The Beggars’ Banquet: On Dieting Before a Wedding

I’m engaged to be married next year, which is a fact I celebrate as Beyond Awesome, because I really love this dude. But to say that said occasion has spurred a fascinating new tailspin into the dubious world of self-doubt would be a massive, ugly understatement.
Trigger Warning: While I’ve done my best to avoid specifically triggering language, this is an article about weight loss, dieting, and body issues, and may be disturbing for people who have difficulty participating in that discussion. Like many of you, I have a long, fraught history of warring with my body, the worst of which culminated in an undergraduate career in which I was, due partially to budget and partially to self-loathing, constantly under-eating (dramatically, to the point of fainting spells) and yet still, mysteriously, gaining weight. Yeah, a childhood full of forced yo-yo dieting, weight-affecting antidepressants, and a well-meaning but self-esteem-destroying mother landed me in the hospital my senior year of college, around 130 pounds over the highest “ideal” weight for my age, height, and sex, having stomach surgery to correct what had become a seriously warped metabolic problem. In the year or two following that, I lost roughly the equivalent of a junior high school student in weight. So while I’m still, technically, overweight, I’ve left the clinically obese category behind me.

Now, folks, before I go further: I think doctors can base far too many judgments about weight on mathematical averages rather than examining a person’s overall health and determining if their lifestyle is resulting in a positive medical outlook in each individual. That said: My state of being overweight brought me, individually, to the point of drastic unhealthiness, and losing weight has been a great boon to my physical and mental health.

So here’s the thing: losing weight has helped, but it has not in any way eradicated my body issues. I’m still the same person I was when I was emotionally overeating, still the same person I was when I was drinking my head off, too. And the same person I was when I tried starvation diets and liquid diets and Atkins and Grapefruit and South Beach and every other shit program out there. I’m the same person, with a little progress. I rarely overeat now (although I still feel emotionally gratified by food). I eat regular meals except when I sincerely and innocuously forget. I quit drinking (well documented elsewhere here on Persephone) and, due largely in part to location, I walk an average of 2 miles 5 days per week (just to catch the bus and get lunch. It’s fantastic!) – in other words, my lifestyle tends toward healthier choices than it ever did before. I even became a pescetarian about a year, year-and-a-half ago, and have felt pretty good when I make good choices on that diet.

Why am I justifying my lifestyle to you, you ask? Because getting married next year means I am entering into the world of wedding websites, magazines, and discussions, and absolutely everyone wants to know: What diet am I using to get skinny for the big day?

They don’t even ask if I’m dieting. They just want to know which one. And frankly, I’ve been of two minds about it.

The first mind is this: I am a feminist, I have already fought a long and hard battle to reach a tenuous peace with my body, and I will not have some patriarchal, capitalist advertising machine tell me that I’m suddenly not good enough to wear a white dress and marry the person I love. That attitude is bullshit and sexist and sizeist and more bullshit. It makes me angry.

The second mind is this: I am still overweight and know I would benefit from losing more. I have a reasonable amount of time (almost a year and a half) before my wedding, and if I am healthy and reasonable and careful, there is no reason that I shouldn’t take this opportunity to whip my butt into shape in order to look my best for the cameras. I have a close friend who is a bright, reasonable, level-headed person who still cries when she sees herself in her wedding pictures because her strapless dress caused her to have a little back-fat muffin top up by her shoulders. I was there on her wedding day; I only remember her looking gorgeous. Like, Grace Kelly gorgeous. But her regret – this woman, who teaches university courses, who has also fought difficult battles with her body image, who is diligent and healthy and smart as a whip – her regret about how her body looked on her wedding day is legendary.

I don’t want that kind of regret.

And I don’t want that kind of negative self-talk providing an ugly, mental fossil fuel-type propulsion toward my wedding day, either.

I want to attend cake tastings without second guessing myself. And I want to look my healthiest and best on my wedding day. And right now, I look like my couch potato best – I don’t hate my body, but I’m not super stoked about it, either. I have what is possibly best described as body apathy right now. And sometimes I resent the people who tell me that I should love my body fat as much as I resent the people who tell me I should hate it. At this point, I’m sick of people telling me what to feel about my body, or the food I eat, or what size I wear, or what the scale says, or what colors I can and can’t wear, or whether or not I had salad or candy for lunch* – period. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of everyone from well-meaning friends and relatives to entire marketing industries weighing in on my weight.

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to make changes to my diet or not, whether I’ll add more exercise to my week or not. But I have decided that nobody else gets to tell me how to feel about it, and nobody else gets to tell me what is best for me, my body, and my wedding. If I decide that being on the smaller end of plus-sizes on a good day and overweight and flabby but eating plenty of sweets and sitting around doing more cuddling and less aerobic exercise is how I want to get ready for my wedding, then no giant wedding industrial complex is going to make me feel ugly or worthless for not being yet another stick-thin, tanned, magazine-ready bride. And if, on the other hand, I decide that dropping some more weight and eating more vegetables and fewer Sour Patch Kids lunches, adding extra walking or maybe even some dancing or weight lifting or swimming or something into my routine, and slimming down for my wedding is how I want to get ready for it, then no fat-activist movement (however valuable they have been to the people who need and value their support) gets to tell me that my feelings about my body in this context are wrong, either.

