Ruth Jesse reflects on the reactions to her recent engagement and the unexpected wedding body image pressures that she has experienced
I got engaged over the summer. You should, dear reader, be impressed that I have written that in such a calm fashion; just a couple of weeks ago it would still have been written in caps lock and followed by more than one exclamation mark, despite my general hatred for both over-enthusiasm and punctuation abuse. I might never have thought I would be that girl, but here I am, getting all mooney over how in love I am.
And our friends and family are just as excited as I am. My sister was among the few who shed some tears, and my future mother-in-law literally jumped out of her chair. My father, admittedly, was less visibly excited (he didn’t make the effort to get out of his chair at all, congratulating me briefly before informing me that my dinner was on the table) and my brother’s reaction could only be described as bizarre. He firstly asked if I was pregnant, before telling me it was “a bit out of left field” (my fiancé and I have been together for seven years). He finished the conversation with the immortal line: “Congratulations, I suppose.”
I loved every one of these beautiful, imperfect responses. Half the fun of getting engaged was in sharing our excitement with the people who know and love us best. I will always smile when I think about how my granny interrupted my retelling of the proposal story to make sure she was picturing the right place: “Isn’t that dog-poo park?” Apparently it was.
Since then, the general comment has been regarding how busy I will be this year. Fair enough: even as I sit here writing I am starting to stress somewhat that I still have yet to finish sending out save-the-dates, while my barely-started dissertation is looking at me rather woefully from my desk.
Others have commented on how young I am to be getting married. Again, it’s fair. I am young, but I’m also not stupid; when people make this remark I know they are thinking about how, statistically, marriages from an early age are less likely to succeed than marriages between couples later in life. However, I know that I have successfully maintained a long-term and often long-distance relationship over seven years, and believe me, I am aware of the difficulties marriage will inevitably bring. I still want to get married knowing it will be incredibly challenging as well as lots of fun.
The one reaction I really struggled with, however, came from a close family friend: “Congratulations! Very exciting news!” she said. “Oh, I heard about this weight loss programme from a friend that you must try before your wedding!”
I hate to admit it, but in one seemingly innocuous sentence she had kind of devastated me. I thought to myself, “Am I too big?” and even before I had entertained the question in my head I was thinking that at the size I was I couldn’t be a proper bride, I wasn’t good enough for my fiancé and I was going to ruin the wedding by literally making it my ‘big’ day. How long had she (and others?) been looking at me, thinking I needed to lose weight? Had I blindly been feeling happy and confident in my body, while everyone else was secretly judging me and wondering why I wasn’t trying to shift the bulge?
Like most women, I have never had amazing body confidence. The amount of time I have spent worrying over the size of my tummy, thighs, or arms would probably amount to hours of my life I could have dedicated to yet another Friends marathon (or something else useful). And this isn’t a problem which only affects me. According to a recent Glamour Magazine survey, up to 80 per cent of women report feeling unhappy when they look in a mirror.
Over the last few years I have strived for better body confidence. When I do think negatively about my body I remind myself that I am within a healthy weight range and I’m in shape. Strength and fitness, not thinness was my mantra. I may never achieve the elusive thigh-gap, but I look after my body in the best way I know how.
But confronted by a single, wellmeant comment these thoughts were somewhat obscured. Browsing through wedding magazines or pictures of friends’ and family members’ wedding photos did nothing to help. Was I bigger than her? Were my arms as toned as hers? How much did she weigh when she got married?
It seemed, suddenly, to be everywhere I looked: magazines told me there were foods I needed to avoid before I walked down the aisle, Pinterest gave me a list of exercises to ensure a bridal-body, and a quick google reminded me not only that I was too big, but that my cuticles would ruin my wedding photos if I didn’t do anything about them.
The last one made me laugh, and a little sad. Who are these women really worrying about their cuticle’s significant role in the wedding? Can’t someone help them find something more interesting to worry about? And yet I thought about my own worries. Maybe I should be less worried about arm fat than I should be about committing to someone who chronically leaves their pants on the floor.
And yet the seed was planted. Even while laughing at these cuticle- obsessed brides-to-be I found myself dragged into the haze of the wedding-industry outlook: brides need to be perfect, and today, no matter how much people protest, we continue to associate perfection and success with thinness. I tentatively set myself a goal weight-loss of half a stone.
It’s been several months since then, and I have managed to lose nearly a stone, twice the original weight-loss I had originally intended on. Some people have commented that I look slimmer; I’m not sure most people have noticed at all, and in all honesty I haven’t really noticed a difference in myself.
And this is the problem; the ultimate myth about weightloss: once you have reached your goal weight you will feel happy and confident. So why am I still having the same thoughts about the same parts of my body even after losing more weight than I originally set out to?
The perfect body and perfect self-esteem don’t actually go hand in hand, as well we know. My body now adheres better to our current ideal of beauty, but it hasn’t changed how I actually feel about it. And the more I think about weight-loss, the less it has made sense for me: thinness has very little to offer me; it won’t produce a more inspired dissertation, it won’t make my wedding any more special and it won’t make me any better as a person.
I originally began to lose weight so that I could feel beautiful on my wedding day, but after losing some weight I don’t think thinness can even offer me this. I now believe that I will feel more beautiful walking down the aisle knowing that I am completely in love and loved, and I now know that I will never walk anywhere feeling completely skinny, or completely happy with my body. After all, if the reactions to my engagement are anything to go by, sometimes it’s the little imperfections which inspire the most joy.
So I’m not going to let myself think about weight-loss for a while. I’m even going to steer clear of wedding magazines. I’d rather invest this brief, wonderful period of my life in becoming a confident, happy and healthy woman – that, and in training my fiancé to put his pants in the laundry bin. Of course, it is probable that both these projects will well outlast the engagement.
And as one final thought in this whole episode, up yours to the woman who made me think getting thin was the best use of my time. I have so many better things to do.
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