It took more than a year of wedding planning, but it finally happened: I snapped and started frantically scanning the Internet for weight-loss schemes. A couple of unflattering pictures from a bridal shower and I basically blacked out and woke up a half an hour later, hovering over the "buy" button on a Groupon juice cleanse.
This caught me by surprise. Everyone knows wedding diets are A Thing, but I've devoted a lot of time and emotional effort to genuinely not giving a shit whether I look fat. I reserve all my physical anxiety for the sodium content in my diet and whether I'm getting enough exercise. The clothes are supposed to fit me, not vice versa, and anyone who thinks they're entitled to an opinion about my chub can pretty much shove it. Having grown up in the South, steeped in assumptions about the ornamental role of young women, this is a hard-won state of mind.
But then I got engaged, and it was like falling through a trap door and plummeting into my middle school locker room, surrounded by slim girls complaining about their jelly rolls, except the locker room is also full of crocodiles because this is, after all, your wedding. It's supposed to be the one perfect day of your entire life! This is it, ladies! And, this being the society we live in, "perfect" means "perfectly staged and conventionally beautiful," not "perfectly chill and full of joy."
And so, the diet talk begins. You're instantly targeted with a flood of weight-loss ads on Facebook, and then you buy your first bridal mags. Flipping through the three most recent issues lying around my house, I found: a "wedding dress workout," an ad for Crystal Light (god, remember Crystal Light?), and an ad for a Clarisonic-style at-home "tummy lift" zapper. Oh, and a big spread for Invisalign braces, which seems relevant. Even if you're not being outright encouraged to slim down, you're being given advice like how to "eat your way" to better skin.
That's not even accounting for the resolve-breaking powers of picture after picture after picture of perfectly toned brides. What's especially insidious about the spreads of "real brides" and smiling models is that almost none of them have the extreme high-fashion looks of, say, Vogue. They look just enough like us aspirational great unwashed to make you feel inadequate, without the God-given razor-sharp collarbones to remind you that them's the breaks.
Even without ever picking up a copy of The Knot, you'll still get the message. The celebrity news biz plays its part, with headlines screeching about how Jen is prepping for her island wedding with a CRASH DIET! And Kim is taking her wedding diet to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL! Then there's the drumbeat of "inspirational" stories about regular folks just like you and me, who managed to shed hundreds of pounds before their walk down the aisle. Here's a lady who delayed her wedding seven years to lose weight!
The obsession with wedding weight loss is so common that garbage medical advice hub WebMD has a page dedicated to dos and don'ts. Even actual princess Kate Middleton couldn't escape the pressure, and neither can dudes.
Meanwhile, the marketing push is intense. Diet companies are no different than Anthropologie or UGG—they know a bridal buck when they see one. Atkins, for instance, has an entire page on plotting a wedding weight-loss plan. At one point, I attended a wedding expo (which you should avoid unless you're explicitly promised free booze). I was instantly handed two boxes of "Calorease" diet pills, then a bag stuffed with two more boxes. Inside the expo were reps from Raw Generation, who very nearly successfully sold me a "bridal" juice cleanse, as well as a table giving out Skinny Girl diet bars.
If such over-the-counter solutions aren't for you, well, there's always the feeding tube diet!
It's all so, so disheartening. Partly because weddings, at their best, are supposed to be about who the people getting married are, in their deepest hearts. And it's a real fucking bummer to think that our identities are still so tied to reaching unattainable heights of physical perfection.
But what I found especially depressing was this: I thought I'd banished this particular emotional nemesis from my life. Then I turned a corner and there it was, waiting for me. We meet again! You can walk into the wedding planning process completely confident, but after six months of exposure to the bridal bonanza, you're more likely than not to find yourself at your first dress fitting, staring in the mirror and pinching the fat on your hips, wondering whether it's not too late for a personal trainer or maybe just some magic supplements.
It's enough to push a bride to solutions that are ineffective and overpriced at best and dangerous at worst. Of course, no one mentions wedding diet disaster stories when they're trying to sell you flimsy lingerie.
Ultimately, it was browsing through photos taken by my wedding photographer—who I picked explicitly because her photos didn't all look ripped from Style Me Pretty—that pulled me back off the ledge. The best shots were all brides taken unawares, in the midst of a happy moment. You know what will make you look like shit in your wedding pictures? A crying jag shortly before the ceremony over your supposedly flabby arms.
Besides, if you do manage to slim down for the big day, you're likely gain the weight right back, because time is a flat circle that always dumps you back out at a terrible Tracy Anderson workout video.
Image by Jim Cooke.