In the end, I know that either way I decide – or if I end up vacillating between the two options like I do with so many other choices – the best way for me to prepare for my wedding is knowing, with confidence, that nobody else gets to hijack my image as a bride for their ideal.

*Yes, sometimes, I have a candy lunch. It is delicious.

By Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

35 replies on “The Beggars’ Banquet: On Dieting Before a Wedding”

What a wonderfully refreshing post! The biggest struggle I’ve found as I try to find my feminist voice is reading articles that tell you how you should feel or think as a “good feminist.”

Thank you for proving that doing what is best for you, your body, and your spirit alone is really what’s important!

This post is so . . . ugh! So darn honest!!!!

I’m not married, but I just know that when I do, I’ll completely ruin the day for myself by obsessing about being the perfect size right up until the ceremony and doing whatever I can to get to it, effectively ruining what should be a happy occasion where I join hands together with a man who has already told me (I’m sure) in words and in deed, that he loves me just the way I am!

I hate taking pictures, so I can see me obsessing on the day, no matter what size I am, as to whether I will look fat in my wedding pictures. I can see me pouring through them after the wedding and hating every single one!!!!

Why would I do this?

Well, it’s those negative tapes in my head, the ones that people activate with their stupid pictures and questions and assumptions and ideas about how I SHOULD LOOK, what size I SHOULD BE!!!

It is for this reason that I’m likely to elope and get married in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt!!!!!

(Which wouldn’t matter at all, because I’d still be obsessing!!!)

Thanks for the article Ruby!!!!!

I went the usual route of trying on dresses ( I was a 28 at the time) and there were about 4 styles for me to try on. I ended up doing what I should have done right from the get go. I found a pattern/style that I knew looked good on my shape, found a good seemstress and had them make that dress for me in regular fabric. We tweeked it and added things. Then I had the most lovely dress that was one of a kind and I felt like a princess ( complete with Tiara- A la Sarab). I don’t remember even thinking about dieting then, and my photos all looked like we were happy. Do it your way, all the way, everyday!

I got married a few months ago, and could not even fathom of trying to lose weight beforehand. (I thought, “maybe I should…”) but the actual trying part? Nah. We only gave ourselves three months to plan the wedding, so we didn’t give ourselves time to worry about shit that didn’t matter– and losing weight = shit that doesn’t matter.
Also, I made my dress. And finished it 3 days before the wedding (not exactly recommended…). The upside was that it was fitted right when it needed to be. It didn’t matter what size I was a year ago, six months ago, three weeks ago. Just that it fit a few days ago. That was pretty awesome.
Hey, maybe procrastination is good for body image? Ha!

Just like everyone else, I daydreamed about my wedding and in every fantasy, I was thin and magazine-cover perfect. But the reality is that I wasn’t. And it stressed me out to no end. Everyone (my mother and mother-in-law, particularly) wanted me to diet. I thought that perhaps I should try to tone my arms or something, at least.

In the end though, I didn’t diet. I didn’t exercise. And I was a happier bride because of it. I found a beautiful dress that worked with my shape. I had a wonderful seamstress who fit it to me perfectly.

I honestly have never looked lovelier or less chubby than I did on my wedding day.

(I was going to post a photo, but it was huge-normous)

Oh my God, thank you so much for writing this! Ever since I got engaged a few months ago I’ve been on this horrible self-confidence spiral that seemingly has no end. I actually had a panic attack in a bridal shop because I was terrified that nothing will fit me (even though I was standing in front of a row of dresses from my size and up). I even told the girl in David’s Bridal that I’m obviously too fat to get married.

I don’t know why the insecurities that I worked so hard to get over (or at least live with) are suddenly back full force. It’s terrible. I don’t know who this person is and I certainly don’t know why she cares so much about a stupid dress.

I’m glad to learn I’m not alone.

I’m finding that I sometimes get caught up in the WEDDING, and it tends to eclipse the object my excitement probably should be directed toward instead – the marriage, you know? The rare moments I have enough clarity to redirect my thoughts are the ones when I stop caring about the dress, photos, details of a single afternoon. I’m so glad this was well-timed for you. Mazel tov on your engagement!

In my imagination I have a flowy, somewhat slim-fitting dress on my wedding, so when I get close to needing to acquire such a thing, I’ll have to see if I could possibly feel good in such a thing. Haha. If I won’t, I’ll probably either adjust my lifestyle to a way that will make more fitness/different food enjoyable OR just choose a different dress style. Whatever.

But I will admit right now publicly for the world to see that I worry a lot about how my arms might potentially look squished up against my side if I’m bigger when I get married. When I was heavier than I am now, I was INCREDIBLY anxious about this, esp. in photos. That amount of anxiety is the main reason I think it’s healthy for me to be the size I am now–a size where I’m not constantly stressed about my size.

