I got engaged this Christmas, and I’m fat. You might wonder what the connection is (beyond a trollish, “Heh, you mean fattie mcfatfat actually got a MAN NO WAY!!”).
But as anyone who has entered this phase in her life and as much glanced at bridal magazines on the rack would know, there’s significant pressure to lose weight before one’s wedding, pretty much regardless of how much you weigh when you get engaged.
This pressure is unusually severe. Sure, there’s diet-talk and body-deprecatory ads and features in every women’s magazine, but it’s usually phrased in terms of “Want to lose X lbs? Here’s the magic permanent trick that takes no effort and is NOT starvation, drugs, or obsessive exercise…”
But bridal magazines step that anti-fattie babble up a notch. They say you HAVE to lose weight; as the screenshot from Brides.com says to promote its messageboard section and weight-loss thread, “How are you planning to lose weight before your big day?”
No questions of whether you want to lose the weight, can lose weight healthily, or even believe you need to based on whatever hocus-pocus diet myths you’ve accepted. Just, “How are you planning to lose weight…?”
The body deprecation begins.
Being fat, then, is closely tied in with being engaged. Because, you see, all my friends and relatives who’ve imbibed the Obesity Epidemic KoolAid will expect me to try to lose weight before “my big day.” I don’t even think the expectation is dramatic weight loss, just knowing that I’ve started my juice-and-lettuce-after-four-hours-on-the-treadmill diet. Like it’s some cultural right-of-passage I’m expected to participate in, or else I do not ‘earn’ my wedding day, somehow.
Of course, this pisses me off. I’m reasonably new to fat acceptance; it was only last July I read Gina Kolata’s “Rethinking Thin.” Before that, I was a KoolAid drinker myself, a recovering anorexic-dieter, exercise obsessor, bulimic wannabe (I could never make myself throw up, not for lack of trying). I’m trying very, very hard to accept my body and learn to love myself for who I am, and for who my family largely is — well, large. And that’s okay.
So I decided to channel this pissed-off energy into recording how wide-spread this pre-wedding bridal ritual starvation expectation really is, and how it isn’t just about looking good in photo, it’s some kind of cultural right-of-passage. It’s like a kind of religious fasting, which is supposed to make us feel like we’ve really ‘earned’ our big day (with the natural assumption that if we decide not to diet before our wedding day, we’re some kind of lazy, worthless person whom shouldn’t be married).
For part one: Brides.com, the first hit on my Google search of “wedding bride.”
This one was easy. Right on the front page there were three “features” categories: “real weddings,” “local features,” and “community” (a message board). See the above screenshot for the “community” view, and read the poster’s featured quote.
Yeah, uh, 50 lbs before the wedding. Do either of you know you’re going to gain it back in 5 years? Will the husband claim his wife “let herself go” since she, a few years after the wedding, can no longer fit in her wedding dress? (of course, even though the poster wants them to both lose weight, I don’t know how stringent the expectations are on the groom’s side)
I wonder if Memememe Roth, in her “Wedding Gown Challenge,” takes into account how many brides fasted, losing 10, 20, 30+ lbs in before their wedding day? Does gaining back the weight lost count as “letting oneself go,” especially if you just happen to go back to what you were before the pre-wedding weight loss (plus 10%, of course)? Sigh.
But now, for the worst of it…a name that plays on the vanity, fear, and anticipation of most brides-to-be:
VOW TO WOW!
I decided to enter the “community” section of the Brides.com site, in order to discover what horrifying myths were being propagated on these poor women, and what their expectations were. I found a forum and an entire section of the site called “Vow to Wow Body Makeover.”
Some of the sad thread titles on the first page are:
“ATKINS!!,” “FH won’t support me getting in shape,” “Why wont the weight come off????,” “Medifast anyone?,” “I’m scared, I don’t think I can accomplish my goal,” “Anyone on WW?,” “Lost weight with nutritionist, organic foods and gym,” “gaining weight,” (which is actually about a woman who thinks she’s too thin…guess no one is happy with their body-image if they’re getting married. Is that part of the ritual?)
Some misinformed, sometimes virulent gems (please don’t read if you get triggered easily, some of these are difficult):
“one of my friends[…]weighs about 95 lbs. and her doctor told her that it is because she eats junk food…when she eats junk food she loses weight, therefore she has to eat healthy food to gain weight…kind of like fat ppl have to eat healthy to lose weight…lol…!! Just the exact opposite!” [Nice bit of fat-hate there, especially with the mocking ‘lol’]
“Ok, well, here I sit. 180lbs. I have gained 50 lbs in the 5 years that fh and I have been together. At this rate, I will be almost 200lbs by the time we get married. I have GOT to fix this! It’s over whelming. I’m so uncomfortable all the time! My clothes are all too tight, and I just want to crawl under a ROCK! I feel like crap about myself all the time, and I just don’t understand why I can’t get healthy!…My fh and I have decided to try the south beach diet again. We started it once about 2 years ago, and I lost 7 lbs the first 2 weeks, but then I got lazy and slacked off. Wish me luck, guys!”
