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Summer of Body Image Problems

It’s been a light blogging summer. I think I’ve had trouble because I’ve been in my own head a lot more than usual. My usual blogging modus operandi is to take my personal life experience and try to tie it in with politics or pop culture or theory; it’s pretty standard personal-is-political type feminism 101 shit. But lately I can’t seem to get out of my own head and see how what I’m feeling and experiencing isn’t just my own idiosyncratic drama, but part of larger patterns of social interaction.

I got married about three weeks ago. I didn’t know that getting married was going to cause me body anxiety. Body anxiety so intense I’m not even really sure that I’ve fully processed it. As a fat chick, I am well aware of the MUSTLOSEWEIGHTBEFOREWEDDING cultural imperative. I was aware of this before I ever knew what Fat Acceptance was. And I knew before I ever got engaged that I would be doing no such thing. Frankly, I wasn’t even tempted. I know people who have gone on serious diets in the year or so before they get married, women who have attended “boot camp,” and companies who have made a lot of money off of fueling those anxieties. I wanted no part of it. When the woman who helped me try on a dress asked me if I was planning on losing weight before the wedding, I said no. In fact, I started weighing myself to make sure I wasn’t losing (or gaining) weight because I wanted the dress to fit, I did not want to have to get alterations (due to laziness).

So, I was pretty fine with my body. Fine with being a fat bride. Fine with the fact that I was wearing a strapless dress which showed off my, yes, arms — which are considered unacceptably fat by many people. Until it actually happened.

Suddenly, my appearance was way more important than it had ever been. I’m certain that I couldn’t count how many people complimented me on my appearance. On my dress, my shoes, my hair, my makeup, my jewelry. I did not get any criticism, thank God. I only got tons and tons of compliments from everyone there. And the compliments keep rolling in on the photos I posted on Facebook. I was about to say “not that I mind them,” but the fact is, I do mind them. Not because I think people are ill-intentioned or because I find compliments embarrassing. But because it was so apparent to me that my looking beautiful, or sexy, or whatever, was an important component of the event. It was a feature. My appearance was part of the entertainment, and so matter what I did, if I went along with the cultural prescription by getting dolled up, I was going to be rewarded with oohs and ahhs.

My partner? I didn’t hear anyone say anything about his appearance. Even though he looked terribly handsome. I didn’t see any comments on Facebook. And I asked him just now if anyone complimented his appearance and he said “I don’t recall.” The truth is that it didn’t matter what he looked like. That stark difference, between my appearance mattering a lot and his mattering almost not at all, kind of made me want to be invisible. Because weddings are a pageant and, little did I realize until I got there, I was on display. And I was not doing anything. I was not singing, or acting, or giving a persuasive speech, or trying a case, or teaching a class, or any of the other things I usually do when I am standing in front of a group of people and everyone is looking at me.

And I admit, I wanted to look beautiful. I wanted to look sexy. What surprised me was how important it was to everyone else that I looked beautiful and sexy. That mattered to them. That made them happy. That made them feel good. Not only was it hard to take the compliments because I was surprised by the volume of them, but because I had trouble believing them. Am I insecure? Sure. But I’m also realistic. And I know that I live in a fat-hating culture where being fat is not okay and being unabashedly fat is worse.

So, I will admit, as embarrassing as this is, that when people tell me they like they way I look, I secretly want to just not be noticed. Because the more people notice my appearance, the more I worry that they are thinking something like, “she is really pretty. It’s too bad she’s fat.” Which is, in fact, something that multiple people have said about me before. Like I was a disappointment to the human race by not living up to my god-given potential to be fuckable.

So there’s that. Then there’s my recently-revived exercise program, fueled on by an online group of runners who are tracking their miles and keeping each other motivated. I don’t believe in weight loss, but I do believe in fitness, and I am the most out of shape that I’ve been maybe ever. I am trying to get fit, and feel good, and oh my God exercising until you are sweaty and panting and red in the face feels so good. But then I get harassed, and I feel like crap. Like when I’m running in my neighborhood and men are making kissy noises at me and calling me sexy, and then when I confront them and tell them that’s not acceptable they shout at me and laugh maniacally and call me a “fat fucking pig,” over and over.

