August 17, 2015

Pre-wedding Diets: Why Do We Still Succumb to Them?

"Mirrors", Dmitry Boyarin, Flickr commons

Your super easy-going friend is getting married, but something is off.

At a time at a time she’s supposed to be feeling her most blissed-out and beloved, you catch her Googling “ketosis.” For months she was fine—she didn’t buy into any of that “wedding as performance art” malarkey, but two months out something changes.

At dinner, her skin is sallow. Her eyes dart nervously at the bread basket like someone whose brain has been starved of glucose for weeks. She has trouble getting out of her chair as every second day someone literally kicks her a*se at Bridal Bootcamp.

You are so disappointed.

Why has your beautiful, smart, confident friend succumbed, liked so many before her, to the pre-wedding slim-down?

Bridal shops: more ‘thinspiration’ than inspiration.

When I got engaged, I was determined to buck tradition, have a feminist wedding and not be one of those crazy bridezillas.

But the pressure hits as soon as you start looking for a dress. Flipping through bridal magazines, you quickly realise that if we don’t fit one of three models we may as well start embroidering a sack.

1. Vintage bride: thin, white, wearing old lace,

2. Boho bride: thin, spray tanned, wearing a hair chain, or

3. Simple chic bride; thin, white, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.

Notice a running theme here?

“Dress shopping for a size 16 bride is diabolically demoralising. I dress shopped every Saturday for months.  The samples in the store are limited to sizes eight-10 (12 if you’re really lucky), so the rest of us miss out on that magical moment of seeing ourselves in the dress for the first time and having our girlfriends ‘oh’ and ‘aah’.

The added torture of seeing the thin girls in the shop have that moment is nauseating. During this harrowing period, I came to the conclusion that I was abnormally oversized. In a dizzy haze of wedding fantasy, I bought a dress that was two-sizes too small and proceeded to nearly kill myself to fit into it.”

Over-exercising and under-eating will make you thinner, but it will also make you sick. While I fit into my dress, I came down with the worst flu of my life before the wedding and needed serious medicine to get me down the aisle,”  said my cousin-in-law Tracy.

Many people’s livelihoods depend on you thinking that you’re letting the specialness of the day down if you don’t look a certain way.

If your bridal shop is serving a side of self-loathing, find a dressmaker who’ll make you feel gorgeous. Not “you’ll be gorgeous when.”

Controlling anxiety via controlling your body.

No matter how active your partner is in wedding, plan somehow everything is still funnelled towards the bride. You will find yourself fielding questions about what colour your skin will be one minute,

“I know you’re pale with freckles, but this is your wedding. Don’t you want it to be special?”

And mediating between warring parties with firm ideas on what kind of wedding you should have the next.

“I didn’t know how to deal with confrontation with my mother-in-law and mum about how they wanted the wedding to be, so dieting was an escape from all my feelings. I would restrict my food all day, then binge at night. Dieting helped relieved anxiety about how much my life was about to change, because it made my world small and manageable,” said my friend, Ruth.

I began restricting food a month before the wedding. Looking back, I realise it was a response to anxiety. I couldn’t control anything else—the weather, the divorce rate, my relatives—but since I could control calories in/calories out, lo and behold, all that angst got channelled onto my body.

Remembering that I’m a feminist surprisingly didn’t help. It just made me ashamed, as I was acutely aware that everyone’s on the lookout for crazy bridezilla behaviour.

What did work was talking to people who let me be where I was, who realised the dieting wasn’t actually about weight and yet didn’t brush me off with “don’t be silly, you’re too smart to worry about petty sh*t like your waist size?”

Speaking of which…

You will be amazed how little anyone cares about your waist size.

We’re presented with endless images of Bridal Barbie, but let’s be honest about what really looks good. It’s alarming when the person walking down the aisle has morphed into an unnaturally bronzed stick figure who looks more Bachelor contestant than friend-I’ve-known-since-kindergarten.

Besides, a wedding photographer recently told me that the brides who look best in photos are not the ones who’ve whittled themselves down, but the ones who are relaxed and happy.

Bridal radiance comes from joy. It comes from marrying someone you love, who loves you back. Radiance disappears when you’re carb-starved and constipated.

Take control by giving up control.

What’s going to happen if you don’t diet? Will your fiancé run for the hills? Will someone think they’re better than you? Does that person actually exist—if so, why are you inviting them to your wedding—or do they only exist in your head?

My friend, Megan, saw the diet pressure, stared into its beady eyeballs, and chuckled,

“A few people asked directly if I was dieting for the wedding, but mostly the pressure was indirect: raised eyebrows when I ate a big meal or something sweet. I recall at least one instance where I deliberately chose the lemon slice as an act of rebellion. I was very aware that being skinny for the wedding photos was a thing. It felt like wedding as performance art and I really didn’t like it.”

Megan chose instead to walk herself down the aisle in a stunning red gown. She looked more relaxed and radiant than one person should legally be.

Exercise: for mental health, not punishment.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either doing some drastic pre-wedding preparation, or you’re considering it.

There is nothing wrong with stepping up your exercise in the lead-up to your wedding, but suddenly embarking on a drastic and punishing exercise regime may leave you unhappy and stressed about results.

But endorphins are wonderful, and you should get some. Go for activities you already enjoy – just prioritise them. At this stage, exercise is as important for your mental health as it is your physical.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this:

You are loved—adored beyond comprehension—by people who already know what you look like.



Buddhist Wedding Poem.


Author: Alice Williams

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Dmitry Boyarin/ Flickr

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