Same poster, later: “fh loves me and would be totally happy with me if I never lost a pound, but I hate myself right now. For letting myself go like this! It’s just unbelievable to be that I’ve gained so much weight!!! I weight less when I was 9 months pregnant and that was 11 years ago!!!” [note the progressively lengthening strings of exclamation points, as the KoolAid puts her into a panic-stricken fervor]
And finally: “We just want to be heathly and happy and set good examples for our children!” [ugh. So having terrible body image and starving yourself in order to achieve an impossible ideal just because you’re GETTING MARRIED OMG is a good example?”]
“Last year FH and I just decided to stop eating like pigs, so we cleaned out our kitchen of food and went shopping for new stuff, and watched the portions. I ate preeettyy much whatever I wanted but I counted calories – to me, a calorie is a calorie, wherever it comes from. I allowed myself about 1200 calories a day, plus 10 minutes a day on an elliptical. In 5 months I had lost 35 pounds, FH lost 50, and I was in a bikini on our cruise that summer.” [Note: So eating more than 1200 calories a day is eating like a pig? No wonder you lost 35 pounds in 5 months…you starved yourself. See the Starvation Study]
“My advice to you is that you can only lose weight if you are 100% motivated to do it for YOURSELF – not for anyone else.” [It’s as simple as that!]
“I’m newly engaged (as of Christmas eve!) and want to lose 40-50 lbs by our wedding in early 2010. I had a baby in March of 2007 so I have baby weight plus weight I had before I ever got pregnant 🙂 The fiance gained 60 lbs since we started dating 7 yrs ago and I think he finally realized it and wants to get healthy too.” [that KoolAid is really healthy, apparently. Too bad the facts don’t support the “health” argument of “thinner is the winner”]
“i posted the “i’m scared” thread, and man it’s difficult adjusting to the vow to wow menu b/c it’s so much less calories!! and it’s not the way i eat at all. but maybe that’s why i am 15 lbs overweight and gaining all the time! ” [after the obligatory site registration, I discovered the “Vow to Wow” plan is 1,500-calories/day (below the 1,600 cal/day Starvation Study limit referenced above). Also, here’s a nice quote from the “Strength Training” page of the program: “For most brides, having a toned body is crucial for their walk down the aisle..” Zah??]
“I started Jenny Craig in September and have lost about 30 lbs. I still have about 40 lbs to go, well..if I get what I want.” [Like the fulfillment of your Fantasy of Being Thin?]
“Hey congrats and don’t worry – you have tons of time to get to the healthy person you want to be.” [healthy = weight loss. Is someone making another Fat Hate Bingo out there?]
“Is any of you out there having the same problem? I have been exercising and dieting for about a month- a month and a half and got weighed the other day and realized that I have gained 5 lbs in the last month. I dont know what is up with that. I am getting married September 20, 2008 and I am trying to have lost 30 pounds by then! Any suggestions?” [have you been starving yourself at the federally-mandated lower safe limit of 1,200 calories/day?]
“I am getting married in april and i want to lose a couple of lbs and i have been exercising good since Oct and i dont see any weight coming off either. Has anyone tried those Alli pills? do you think they work?” [oh, horrors, that poor woman…just a few pounds? God, take it to the bank and love yourself for who you are, and enjoy the last months before your wedding!]
This one makes me really, really sad, because this woman has come very near to the truth and she’s acting like it doesn’t/shouldn’t apply to her: “I have a little problem with fluctuating weight. It is frustrating because it puts me between 2 sizes and so I feel like I have to have twice as many clothes and I just wish I could stay down in the lower size. Anyhow, I’d like to think I’m a pretty healthy person. I have a great cardio and lifting routine, FH and I rarely eat out. So I didn’t really get it. I started to do some research on this and found this book “Rethinking Thin”. Basically it talks about how genetics plays into what your body is designed to be. Each of us kind of has a preset weight range, and once you get to the limits of that range, your body tries to keep you in it. This is why you might be doing great and losing weight with a certain routine/diet and then all of the sudden it seems like it stops working. Anyhow, I don’t mean to go on about this and I don’t think we should look at it as an excuse for the way we are. Just because my parents are bigger doesn’t mean that I have to be, but I do have to recognize that I may have a harder time trying to look how I want to. I definitely recommend that we all take a healthy outlook on life, and not just think about being thin. Because in the end, I am not a happier person if I have to give up ALL chocolate just to stay in the smaller size. Hope this makes sense and good luck to you all!” [I’ll let this one speak for itself. Sigh.]
This is it for the first part of my bridal starvation ritual exposition. Thanks to the very first bridal site I looked at for giving me so much sad material. I hope these women can enjoy the lead up to and their wedding day, without being weak, starved, and hating their bodies.