It’s days like that that make it hard to believe people when they compliment my appearance. Behind the very fact that my appearance is important is a cultural hostility toward women’s bodily autonomy that I can’t shake, no matter how nice it seems.

44 Comments

  1. Nicole wrote:

    This really resonated with me. I recently got married and I won’t post any pictures of it because it feels so icky for people to be talking about what a beautiful bride I made. I already knew I was compromising a bit of myself to fit into family pressures to even have a wedding, but then having everyone gush over me was just too much. It feels inhuman in a way, like I became a doll for that day.

    Really, being married in general has been such a dilemma. People LOVE calling me MRS. XYZ even though I didn’t change my name. They think it will be exciting for me to hear myself called something that has not even a hint of my own name to it.

    And suddenly even my neighbors seem to talk to him as if I’m not there.

    Meanwhile the husband says the day he started wearing that ring he immediately started getting more respect from clients at work.

    Marriage: worse than expected!

    (Although I am still blissfully happy in my personal relationship, and looking forward to a tax break :) )

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
  2. CassieC wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this, Silvana. I hope your appearance gets back to its normal place in your life – secondary to all the good and bad that really matter.

    This post is a very good example of the personal is political: your appearance, and womens appearances, are taken to be more important than everything else. Whether for “good” (approval according to some societal norms) or “bad” (serving to put one back in ones place by other societal norms), the attention is two sides of the same coin, with the ultimate goal to put women back in the place of controllable objects.

    I’m sure your friends mean all the best, but, in the end, I hope your memories of your wedding are of your happiness and your partnership, not of the hotness some dress conveyed.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  3. SaraDee wrote:

    Thanks Silvana… I got married 2 years ago, and I remember feeling the same way. I’m not fat, but just the expectation that today I will be beautiful was unexpectedly awful, and I was ill-prepared. I wore practically no makeup, and the hairdresser spent less time on my hair than my mom’s.

    I enjoy public speaking, and presenting papers at conferences, but standing in front of people with the expectation that I would be beautiful (instead of smart, engaging, or knowledgeable on my topic) felt really… ugly to me.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  4. JustDucky wrote:

    I just got married myself, about a month and a half ago. I hear ya. We went about the wedding quite a bit differently (pirate/ninja costume party, anyone?), so just about everyone there was complemented on their appearance – hard not to notice the pirates carousing and the ninjas stealthily creeping around the gazebo.

    Did that save me from feeling like an object? Not at all. Even my first mate fell into the “Well, you’re the bride, so you have to be the most beautiful person at the ceremony” thing. Which only served to make me more self conscious – the only bit I’d been worried about before was getting my vows right, and not choking up when I was reading them. Suddenly, it’s “Yegods! Am I going to look okay? Is this costume going to make me look like a cow?” Took a lot of my fiance talking me through it to prevent me from going into all-out panic mode. About my looks. Which I haven’t done since high school.

    Re: the last name thing. My family has been anything -but- supportive about the fact I’m not taking my husband’s name – I’ve been married once before, and the name change thing was a hassle, so I opted not to. Besides, both me and my fiance were against the idea of me being “given” to someone, or having the age-old idea of his owning me incorporated into our relationship.

    And don’t even get me started on the kids question…

    Urgh. Apparently I’ve got a little repressed anger here. Sorry. :/ Long story short, I commiserate, and really, I wish you all the best in your relationship bliss and whatnot. Felicitations!

