Last weekend, I found myself somewhere I never thought I'd be: in the meeting room of a luxury hotel, surrounded by glittery signage, pink cupcakes neatly arranged on gold trays, and shimmering gowns, unable to escape a relentlessly perky woman who wouldn't stop asking if she could curl my hair.
I was at, yes, a bridal fair—and for anyone who considers this a feminist affront, let it be known that my main prerogative was to score some free champagne, and that I indeed enjoyed three complimentary flutes. So there's that.
In any case, my experience began, tellingly, with a peppy blonde handing me a clipboard clasping a bright pink checklist, cataloguing all the things I may want to learn more about at the fair.
Cake? BIG BOLD CHECK.
I dangled the pen between my fingers, nudging my fiance to take a look.
"Weight loss?" I whispered to him. "Seriously?"
Inside, amid the vendors selling floral arrangements, photography services, and men's suits, we passed by a sign peddling a "magic" fat-burning technology. As I glanced over, a woman lifted up her shirt to expose her midriff, where a giant black "X" had been scrawled over a slab of fat. Buy this service, she implored silently as I looked over. You too can get rid of your fat and not be a total disgusting fat pig on the most important day of your life!
It was around this time that I had an epiphany: The wedding industrial complex was going to do everything in its power to convince me I need to lose weight. And it would take every ounce of self-will I had to not let it.
I was never the kind of girl to fantasize about the perfect wedding. There were no magazine cut-outs of princess wedding gowns on my walls, and I was too busy using my Barbie to play-act make-out sessions with Ken to plan her dream wedding to him (make of this what you will).
But I'd be lying if I said I didn't fantasize about one particular facet of my someday-wedding: how totally, unbelievably, unforgettably amazing I'd look!
There I'd be, standing at the head of the aisle. As the processional music cued up, heads would turn. I'd hear an audible sigh as the crowd took in my lustrous gown, my hair flowing ever-so gently in the breeze, my flawless glowing skin, and, most importantly, my very very thin body.
In the summer before sixth grade, I remember motivating myself to lose weight in part by imagining how everyone would look at me when I entered the classroom, newly lithe. As I strode toward my desk, my nemesis Krystle Divorak would gasp, and the boys would look at me the way they looked at Beth Ryan, who was skinny and lovely and also had perfect hair.
My wedding fantasy was basically this, except with the added benefit of a groom to whisper in my ear, but loud enough so the front seats could hear it:You look gorgeous.
It's no accident that my wedding fantasy shares so much in common with one from prepubescent childhood. Weddings have a way of transforming otherwise sane women into the equivalent of 11-year-olds with thousands of dollars to burn on a party. It's hard to avoid becoming obsessive, prone to temper-tantrums, and deeply narcissistic. After all, it's your day, your time to shine; it's the one day everyone will be looking at you, so don't fuck it up!
Oh, and did we also mention that there will be hundreds of photos snapped of you, so every future generation can assess your beauty until the apocalypse?
It's no wonder that, for so many women, weight loss becomes as integral to the wedding-planning process as finding the perfect floral arrangement for your centerpiece. (In fact, it's way more important; there won't be as many pictures of the floral arrangements).
My own, otherwise rational friends have consumed nothing but liquids in the week leading up to their big day, and gone from not working out at all to working out several hours daily.
The wedding industry, which is anything but stupid, has learned how lucrative this bridal insecurity can be; the calls to lose weight are relentless. Buy a size-four dress when you're actually a size 6! Cut back on the celebratory drinks! Purchase a Bridalicious Boot Camp DVD . . . no quitting 'til the fitting!
As someone who's struggled with body image issues since childhood, I've learned how to steel my resolve against the onslaught of a skinny-obsessed society. But again, I'd be lying if I said planning a wedding hasn't gotten to me—that it hasn't in some ways reverted me back to that insecure sixth grader who wanted to look like Beth Ryan.
When my mom made an offhand comment about how I should probably have sleeves on my wedding dress, I couldn't help but wonder if she was subtly hinting that my arms are too jiggly, too unseemly, for everyone to bear witness to. The next day, I began a frantic search for the Shake Weight I bought a couple years ago, but haven't lifted in months.
A few days later, after doing some online wedding dress shopping, I found myself fishing around in my drawer for a pack of fat-burning pills I bought at Walgreens months ago, but have forced myself to not open. (Yes, I realize I should just throw them out. No, I have not done that yet.)
It's not that I don't want to feel good at my wedding, or that I don't think the whole feeling-good thing is important. I do! Before the engagement, I'd introduced gym sessions and yoga into my workout routine, and I'm happy to continue embracing healthy choices.
But I learned a long time ago that there's a big difference between feeling healthy and losing weight. And what the wedding industry is asking of me has nothing to do with how I feel, and everything to do with how others see me. The "perfect bride" fantasy demands that I become significantly skinnier as soon as possible . . . and at any cost.
All of which is why I've made a promise to myself: I will not lose weight for my wedding. I will order a size 12 dress, because I'm a size 12. I will toss out those damned diet pills. And I will not check the "weight loss" box at bridal fairs, no matter how many women with marked-up torsos implore me to burn away the fat.
Because you know what? My husband-to-be isn't signing up to marry skinniest-ever me. For that matter, he's not signing up to marry me with perfectly flowing hair or me with perfectly smooth skin. He's marrying me, and that me happens to not be the kind of skinny, flawless specimen you find in the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings.
Hell, maybe I won't even wear makeup.
OK. Maybe that's taking things too far. Everyone will be looking at me, after all.