Why is my wedding making everyone ELSE insecure?

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As soon as my fiancé and I announced our engagement, there were a number of questions and comments we heard over and over and over again from our families and friends. One week after we got engaged, we attended a party with his extended family and I think I heard these three questions from every woman in attendance:

“Have you set a date?”

What are your colors going to be?”

“Have you started picking out THE dress?”

As weird as it was to have questions about wedding planning details ONE WEEK after announcing our engagement, it wasn't surprising because those particular women are all Pinterest users with their own “wedding boards.” However, I was very surprised to hear this comment repeatedly:

“Uh-oh, if you're having a wedding that means I really have to start changing my body so I can be there!”

…Huh? It's well known that most advertising targeted at brides emphasize a very narrow range of body types, which is part of the reason why so many other wedding-focused online communities have entire forums dedicated to brides changing their bodies for “THE BIG DAY.” But I never thought that people attending a wedding were required to feel bad about their bodies, too. Apparently I was wrong.

To be honest I felt kind of guilty about an event I'm throwing causing loved ones to feel bad about themselves, even though I know that I didn't say or do anything to create those feelings. In fact, my de-facto response to “I need to change my body for your wedding” is always either, “But you look great just the way you are” or “Since when does attending a wedding require changing your body?” No, my friends and family came up with these ideas all on their own. But why?

I've done a lot of thinking about why people just attending a wedding feel the need to change their bodies. Understanding their reasons has helped me figure out how to best communicate to my friends and family that I love them just the way they are, and that they shouldn't feel the need to change for me… IF that's what they're trying to do. I've discovered that, in many cases, people's desire to change their bodies really doesn't have much to do with me, my fiancé, or planning to celebrate our marriage at all!

Here are some of the reasons that I've identified:

Some people actually wanted to change all along, and a wedding gives them a convenient deadline

There's really nothing wrong with this one. While you should never be pressured to change your body if you're already happy with it, there's nothing wrong with wanting to change it when you're UNHAPPY with how you look (assuming you're healthy and those feelings aren't caused by some form of disorder, obviously). For some people, being invited to a semi-formal event that's several months in the future provides a realistic deadline for body changes they've already been planning.

The wedding party feels just as pressured as the bride to look “pinnable” or “blog-worthy”

This one upset me a lot. One of my bridesmaids who had never talked about changing her body in the past suddenly started working towards changing. She told me it was because she “wanted me to have nice photos.” Of course I've been doing my best to assure her that this is a ridiculous idea: I asked her to be my bridesmaid because she's my friend, not because I expected her to look a certain way!

Just like the advertising I mentioned earlier, a lot of wedding blogs only feature brides AND bridesmaids with a narrow range of body types. That content ends up on Pinterest, which has probably exposed a lot of people to wedding inspo who would have never looked at it before Pinterest. That's based on my personal experience: I never had a “wedding binder” or “wedding inspiration board” before I signed up for Pinterest. And would my 14-year-old cousin be planning HER future wedding if she weren't on Pinterest? I highly doubt it. Anyway, the homogeneity of content on wedding blogs and Pinterest probably contributed to my bridesmaid's feeling that she has to change her body in order to be in my wedding.

Relatives feel pressured by the idea of wedding photos lasting forever

At the party from the beginning of this post, our engagement announcement inspired my fiancé's grandmother to dig out her wedding photos… And her sister's wedding photos… And her three daughters' wedding photos. All of them are older now, and their wedding photos are the only images we've seen from their younger days. I think that my grandkids will probably only see my current self in wedding photos, too.

Photographers tend to sell this idea of “timeless” wedding pictures, and they're right in at least one respect: your wedding photos will probably be seen by many generations of your family. I believe this idea, combined with many people's narrow definition of attractiveness, has contributed to some family members' feeling pressured to change their bodies for my wedding. My fiancé's mom, sister, and even grandmother have all made comments about “wanting to look good in the photos.”

Weddings may reunite you with people you don't see very often

Large portions of my family are scattered around the country, and therefore don't get to see each other very often, and the same goes for many of my friend groups. To these people, my wedding isn't just a celebration of my fiancé and I getting married — it's also a class or family reunion. Something about being reunited with old friends makes people want to look their best, and again combined with many people's narrow definition of attractiveness, this has made a few of my friends and family members think that they need to change their bodies before my wedding.

I'm doing my best to emphasize body positivity, communicate to my friends and family that I love them just the way they are, and help those who wouldn't otherwise want to change their bodies understand that looks don't dictate one's ability to celebrate a marriage.

Understanding people's thinking has really helped me communicate those things more effectively, in a way that resonates with my loved ones.

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Comments on Why is my wedding making everyone ELSE insecure?

  1. This was a great post… it seems silly; it’s your wedding, so what does it matter what anyone else wears or how many pounds they lose before your big day. However, I am aware of the pressures, from both sides now (bride, and attendee/wedding party) and it’s no fun! When I got married, I had one very self-conscious sister/bridesmaid and despite my best efforts, I think she still felt like she wasn’t “pretty enough”. Terrible!! I thought she was gorgeous. I don’t love myself in my own wedding pictures… chubby arms, weird faces… but my husband helps me keep those thoughts in line. Regardless of my flab and annoying asymmetry, it was an AWESOME night and everyone had a blast and we left married and happy and eventually got to wash off all the makeup. Hoorah!

    Now I’m freaking out about my sister’s upcoming wedding and how I need to lose a million pounds (yes, one million of them) and become suddenly stylish and sophisticated so that I can be immortalized as such in her wedding albums and not embarrass anyone with my inherent goofiness. I needed this article to remind me how ridiculous that kind of thinking is. I am who I am, and provided I don’t seek out a potato sack dress and invite birds to nest in my hair and eat nothing but hostess cakes between now and September, I think everything will work out. 🙂 Thank you for the refreshing perspective! <3

    • The way I see it, the photos should preserve your memory of what happened that day, and that includes looking like your true self. So I think that changing the way you look specifically to “have nicer wedding photos” is defeating the purpose. To me, that would feel more like preparing for a photo shoot than preparing to share a memorable day with loved ones.

      • “Looking like your true self” – hear hear! I attended a wedding where both mothers decided to radically alter their hair (the one with straight hair curled it, and the one with curly hair straightened it). They didn’t look like themselves at all, and it was weird.

        As for me, when I got married, I didn’t do anything with my hair except wash, air-dry, and brush it, like I always do, and I wore no makeup, because I never wear makeup. I look like me in all our pictures, which makes me happy 🙂

  2. I’m a little embarressed to say that I’m one of those people who felt pressured to change physically in order to attend friends’ weddings. I agonized for hours over what to wear, specifically focusing on what made me look the thinnest. I even cried over my hair when it refused to cooperate (which is does 5 out of 7 days).

    For me, it wasn’t about the photos or a convenient timeline. It was all about my fear of being judged. And yeah, saying it that way makes me cringe. Like you mentioned, these weddings were a chance to see people that I had not seen since college, including a bevvy of exes and a handful of caustic people that I had been glad to move on from when distance dulled old friendships. A very gutteral part of me needed them all to think that I was just as good as I had been back then, lest they whisper behind my back that I had gained weight, or that the shorter haircut was unflattering, or…

    Logically, I can look at that mess of emotions and want to distance myself from it entirely, especially now that those events are over. But that visceral emotional response is pretty-much hardwired in.

    I wish that I had been confident enough in myself to just enjoy those weddings; seeing people I hadn’t seen in years and delighting in how happy each couple was (both couples spent the day grinning from ear to ear).

    • Absolutely fabulous comment. I applaud you for your self-awareness and courage to share your thoughts with us.

    • Yup. I do this all the time. When I get that kind of anxiety, it sometimes helps for me to back up and remember that much of the time, other people are doing the exact same thing. We’re all incredibly focused on how we look and how other people will perceive us. I tell myself that if everyone else is concerned about how they look, maybe (or definitely?) they won’t notice if I don’t look perfect.

  3. Yay, I wrote this! Being a strength athlete as it says in my bio, I was initially confused to see weights as the cover image because I lift for sport rather than “exercise”… But I guess weights ARE just exercise equipment to most people! For the record, those aren’t dumbbells as the caption says. They’re plates that go on a barbell 😛

    Anyway, thank you for putting this up. I loved the discussions we had in comments on the Tribe version, and am looking forward to more conversations here.

    • I have some strength-training-loving friends who would love a cake like that at their weddings. It’s a hoot, isn’t it?

  4. I knew I could control certain things of my own wedding, but you have no control over aspects of the wedding of someone else. I found a dress I liked for my wedding, and I didn’t have bridesmaid dresses at all so people could wear what they wanted or already had since there were some tight budgets. We also didn’t have a photographer around the whole time, because I wanted to be IN the moment, and I find photographers following me around distracting. So we got the pictures I had in mind, and my husband and I were able to enjoy ourselves the rest of the time. (I know everyone doesn’t feel the same way- it’s just what worked for us.)