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink
  5. Ruth Gutman wrote:

    I refused to have a wedding for this very reason. I could not stand the idea of being a white-dressed centerpiece for people to talk about. Also? I would like to accompany you on a run and punch all those idiots in the face.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  6. murcielago wrote:

    So if you don’t “go with the cultural prescription by getting dolled up”, what happens? Does everyone get mad at you? Do people not enjoy the party? (Not a rhetorical question at all — I’m engaged and waiting for marriage legalization, and kind of apprehensive about all this nonsense.)

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  7. Nora wrote:

    I’d never thought about this particular part of weddings, but you’re totally right.

    As someone who’s just entering the time in her life where friends are starting to get married, how can I behave in a way that doesn’t fit into this mold and feed into this cultural dynamic? (That’s an open question for anyone, and one that there is obviously not an easy answer to.)

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Sybil Vane wrote:

    Am sure I was one of the FB ooohers. Sigh. Those shoes though, I sort of really cared about them, ya know? I also hope you shake this back down to where it belongs. And fucking FUCK STREET HARASSERS. All of em.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink
  9. Eileen wrote:

    I lost thirty pounds before my wedding (I took six months to do it, so it wasn’t that bad, but yeah). Oh well, you know? It’s the only time in my life I’ve hired a professional photographer to take pictures of me, and I don’t regret looking like a model version of my real self.

    I’m happier though, that I have a husband who loved me at my real weight and was perfectly happy with me when my weight drifted right back up to it’s natural level again. It all worked out.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink
  10. razz wrote:

    This subject is rather interesting to me. My friend and I were just talking about what strange events weddings are. The idea that you invite a bunch of people to stare at you wearing a dress and tons a make up and say your, ‘I dos’ just seems so weird to me. i don’t think i would be comfortable with that.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink
  11. Alicia wrote:

    I was also a fat bride this summer. And I too wore a strapless dress. It didn’t have a corset built in — because I wanted to be comfortable and because I would be singing, which meant breathing deeply was important. And the dress, which was avocado green, and which I loved in the dressing room, was a bit more low-cut than I’m used to wearing. (I’m a t-shirt person at heart.) It was a lot more low-cut than my Emily Post-ish Catholic mother was comfortable with, apparently.

    She dealt with this by worrying constantly, out loud, in the hearing of others, on the wedding day itself, that the dress was about to fall down.

    And you know what happened? The dress stayed put. But just about every other compliment I got that day — being a bride = people give you obli-compliments like no other time — became about my boobs. Whether it was because of the dress, or because of my mother making it plain that my boobs were fair conversational game, I will never know. But I HATED it.

    Now, when I look at the pictures, there is one part of my head that thinks, “Gosh, my rack looks terrific.” And another part that freaks right out, yelling, “People are thinking less of you because your boobs are RIGHT THERE!”

    I am still kind of confusedly mad about it. Strange that my husband has always made me feel comfortable about my body — both when I was unhealthily stick-thin and now that I’ve gone pudgy — while my mother has always undermined any body comfort I have tried to attain.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  12. scrumby wrote:

    Another reason not to get married since I already get this treatment. I’m not fat but I’m butch or at least try to be. Women’s wear has always felt like dress up so I wear men’s clothes both casually and for formal occasions but sometimes I feel like playing dress up.
    When I was asked to be a bridesmaid for my cousin it seemed a great opportunity. I was excited to wear the pretty dress and the strappy shoes and style the little hair I had on my head… and then I got to the wedding. Three hours of my closest friends and relatives telling me how cute I was today, how feminine, how attractive. It was like going out in a Halloween costume and being told this is how you’re supposed to look everyday.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  13. Epic Wizard wrote:

    To borrow a joke my father is rather fond of: Can I have the ICBM address of those men?

    Someone should give them a swift kick in the gonads because it seems like all the blood and testosterone is getting clogged up down their and their brains are migrating south trying to get some. If I acted like that to ANYONE my parents would appear out of nowhere and lecture me/slap me senseless.

    WTF?!?

