For months the media has been discussing Kate Middleton's alleged pre-wedding slim down. Kate is getting a double dose of scrutiny, because she recently became a public figure and a bride-to-be: two roles that apparently make your weight everyone else's business. It's inconceivable that Kate's weight wouldn't be debated in the lead-up to the royal wedding. Commentators have settled on wringing their hands over her being "too thin," but if she gains 10 pounds they'll probably come up with an insulting moniker like "Princess Plump."
Yesterday, Kate's supposedly weight loss inspired a feature on "brideorexia" in Time. The symptoms of starving oneself or going to other extremes to lose weight are the same as regular eating disorders. But, since it occurs in an easily labeled group, the disordered behavior gets a cutesy nickname, much like "manorexia." As we haven't sat in on any of Kate's doctor's appointments, we don't know if she's healthy or not, but that doesn't stop Time from speculating that she could be anorexic.
The mag asks, "are women really taking their bridal diets to that extreme?" For the most part, no:
It's true that many brides-to-be try to shed unreasonably large amounts of weight. In a 2000 Cornell study of 273 women who were getting married within the year, 70% of respondents reported wanting to lose more than 20 lb. But in reality, by wedding day, their average weight loss was 7 lb.
Most participants said they were just doing more exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables, or using weights to lose weight.
Certainly weddings can be triggering for women who have or are predisposed to develop an eating disorder. While the author notes that if Kate is one of those women, "the media scrutiny of her pre-wedding figure probably wouldn't be helping," in the next paragraph, NYU eating-disorder specialist Dr. Ira M. Sacker suggests Kate may be inspiring other women to become anorexic:
"People who are on the verge of an eating disorder are people who are body-image conscious, who might say, 'If she can do it, I can do it.' When major figures lose weight, there's a social copycat effect that's real."
While only a small number of women are developing anorexia during their engagement, the idea that brides are supposed to diet is pervasive. Sacker doesn't see the harm in this:
"There's nothing wrong with losing weight," says Sacker. "Brides are going to do that. To try and change that is ridiculous. But if it's an extreme issue - if we're using restriction, diuretics, stimulants and other risk-taking behavior - they should know there are rebound effects."
Indeed, there's nothing wrong with deciding to lose weight (or gain weight, or not pay attention to your weight) whenever you want, but accepting weight loss as an inevitable part of the wedding process is a problem. Dr. Jeffrey Sobal, author of the Cornell study, describes the rise of the pre-wedding weight loss industry:
"In the 1990s, there were relatively few entrepreneurial pushes to get women to lose weight. Of all the wedding magazines we could get our hands on, we only found one weight-loss ad," says Sobal. "That's changed since 2000. Now there's bridal boot camp, extreme makeovers, and they encourage bridal weight loss. There's a little more pressure by profitmaking groups and competition emphasis on thinness in the bridal community."
Thanks to this development, now future brides who are perfectly happy with their weight may feel like trying to slim down is just part of the wedding checklist, along with buying a gown and hiring a photographer. It isn't unusual nowadays for nosy relatives to inquire about what diet an engaged woman is following. The expectation that every bride wants to be as thin as possible when she walks down the aisle is harmful and insulting whether it leads to dangerous dieting or not. But then again, maybe it's useful; It's a great way to prepare for the pressure to instantly lose the "baby weight."