    I was just recently asked to be a bridesmaid, and I responded with “Yes, as long as I don’t have to wear a tight dress.” I can’t believe I said that! I am lucky that there are dresses I can feel comfortable in because not everyone has even that. But, no matter what size I currently am or even if I’m in great shape for me, I can’t deal with wearing tight clothes. Especially not in front of 100+ people and in hundreds of photos. It doesn’t help that members of the wedding party are legit models, so my sister and I have joked that we will just be the short pale bridesmaids. Also, I can’t walk in heels, so walking up to the altar in front of everyone is going to be fun. At least me falling could be some comic relief, right? And the thing is, the bride gave me NO indication that the dresses would be short or revealing or that I will have to wear towering heels, it’s all stuff I made up in my crazy head.

    • This is a great case for letting bridal party members pick their own outfits! Then everyone can wear whatever they feel most comfortable in.

      • Yes! That trend in bridesmaid dresses is a good one. She said we can pick our style, but she’s picking the color and fabric. So as long as it isn’t stretchy fabric, we’ll be okay. 🙂

        I know nobody TRIES to make people feel uncomfortable in their wedding, and it’s embarrassing to even admit it makes me uncomfortable in the first place, so choices are good.

  5. Fantastic post!

    I am a plus-sized bride. There is enough pressure for ME to lose weight, it can be easy to focus on that, but I really didn’t realize how much pressure was on everyone else until a) I announced my engagement and b) I became that everyone else.

    When I announced my engagement, both my own mom and my mom-in-law-to-be mentioned really needing to lose weight and it broke my heart. I love both of these amazing women. One raised me, practically on her own, the other, raised the amazing man I am marrying. I think they both look fabulous and have nothing to worry about, and I feel bad that my wedding day is making them worry about their looks so much. I want them to have fun. I want them to stop worrying about what the photos look like. I am going to look back at these pictures with so much happiness- even with my size 16ness. I just wish they could do the same.

    Being the “everyone else” really enlightened me because I am a-ok with my size. Everyone else seems to have the problem with it and that can definitely wear on your self-esteem. As a bride, you get enough surprised “You mean you don’t plan on trying to lose weight before the big day?” as a bridesmaid, the pressure may be less overt, but I find it worse because it is accompanied with a feeling that you are letting someone else down. From the bride suggesting everyone wear Spanx because it might make us feel more comfortable (translation: I would like YOU to wear Spanx because I want YOU to look thinner) to bridal salon snobbery towards plus sized (and sometimes not even plus sized) bridesmaids, the pressure to lose weight is ever present.

    I just wish people would slow down and realize it is ONE day. Don’t lose weight for me. I love you no matter what. Lose weight only because you desire a lifestyle change that extends far past a single event.

    • I never understood this “all brides must lose weight even if they’re happy at their current size” thing. It’s one thing if you’ve always wanted to lose weight and just need to set a realistic deadline, like the “Reason #1” group in the post. But if you’re happy with your body, and your partner who’s MARRYING you is happy with your body, then no one should be telling you to change a thing.

      Sadly, this post was not just about weight loss though. It seems that all the women involved in my wedding feel bad about their bodies, whether they’re trying to lose weight or not. My bridesmaids who are happy at their current weights still find a way to complain about all sorts of random body parts, some of which can’t be changed without altering their skeletal structures.

    • I think you’ve presented a refreshing perspective of how women we admire also tend to want to change themselves to look good for the “big day”. My mom did focus on losing weight for my wedding, and the results were amazing, but what was more amazing was my mom’s continuance of her new active lifestyle for the benefit of her health. I love my mom regardless of her size but her changing her lifestyle for herself made me happy (it means I get to have her around for more years!)

      The pressure on the bride to conform her body to everyone else’s standard of beauty always seems extreme when you are planning a wedding. I stressed out many times during the wedding process and also due to external life issues and as a result dropped what I would consider too much weight. I realize now after a year and a half of being married that it was just one day in my entire life. I shouldn’t have worried about half the things I did, those worries and stresses took a toll on my health.

  6. I’m totally going to reblog this on facebook and say that if people feel this way about our wedding that they should stop and remember we love as they are and all that good mushy stuff. I can’t imagine anybody is feeling that way about my wedding, it’s so small and informal, but I’d rather say it now that I’ve read this than leave it unsaid!