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 2:26 am | Permalink
  14. Lizzy wrote:

    It always bothers me to hear about women (or, really, anyone) who are dead set on losing weight before their weddings. I mean, I know we’re all pressured by our fat-hating culture, and I can’t judge them too much for giving in to societal pressures like that. I don’t know that I would resist the pressures, in their place. But it seems sad and, like, kind of missing the point of a wedding? Like, if you have a wedding planned, that’s pretty good evidence that someone you love loves you enough to marry you just the way you are. (And if they don’t, that seems like a pretty unhealthy relationship to me already.)

    When my friend’s brother got married, the fiancee (or maybe both of them, I’m not sure) wanted my friend to get her braces prematurely removed for the wedding pictures. And otherwise they seem like a very nice couple, but I personally found that rather unkind. As it happened, my friend wasn’t eager to keep her braces, and in fact was happy to have them removed early, but, you know, I don’t think that’s why they asked her to take them off.

    So I’m glad she didn’t mind, but on principle I feel like, if you don’t love your own sister enough to include her in your wedding pictures just because she has braces, then you don’t really deserve to have her in your pictures at all.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 2:38 am | Permalink
  15. k not K wrote:

    You know, I get this and I feel ya on the running situation.

    But honestly, when I’ve seen my friends get married and when I see their photos pop up on Facebook, I think (and sometimes say) “You look gorgeous!”

    What I mean is, “You look so happy, and so in love”.

    I’ll definitely try to adjust my complimenting style, but I am guessing there are a lot of others who see a smiling face or a look of love and think “Gorgeous”. Maybe your wedding guests meant the same thing?

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 7:15 am | Permalink
  16. raddad wrote:

    As a cis-gendered, straight man, I have decided on the policy of never bringing up the topic of a woman’s attractiveness, except to a person that I am intimate with (where I use the rule if you can’t say something nice say nothing at all), though I will affirm a woman’s attractiveness if she brings it up (since I think all humans are beautiful without cultural norms). In other words, I try not to add to the body image burden. I once stopped a summer camp counselor I was supervising (we were making affirmation awards for our seven year old campers) from awarding a girl for being the “cutest in the group.” One way to fight against the focus on how the bride looks might be to not participate in “the groom must not see the bride in her wedding dress until the wedding,” that might make it easier to de-emphasize the way the bride looks. My partner and I of fifteen years never considered marriage because it seems so patriarchal. Also coaching the bride’s friends that is “exactly right the way she is now”, could add an element of support.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink
  17. raddad wrote:

    Whoops. Final sentence should be: Also coaching the bride’s friends to remind her that she is “exactly right and lovely the way she is now”, could add an element of support.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  18. Samus wrote:

    @K NOT K

    I was thinking the same, but then I realized that I never compliment the groom in the same way. So I wondered, should I start telling grooms that they look fab to keep it even? Gotta be careful with that one, since the bride might wonder why I’m singling out her new hubby and telling him he looks great in a tux/cape/whatever he’s got. OK, probably not, but I worry about these things because I have (diagnosed) issues.

    It’d probably be best to stick with “what a beautiful wedding!” or “You both look fabulous!” The bride feels less pressure and still knows you loved it all. And the groom gets the boon of a compliment, so yay!

    In my experience with my friends’ weddings, grooms are becoming more and more involved in the process (don’t let that stupid Bridezillas show fool you). I don’t think the focus should be as obsessively placed upon the bride. Usually the wedding is a reflection of both of their choices. Not to mention that they both tried to look their best. I guess the groom isn’t yet expected to get a mani/pedi and his hair did, but if he wanted it, why not?

    Maybe I’m totally wrong and the groom-becoming-involved trend isn’t happening at all. It depends on the couple obviously, but I think it’s becoming more socially acceptable for dudes to admit they like doing the “feminine” task of planning their own wedding and attempting to look spiffy day of.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  19. Samus wrote:

    Also, I’m guessing that this is only a factor with heterosexual weddings. Any other situation and there’d always be compliments all around, right?

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  20. Gayle Force wrote:

    @Samus, the last wedding I went to was for two gay men. We gushed over how handsome and debonair they both looked. I do think the disproportionate focus on the bride’s appearance is a heterosexual wedding thing, because it carries all the baggage of performative femininity.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  21. julie wrote:

    Gayle Force…word. That’s exactly it.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  22. Elizabeth wrote:

    Hey #6, to answer your Q: well, one thing I did was not wear a white dress. I still got complimented, and so did my husband. I didn’t really mind, though. It helped me feel better about the dress, which I thought could have fit better. And I did my own hair (in retrospect, I wish I’d used more smoothing-type product so the pictures would have been less frizzy). And I wore very little make-up, more like what I’d wear to a job interview or something. We put a ton of thought into making the wedding as chill as possible–lots of people say they want to do that, and it turns out to be much harder than one would expect. wedding fever can take over even the least suspecting or interested people. and families expect a big ol’ event, etc. but my advice is to figure out how best to honor your relationship and celebrate it with your friends and family, and then hold tight tight tight to those decisions.

    Sylvana, I am a big fan of your writing. Best wishes from a stranger for a wonderful, wonderful marriage. And congratulations.

    I was surprised to find that my wedding really was the happiest day of my life, not for all the bullshit reasons we are all critiquing her. But because it really made me happy to have that ceremony and big party. I hope that is true of you, too, as the body anxiety fades and you can focus again on what makes you happy.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  23. Lucy wrote:

    This is how I’m feeling right now! I’m getting married in October and I can’t get myself to go dress shopping because the idea that it is soooo important that I look nice is terrifying! I don’t pay that much attention to my looks really, and I am fat, so there’s some extra pressure – apparently I’m supposed to have professional hair and make up done – will I even be recognisable? Gah. All anyone ever asks me is what I’m going to wear.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  24. Erica wrote:

    Brilliant, brilliant article and comments! I got married last April, once more in June, and a final time in July (visa issues and family on both sides of the pond). The first one was just the two of us in a casino, dressed in nothing special but grinning ear to ear. Second one was the ‘official’ gig, little country chapel, simple white dress and a kilt. We both got compliments (he’s got great legs!), and we somehow managed to balance tradition and honesty in a meaningful way. Third time was a huge reception back in Scotland, much more traditional. I practically had to fight to make sure men weren’t the only ones making speeches, and I lost track of the compliments. My solution? Pub crawl. Wedding dress + Jaeger bombs = good. ;) But seriously, thank you for articulating the frustration so well!

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  25. Courtney wrote:

    I recently got engaged and am getting married a year from now. I’m average weight for my height and have even lost a bit of weight (actually, a big chunk) over the past 2 years. It’s annoying me me when people assume I’m going to lose more. I don’t get why people stress out for that ONE DAY. PEOPLE! It’s 12 HOURS of your life. That’s it.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  26. Stacy wrote:

    I think the suggestions above of complimenting a couple by saying, “You both look so happy,” rather than commenting on the bride’s looks are great. Privilege the relationship and love of the couple, not the femininity of the bride.

    When I was engaged, more people were all up in my schedule b/c of the pre-wedding events, and learned I was going to the gym (like I had been doing for years). So many of them assumed I was doing it to fit into a gown I’d presumably ordered too small (I didn’t) or to look small for my fiance (nope). It gave me more of a complex about my weight, because I thought, “Oh, am I too big?”

    In sum, in the guise of being “girlfriendy” with a bride-to-be or bride, a lot of people do some mean shit.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  27. Robin wrote:

    I loved this post! I am getting married, and I blog about getting married, so I think about getting married a lot. And one recurring theme in wedding culture is that the wedding is The Greatest Day in the Woman’s Life; ergo being a bride is the best thing a woman can be. So expectations of femininity are extra high. The Bride must be the most gracious hostess. She must be the most beautiful. Otherwise the brides is SQUANDERING her one chance to matter to everyone around her. In the Looney Tunes wedding world, “singing, or acting, or giving a persuasive speech, or trying a case, or teaching a class” are not things that women do, or if someone did, well, it’s not like her entire family and all her friends will care about it the way they would if she were getting married.

