips with a ring full of promise gliding onto her finger, the expectation is there. Hovering over everything until the day she goes down the aisle.
Meet the Brides Who Lost 100 Pounds for their Big Day!
The Skinny Bride’s Guide to Wedding Dress Weight Loss!
What to Eat to Shed the Pounds before You Tie the Knot!
If you didn’t know any better you might think that every wedding came with a mandatory weigh-in before anyone was allowed to say ‘I do’. Didn’t shrink yourself down small enough? Sorry, try again in 6 months.
The message is inescapable – getting married in the body you already have just isn’t an option. Losing weight for your wedding seems more like an unquestionable commandment than a choice. But honestly? It is a choice. One that you have full, unrelenting permission to opt out of. Before you decide on that though, maybe we should do some questioning of the unquestionable, starting with where the ‘Every Bride Must Lose Weight for the Wedding’ commandment comes from. To do that we have to talk about two things: Money, and what it means to be a woman in our society.
We live in a world that’s obsessed with weight loss whether there’s a wedding to plan or not. Everywhere we turn we’re being fed the message that thinner is better and that changing our bodies is the ultimate key to happiness. The message comes in many forms: Adverts on TV for a special drink that expands in your stomach. Billboards miles high with ‘I lost 5lbs my first week at *insert weight loss group here*!’ plastered above a smiling face. Supermarket aisles filled with guilt-free, low-calorie, no-sugar desserts, and overheard whispers in every public place we go about pounds dropped and calories cut.
What all of these messages add up to is a culture that prizes weight loss above all else; a diet culture. And make no mistake – although it’s packaged up as happiness, beauty, and often even health, it’s rooted in cold hard cash. The diet industry in the UK is worth around £2 billion (and in the US, closer to $60 billion). That’s how much money we spend trying to shrink our bodies, and the people on the receiving end of the cash know exactly how to make us keep spending.
The diet industry was born out of the fact that advertisers needed a reliable way to make money. What better way than convincing half the population that their bodies are wrong and selling them the solution? What started over a hundred years ago as a quaint advert for ‘reducing cream’ printed in the newspaper has now become one of the most profitable industries of all time. Which is even more impressive considering they’re always selling us a product that doesn’t work (no really, if any weight loss method truly worked, none of the others would exist, and we’d all be thin by now).
One thing that the diet industry does sickeningly well is prey on women at times when they are the most susceptible to feeling insecure. There are two moments especially that this is clear as can be: Pre-wedding and post-baby. Both milestones that we’re taught to see as quintessential moments of womanhood. Both life-altering, powerful, unforgettable events. Both distilled by our culture into the number that flashes on the scale when they happen.
Which brings us to the second answer of why weight loss is such an inescapable part of getting married. Because ultimately, the driving force of diet culture, is the message that how women look is the most important thing about them. So, of course, on a day that’s seen as an expected milestone of womanhood, everything boils down to our bodies. It’s no wonder that once the flowers are arranged and the families are seated, a bride can feel more like an ornament than a person fully participating in the day.
This isn’t something that only happens at weddings either, it’s something that’s part of our daily lives. We’re told that when we go to the beach the most important thing is how we look in our swimsuit, rather than the memories we make on the day. We’re convinced that when we go out into the world other people’s approval of our outsides should be our top priority, when in reality our bodies don’t exist for anyone else’s approval. We believe that changing the way our bodies look is the purpose of our existence, even though the truth is that we are so much more than what meets the eye. We always have been.
When we get to that big day we don’t deserve to be trapped in our own minds obsessing over what we ate yesterday or whether the flesh on our back is poking out of the top of our dress. We deserve to be living. To be fully present in the day, to take in every moment, to feel the true reason that everyone’s there in the first place – to celebrate love. The idea that we’re not worthy of doing that until our bodies take up less space is a big fat lie. We are worthy exactly as we are. Our bodies are not ornaments to be gazed at by other people, they are vehicles to let us live.
All of this isn’t supposed to shame anyone who does choose to lose weight for their wedding. No woman should be blamed for simply surviving the best she can in the cultural narrative she’s given. The problem isn’t the person choosing to lose weight, the problem are the forces that made her believe she had to in the first place.
This is simply supposed to be another option for anyone who feels like they need it. This is a break from that constant narrative. This is permission: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LOSE WEIGHT FOR YOUR WEDDING.
You do not have to lose weight after your wedding, either. You do not have to lose weight if you have a baby. You do not have to lose weight before or after any event in your life. You do not have to lose weight to be beautiful, to be happy, or to be worthy of living the life you want. And every time you see or hear something that tells you differently, I want you to question it. Where does it come from? Who stands to gain from it? What message is it really sending?
When you do go down the aisle, you deserve to feel like royalty regardless of the number sewn into your dress. You deserve to feel loved, to be celebrated, to have a day that’s filled with joy and moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You deserve it all. In the body you already have.
And if that doesn’t convince you, just think how much less stressful planning the wedding will be if you’re not hungry all the damn time.
About the Author
Megan Jayne Crabbe is a best-selling author, blogger and body positive activist from Essex. Megan’s body image issues began when she was five years old. She spent her childhood chasing thinness, and at fourteen found herself spiralling into anorexia. After recovery she spent years dieting, binging, losing and gaining weight. But then she found body positivity, quit dieting, and finally escaped the cult of thin. Now she’s determined to let as many people as possible know the truth: That we are all good enough as we are.
Her inspirational book, Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live (Ebury Publishing, 2017) is on sale now.
This article originally appeared in Rock n Roll Bride magazine, issue 18. You can pick up the current edition, issue 20, in stores now or order one here with free UK delivery (we also ship worldwide!)