I got married last summer, and I gained about 10-15 pounds after I bought my dress, There was no way I could zip it up and still be able to breathe all day. Many, many people suggested various diets and workouts, personal trainers, etc., but I was planning a fucking wedding with every spare minute I had, there was no time for two-hour daily workouts. So, I went to a seamstress and asked her to make it a low back dress. Voila! It was perfect and I liked it better than I had before (shamelss self-promotion, you can see picks in my DIY Bride posts). It makes me so sad that your friend has such harsh feelings about her photos, and then it makes me mad that there is ALL THIS PRESSURE on brides to be thin. I don’t remember anyone asking my husband what he was doing to drop his extra weight.

Whatever you chose, good for you! And a hearty congratulations! Can’t wait to read more of your articles!

I’m so glad you’re here, Sweet Ruby. Your posts are so honest, and they all make me love you to pieces.
That being said, as your elder I must encourage you to have a giant LADYPOWER bonfire with all those wedding mags. You and Mr. Bruiseday are brilliant, creative and fun, you could do a far better job of building a wedding from scratch than any of those horrid, shiny magazines could advise. All we need to know about the authority of wedding mags is the ads with champagne glass two-story tubs in the Poconos.
Also, I second what everybody else says, and give you lots of sugar for your awesome attitude.

Yeah, I thought, “ooh, I’ll get some ideas,” and (I am muttering this in as dark a tone as I can muster) I got some ideas, alright.

But thanks to the great DIY post on Persephone earlier, I can do you one better than a ladypower bonfire. I’m gonna make some ladypower lampshades. But only after I draw horns and mustaches on all the sickly magazine brides.

Sour Patch Kid lunch! Girl do I know those. But the roof of your mouth sorely pays the price for that bad habit.
Two of my friends are getting married in a couple of months. I decided to look at the six months prior as a good time to start being vegan, with the weddings as motivation for something that I wanted to do anyways and that I will continue doing afterwords.

Right? My poor tongue. I think your goal is admirable! I can’t be vegan because I have an emotional commitment to cheese in all its varieties, but I salute you in yours. I like the idea of looking at a milestone event as an opportunity to celebrate a goal you have for yourself independent of that event.

Love this post. I’ve gained a little bit of weight over the past few years and I’m trying really hard to lose a bit of it and I’m constantly feeling guilty about it. My husband keeps telling me “but I think you look fine!” and doesn’t really get that he’s not the reason I’m working on my body.

Your body is yours. It seems like you have a pretty healthy handle on it and whatever you decide to do, it is your choice. Either way, I’m sure you’ll be radiant (happiness tends to do that to people). Just don’t get too stressed out about whatever you choose to do — that’s my only word of advice.

When I got married, I can’t even begin to guess how many people asked me what my diet plan was. Or which “Bridal Bootcamp” workout I was going to use. As far as I was concerned, my corset-back dress allowed me to tighten or loosen that sucker, so I was set for fluctuations of up to two sizes in either direction. I’m a stress eater, and planning a wedding is really stressful, so a diet just wasn’t happening. When I look at my pictures all these years later, I don’t notice that my biceps aren’t toned or that the corset strings are a little wider than the designer intended. I notice that I was happy.

Bridal Bootcamp. LOL. And, you know, bonus on the end result for you, by the way. I feel really sad for my friend, but I also feel like I have no way of predicting what my end result feelings about the whole thing will be. And thanks for pointing out stress eating – definitely something I know I’ll be thinking a lot about as we get closer.

I was overweight at my wedding, and I don’t think about it at all when I look at old pictures. Why? Because I had the biggest, fanciest princess wedding dress I could find, as well as a tiara. As with anything, finding ways to focus on your pretty, instead of the bits you don’t like, makes all the difference in the world. The first dress I bought, when I was trying to keep things simple, was just a pretty white tea dress I found in a catalogue. The first time I tried it on I burst into tears. It highlighted all my bad curves while hiding all my good ones. I called my mom in tears and she told me she would meet me at the bridal shop. I spent more money than I wanted, got a dress my tomboy brain would never have even considered, but when I put it on I felt like a real-live princess for the first time in my life. As a result, when I look at the pictures I don’t think about how big I was (am), I think about feeling like a pretty pretty princess all day.

(Word of warning – wedding dresses are not sized like everyday clothes. At the time I was wearing a size 14, but my dress was an 18. You should know this before you look at dresses so it does not surprise your ego.)

Ooh, so, yes, bonus for me: someone in my family many many years ago (when I still wasn’t sure I even wanted to get married someday) bought me OODLES of fabric for the express purpose of having a dress made. So while I have a totally different world of angst about having to find a good, not-outrageously-expensive dressmaker in an unfamiliar city, at least I don’t have to do that fitting room nightmare scenario. It’ll be made FOR me. Phew.

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