    Thanks for writing this, Silvana.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  28. Itamar wrote:

    Having spent hundreds or more likely thousands of dollars on a wedding dress, rings, hairdresser, shoes, etc., I suspect most people would probably want validation that the money had not gone to waste. Further, if you don’t have a lot money, spending that much money on yourself can, in a very messed up way, feel empowering.

    There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around weddings, with huge financial incentives to make sure the system survives. Whole propaganda campaigns have been waged to add certain types of spending to weddings, e.g. diamond engagement rings (which involved movie placements, and ads that said things like “I want to make sure other men know she’s engaged from 20 feet away”).

    A quick Google search found a wedding expo advertising “fantastic prizes such as a gym membership to get you in shape before your big day”, gym’s offering special packages to brides-to-be, etc..

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  29. Sarah wrote:

    I have never posted here before (was directed here from a twitter link), but everything you wrote resonated with me. In particular, this: “My appearance was part of the entertainment.”

    I feel such a love-hate relationship with this aspect of weddings. I love feeling pretty, and making myself pretty. I hate that whether I’m successful is part of the spectacle.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink
  30. Alicia wrote:

    @Stacy: Totally right. From now on, every wedding compliment I give will be along the lines of “You both look so happy!” Brilliant.

    @Itamar: You’re spot-on — there’s definitely a narrative line about This Day being special, and how you can get away with expensive pampering and things. It’s the one time you can justify just about any expense and quality, with no pressure about such things seeming frivolous. And that seems okay at first: it’s why for my own wedding I splurged on high-quality colorful sparkly jewelry (which I can then wear all the time, whenever I want) and deliciously comfortable shoes.

    But when the self-pampering narrative (paying someone else to do your hair because they are trained for it and this is an affordable luxury) becomes an obligation (oh heavens, you’re going to DO YOUR OWN HAIR as though you are a PERSON with a BRAIN and NOT A LOT OF MONEY?) then there is a problem.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  31. Kathleen wrote:

    if everyone came up to me at my wedding and told me I looked happy, and no-one said I looked pretty, I would seriously start to suspect I looked awful. You can’t win with these things! Like, once you start down the route of having a remotely traditional wedding, it’s a mix of wonderful and YIKES and it’s so hard to distance yourself from either part of the mix.

    The self-transformation thing *is* weird, though: I got married close to age 40, and I have some gray hair. During the few months leading up to the wedding, *every* hairdresser I went to asked if I was thinking about coloring it for the wedding. In a way this is just good “suggestive sales”, of course, but in another way I felt like, ?but everyone already knows what I look like? I mean, I wanted to look nice… but I didn’t want to look like “SURPRISE!!!!!!!”

    But the “surprise!” element does seem to have a lot of appeal (surprise! I’m skinny! I’m tan! I have no grey hair! I can execute a flawless dance routine! etc.). Maybe it has something to do with people (women especially) hoping that marriage itself will be similarly transformative.

    Friday, August 13, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  32. Becky wrote:

    I was a fat bride last summer. And when I finished getting all dolled up and put my dress on and looked at the mirror, I was disappointed. I looked nice. Pretty. But I didn’t look radiantly beautiful the way I was supposed to. Ugh. It’s so fucked up that a bride is supposed to worry about that on a day when there’s so much else going on.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  33. Thanks for speaking out about this. My daughter got married two years ago. She has always been what a family friend called “a fine strong girl.” (He said it in an admiring way.) Her dress was strapless and she looked amazing — but then again, I think she looks amazing every day. And so does her husband. He loves her exactly the way she is.
    The pressure to be Barbie-perfect? It’s horseshit, on your wedding day or any other day. And the guys who think they’re allowed to harass you and then insult you? Boy, it’s a pity the things you see when you haven’t got a paintball gun handy.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  34. Alice wrote:

