“Shedding for those wedding bells, I see!” said an oblivious male trainer friend of mine the last time I was at a gym (which feels like 200 years ago), distracting me from a personal best I was about to make. Because we have a personal relationship, I said straight to his face, “excuse me, that was incredibly rude,” and we moved on. But, truthfully, rude doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how problematic this assumption is.
Shedding for the wedding has somehow become a cultural phenomenon that not only requires a bride to put on the most expensive party of her life, but also forces her to spend the months leading up to the wedding (that should be spent drinking champagne and shoving her hand in people’s faces) hangry and stressed. Disclosure: I am talking about female-identifying brides, as I rarely hear about grooms training specifically for the big day, but for the record, body shaming harms everyone.
First, let’s break down how little sense the idea of losing weight for your wedding makes. You’re marrying the love of your life, who loves you for you. Now you want to go and crash diet and/or binge exercise to drastically change your appearance for one day? There’s no reason to make yourself miserable in preparation for what’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life.
One could argue that the ritual ceremony of a wedding itself symbolizes entering adulthood. For me, it definitely does in a much more real way than graduating college or doing my taxes for the first time ever did, and for some, that can be a call to consider their health seriously for the first time. That is not inherently a bad thing, but the problem with the wellness industry as it stands is that it conflates health and well-being with beauty. That notion of “beauty” is further limited to Eurocentric features, so it’s problematic in multiple ways. True health and well-being aren’t as sexy to promote on Instagram, though, because it’s tougher to market what we can’t see from the outside, but diet culture has officially infiltrated the spaces we look to for health information.
Diet culture is the belief that thinness = “health” and status. This is dangerous to us all, but especially to women, BIPOC, people who are differently-abled, anyone over size 6, the trans community—basically anyone society “others”. It sends the implicit message that if you don’t look like the imaginary health ideal—which, according to stock photos, is exclusively thin white women (who can usually be found laughing at salad)—you’re not only unwell, but a whole slew of other unconscious judgments that come along with it (lazy, unmotivated, etc.). Wellness becomes inherently political in this regard. It is impossible to talk about health without addressing the fact that we all have varying levels of access to wellness resources and that we continue to glorify some bodies as beautiful and others as not—which lurks somewhere deep in our brain when we think about what would make us look *perfect* on our wedding day.
I so, so, so get wanting to look your best for the big day. These are photos you’ll have forever, after all. And yes, you better believe my skin care regimen is 234209243 steps long, and I’ve obsessed about the hair and makeup and the dress, but the idea that we need to lose weight to be and feel beautiful is sexist, and while we’re being honest, it’s racist. At the same time, I fully support your right to be autonomous with your body, in every sense of the word. If you want to lose weight to feel special on your special day, that is entirely your right and you shouldn’t feel shame for that—but you should know where that desire comes from, because I’m willing to bet my dream honeymoon that the desire to lose weight comes from a hope that we will be more worthy, better versions of ourselves once that finally happens. The thing is, though, losing weight doesn’t usually accomplish that. If you aren’t armed with this information going in, you’ll probably be disappointed when you get to that final dress fitting and you don’t feel as changed as you thought you would.
To be clear, I am not against having fitness goals! But by fitness goals, I mean actual fitness—not physique goals. A fitness goal is “I want to run a marathon” or “I want to carry this overpacked suitcase without breaking a sweat.” A fitness goal is not, “I want to lose x pounds or fit in this dress”. Personally, my biggest “wellness” goal is staying sane in 2020 and making it to my wedding alive amidst a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, PEOPLE.
As a bride and pilates instructor (with no wedding date in sight), what I am doing is continuing to do the exercise I enjoy because it feels good and helps me deal with COVID-19/wedding/2020/self-employed stress. Listen, movement is objectively good; I’ve literally made it my career and can personally vouch for the life-changing magic of moving your body every day. The problem is, shedding for the wedding puts the focus on changing your body for aesthetic purposes only, instead of enjoying it or even focusing on health itself. Not only can that get punish-y and dangerous, but it’s also just not fun.
I move my body regularly, whether it’s a full workout or a sanity walk around the block, because it feels good and also so I don’t lose my sh*t when my dress is indefinitely delayed or trips get canceled. Choosing to exercise in appreciation of your body and as self-care increases body satisfaction and helps you be nicer to your reflection, which, wedding or not, is always welcome.
Unfortunately, you’re not likely to get through your engagement without hearing the phrase “shedding for the wedding”. So what do you do when someone puts their nose where it doesn’t belong? It’s actually quite simple: Call them out and remind them (politely or not, up to you) that it’s not only not their business, but it’s also harmful and promotes an outdated beauty ideal. Let them know that your wedding does not revolve around an arbitrary number of pounds lost or gained, but the fact that you found yourself a life partner. What a concept.
It’s time to cancel “shedding for the wedding” and start celebrating body diversity with the same fervor that we do one particular type of beauty. 2020 brides have had to sacrifice dancing, hugging, and uh, human interaction in general with the rise of stoop and Zoom weddings. But, we’ve also started to see an edit of superfluous traditions in favor of celebrating what’s actually meaningful about a wedding: the love! Maybe, *JUST MAYBE* we can make engagements about being engaged instead of dieting, and “shedding for the wedding” will go the way of the garter toss.
Images: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock