In April, after 18 months of dating, my fiancé went down on one knee and proposed to me overlooking the twinkly lights of London. As I excitedly said ‘yes’ and we celebrated, I thought back over the years to when I was a little girl dreaming about my big day.
You see, the truth is that as women, we are fed the idea of a ‘beautiful bride’ from a young age, which almost always equates to slim and glowing. We are taught that we must look our absolute best – the pinnacle of beauty. Nothing less is OK. However, the body positivity movement is trying to reclaim beauty ideals, so brides feel happy and confident.
According to Psychology Today, research from 2014 found that ‘46% of brides recruited from a wedding expo said that they were.. targeting an ideal wedding weight that was on average 20 pounds less than their current weight.’
I can relate to this. Despite being slim for a long time, I’m now overweight and deemed ‘plus size’ by the bridal industry.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16. In 2014 at aged 25, I was hospitalised for a manic episode and treated with medication to help my recovery. Being started on these medicines to keep my moods stable, meant that my metabolism was slowed and sugar cravings increased. In just four years, I have put on about 6 stone.
This has really affected my self esteem and body image, I just don’t feel as attractive any more. I still don’t like full body photos of me. So when I became a bride-to-be, I realised that I would need to diet and exercise healthily in order to feel better about my body image.
Of course, there is external pressure from society and well meaning family or friends, who tell you to lose the pounds or watch what you are eating and comment when you eat carbs or treats. Some say they are ‘just trying to help’ you look your best on your big day – and that is hard. Weight loss is very personal and you don’t always want to talk about it.
A fellow bride I spoke to, Emma Rowson, aged 34, had a similar experience. She told me: “As a bride, I was battered from all sides of visions of the ‘perfect’ bride and she was always slim and beautiful. I tried so hard to lose weight. Everyone was telling me brides lose weight with stress; my stress caused me to eat, I was spiralling! My self esteem was low, and it damaged me a little. I see myself as a failure because I didn’t live up to my expectation of a beautiful bride. I have dreamed of getting married my whole life so this was hard. ‘
Expert psychologist, author and former bride, Nicola Walker BA(Hons) Psych, says: “When it comes to being a bride, we are bombarded with images of what a perfect bride should look like. A bride-to-be may find her size 14 (or more) dress labelled plus-size, which can dent self confidence and add to the feelings of guilt and shame about their body.”
Additionally, brides today are bombarded with perfect images on social media, which show very slim women and limited perceptions of what is attractive. Hashtags such as #shreddingforthewedding also fuel this often unattainable image, with weight loss for brides encouraged and curves discouraged.
Bride-to-be, Rachel Veevers, is getting married next August and is feeling the pressure of social media perfection. She told me: “Once the initial excitement and thrill of getting engaged died down, my thoughts quickly turned to how I’d look on my big day in a wedding dress. Not only am I faced with ridiculous weightloss ‘progress pics’ on Instagram, but the models used in many of the bridal catalogues and websites also offer an unrealistic body image.
“These images certainly didn’t help my self-esteem, so much so, I dreaded the thought of trying on wedding dresses until I lost weight.
“Body confidence, or lack off, really does play its part in adding extra pressure when planning a wedding. Whilst the #shreddingforthewedding Instagram posts can offer some inspiration and comfort knowing that other people are going through the same as you, I think it’s also fuelling the idea that shredding is just part of the wedding process and something that every bride must embark on before her big day.”
Psychologist, Jessica Valentine, agrees that social media really affects women negatively, “I think social media & star gazing at celebs on Instagram definitely magnifies plastic surgery and thin bodies; There is a huge stigma that thinner women are more beautiful and that’s just not true.”
I spoke to fellow bride, Lauren Dubell-Beadle, 33, (via the Smashing the Glass wedding blog group) about her experiences. She told me: “I have binge eating disorder but had lots of therapy for it so I found myself in a pretty positive place before my wedding, in terms of my thoughts towards my body image.
“I was nervous about dress shopping and it turned out to be the only part of my wedding planning experience that was negative. I got myself on an exercise regime in the months leading to my wedding, more for myself, but found everyone around me was talking about my weightloss. The worst bit was dress shopping at a ‘plus-size boutique’. They messed up the sizing and told me that I had put on weight.”
However, bride-to-be, Reva, 31, found that she leant more towards body positivity, explaining: “I have struggled with weight and body image issues my entire life. Much of this pressure to change my body came from my family, although it was well-intentioned, it was harmful. Several years ago, I began my journey to body acceptance.
“In the end, I found a dress that was absolutely perfect. I remember when I first put it on and looked in the mirror, I thought ‘that’s me’. I felt confidence and joy. It gave me such inner strength that I felt like I was my own superhero.”
Finding body positivity and acceptance – feeling like a superhero – is so important. I hope that despite the pressures on us brides from society and social media, that when I go dress shopping, I feel happy and confident and that this extends to my wedding day. Self-love for us all – despite external pressures – is vital.