    Oh, my heavens above, word to this whole thing. I was a fat bride 6 years ago, and the disappointment I felt afterwards at not having lived up to the Beautiful Bride Template was really surprising (and way stronger than I’d ever suspected it would be. It helped get me into FA stuff, but was still super unpleasant.) So, Murcielago @#6, people may or may not give you shit, depending on who they are and how you go about the not getting dolled up part of things, but look out for internalized BS to pop up too!

    Now, a friend is planning her wedding, and I’m finding myself kind of aghast at the appearance-focus of it all. Vetting other people’s clothing (bridesmaids’ dresses and beyond), the requisite pre-wedding diets, etc. The groom even said that he wants everyone to leave the wedding thinking ‘how beautiful [the bride] is’ (to his credit, he prefaced it with a totally genuine ‘I *know* she’s going to be beautiful’, so this wasn’t a ‘shape up’ kind of comment). Still, it all goes into the ways in which women are decorative, and that decoration is fundamental to our roles on these days. And I don’t know of ways to point it out without feeling like a total killjoy.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  35. mr wrote:

    I too was shocked, upon planning my wedding, by how “girlfriendy” and extremely up in my business everyone got. I come from a weird hippie family and a weird nontraditional group of friends so it was totally unexpected when so many people were freaking out about my dress, etc. I think part of it is learned cultural stuff—I have more “girly” and traditional friends who, when something like a wedding dress comes into their lives, I actually perform for them (“OMG IT’S SO CUTE”) even though I don’t give a shit about wedding dresses: maybe people felt they needed to perform that way for me? But even if so, that’s odd, because don’t they know me well enough to know I don’t want performances of girliness? Don’t people who know me well know how little I wish to speak about rings and flowers and whatever? It’s very intense how a wedding brings out this side of everyone. I guess that is the risk you take when you dabble in deep long-held traditions like weddings. But still, I was surprised.

    And I was also shocked by how much of the focus was on ME rather than on US. From the moment we started planning the wedding, I don’t think a single person asked my partner about it, OR asked me what he thought about things. I kept having to forcefully say “I WILL HAVE TO TALK TO MY PARTNER ABOUT THIS THING YOU ARE SUGGESTING, BECAUSE IT IS ALSO HIS WEDDING.” Everyone just kept saying to me that it was MY special day, it’s all about ME, blah blah. This bummed me out so much, because I was thinking of it as a cool time to be about love and committment with my partner in front of all our loved ones….why would that = “all about me?” Those kinds of statements are about unconsciously reinforcing the stereotype that men don’t want to get married and women do, which sucks.

    Try not to dwell on it, though! By getting married, we opened these creepy doors of tradition, and if we didn’t like everything we found on the other side, I guess that’s to be expected. Nobody said changing tradition was easy. Slowly we are doing it by making weird choices, by not changing our names or by our partners taking OUR last names, by refusing to lose weight to fit into some creepy dress, by having pirate/ninja weddings, by not having religious weddings, by having gay weddings, etc. But it’s a slow process.

    I hate the story about you jogging. FUCK THOSE IDIOTS. They are uptight about their masculinity, which is like the male equivalent of female body anxiety. The difference is that fat people aren’t entitled to be assholes to other people to reinforce their okayness with being fat, like men are with being men.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  36. Brigid wrote:

    For exercise that has all the focus on performance, and zero focus on looks, I recommend roller derby. Fuck those assholes on the street.

    Also, I regret getting married. I regret changing my name. I regret so much, but it is a wasted emotion. We can only move forward.

    Good luck to you.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  37. Kristie wrote:

    I was a bride 16 years ago, and well-steeped in the dominant paradigm, so a lot of this stuff never occurred to me because I wasn’t as aware of the politics of such things when I was 22. But I do remember running around on my wedding day, being hot and sweaty and possessed of a really bad, ill-advised perm I got at the beauty college 3 weeks before the wedding. My “wedding hair” was basically a ponytail contained by the clip that held my veil. My makeup was the same as I’d wear any day, what wasn’t melted off in the heat. I can’t honestly recalled if anyone told me I was beautiful, but when I look at my wedding pix, I see that we both were, if only for our youth, innocence, and optimism that shone from our faces. But after it was over, we both decided a wedding was a whole lot of to-do and cash for not a whole lot of ROI. If we were to do it over again, we would’ve eloped at City Hall. Weddings are so weird; I can see that so clearly now.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  38. Ann wrote:

    “So, I will admit, as embarrassing as this is, that when people tell me they like they way I look, I secretly want to just not be noticed. Because the more people notice my appearance, the more I worry that they are thinking something like, “she is really pretty. It’s too bad she’s fat.” ”

    This, exactly. I felt this today when I was trying on dresses. This has never been a problem with me since high school and I felt it again today. I’m going to try to focus on crunching those feelings like roaches!

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  39. Jennifer wrote:

    I also hate comments about women’s appearance and totally relate to wanting to hide. I get a fair number of complimentary comments from women about how I look but the subtext is that they are comparing themselves negatively to me or sizing me up in some way. It feels bad.

    Congrats on your wedding. Hopefully you will have some nice memories as well!

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  40. cwm wrote:

    Congratulations and best wishes on your marriage!

    I think there’s something about the dress that invites comments on appearance, too. I wore a blue sparkly party dress at my wedding. While both husband and I got compliments on how nice we looked (which I took as a fair compliment to the dress, which may be my favorite article of clothing since I outgrew my purple Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls), most of the comments on the day and on the pictures are, “You look/ed so HAPPY!” Which we were, and are.

    But now that it’s common knowledge that the bride can blow half her wedding budget on a traditional white wedding dress, whether she actually spent thousands of dollars or not, there’s an expectation that the woman in the dress wants everyone to tell her she’s beautiful. I actually stressed more about the bridesmaid’s dress I wore for my former roommate’s wedding a month after my own because there were four other bridesmaids to compare myself to.

    To women looking to opt out or at least short circuit some of the performative femininity of the wedding: wear anything but white.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  41. tiernafeminista wrote:

    Thanks for this. I have to say that I have always felt this way, but have not been able to articulate it like this. Amazing. I am not yet married, but my partner and I are talking about it and what we should do. I think I would really, really feel uncomfortable in this situation. I am anxious anyways, and this would make the anxiety skyrocket.

    Thanks for this amazing post.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  42. Rodrigo! wrote:

    Is it weird that I was really surprised to see so many commenters saying they’re getting married/recently got married as well? Not in a bad way, though, just surprised.

    As in, what are the odds? Is there like, a marriage craze I’m unaware of? Is anyone not planning to get maried at all besides Rad Dad?

    Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  43. lorrie wrote:

    re: Tax breaks for married couples.
    um: No.
    caveat: Unless one person does not work.

    Look it up. You earn 40K, your spouse earns 40K. You get married and file married person 80K. You’re going to pay MUCH MORE than you did when you both earned 40K and single.

    Okay, you earn 40K and your spouse earns 40K. One of you quits your job. YES. Tax break. You file married 40K income tax, it is lower than single.

    But if both parties draw the same salary after marriage you are going to be slammed and I mean slammed hard. Do not take my word for it. Check with your accountant. I am a tax lawyer myself and almost had a stroke the first year I sat down to do my married taxes. No law school professor ever corrected the idea that married people get a tax break.

    NOT UNLESS YOU CONSIDER A PENALTY OF OVER $1000 (POSSIBLY) TO BE A TAX BREAK

    Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  44. Anastasia wrote:

    I just don’t understand why people think that’s okay.

    Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 3:04 am | Permalink