  7. I’m guilty of reasons 1 and 3. My brothers wedding is in 3 months, and it gives me the perfect excuse to lose the 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for a while. Plus, when his weddings true is sitting next to mine at my parents house, I don’t want it to be like, “here’s skinny Carlene on the right, and WHOA, what happened? On the left.”

  8. I agree that there is a lot of pressure to “look good” at a wedding, particularly in this era of TWEET/INSTAGRAM/POST ALL THE PICTURES FOR PUBLIC SCRUTINY. While that’s a gross exaggeration, it’s how a lot of people view wedding photos: with an unhealthy dose of snark. I was very laid-back about my approach: I didn’t diet (the horror), I didn’t primp and prod and do things to make myself look perfect (I wanted to look like ME on the wedding day), and encouraged my bridesmaids to do and wear what makes them feel comfortable. For some, that meant continuing a weight loss program that they had been doing of their own motivation and, for others, it meant doing absolutely nothing other than having fun playing dress up and picking out a dress they liked.

  9. I even had thoughts like this before walking into a job interview. “I’m not pretty enough or thin enough for this accounting job.” I was surprised to see these thoughts in my head when it came to a job interview.

  10. Only been a bridesmaid so far. But, shopping was dreadful. I was the only one who could not close the sample dresses, so all the beautiful skinny girls looked like models as we tried to pick out our dresses and I couldn’t participate. The lovely David’s Bridal employee told me, as I choked back tears, “Don’t worry. I was just the fat one in my friends’ wedding. We’ll find something.” Ummm, thanks?! I don’t feel bad enough getting a dress 4 sizes too big to accommodate the boobs. Needless to say will never shop there again!

  11. I remember seeing “wedding party boot camp” classes advertised at my gym, and I was shocked. However, that was before my wedding, and my friend’s wedding in which I was a bridesmaid. Strangely, I felt way more pressured to look good as a bridesmaid than I did as a bride. As a bride, it was just me, and everything was the way I wanted it — low pressure, comfortable, and amateur photography. My friend’s was an over-the-top super-formal affair. I had had a baby a few months ago, was still breastfeeding (and therefore enormous on top), and felt incredibly pressured by THE DRESS. Which had to be ordered in advance, and had to fit exactly the same for 3 months (it was supposed to be gotten sooner, but I was so upset I procrastinated on getting it until it was almost too late …). Not easy to guarantee a post-partum/nursing body will remain exactly the same in all dimensions to hold up the strapless dress!

    It was an incredibly stressful ordeal, I still can’t stand to look at the formal pictures (the casual ones my husband took look fine to me, though), and I just don’t understand why everybody doesn’t elope, after that experience …

    • That’s something I never thought of, as I’ve never had kids myself. None of my bridesmaids recently had a kid, but I bet your comment will be help a lot of people like me be more considerate of their post-partum bridesmaids!

      It sucks that you had to deal with all that, and I think this is yet ANOTHER good case for letting bridesmaids choose their own outfits.

      Ordering dresses in advance definitely adds a lot of stress. In addition to what you mentioned– not being able to guarantee that you’ll stay the same size– I think ordering in advance can reinforce unrealistic expectations. I didn’t talk about it much in the post, but one of my bridesmaids in particular is really hoping to be an unrealistically (given the amount of time we have) different size at my wedding. In fact, she keeps saying that she “expects” to be this unrealistically different size. She doesn’t understand that it’s unrealistic because she hasn’t thought about how she would actually achieve this goal in a healthy manner. I’m worried about her deliberately ordering the wrong size, and then finding in a few months that the dress doesn’t fit because she failed to realize that it’s an impossible goal in that amount of time.

      We’ll see what happens with that one. I’ve already told her that she looks great now, I don’t think it’s possible to be the size she “expects” to be, and she should order clothes that fit her current body instead of her fantasy goal body… But I’m not sure that she listened, or even cares. You can only do so much to change people’s minds. All I know is that if she spends her own money on a dress that doesn’t end up fitting her, it won’t be my fault.

      • I think the best approach for situations like that is to remember that it’s easier (and cheaper) to take in a large dress than reorder a larger size at the last minute. Besides, it always feels better to be too small for something than too big for it. :/

  12. My First Mate has been unhappy with how she gained weight after high school/quitting soccer. Coming from a team sport background, she’s finding it hard to motivate herself to go to a gym or even start some of the dance-type work out dvds she’s been meaning to ‘get around to’ because she doesn’t like to do active things alone. While I’m not at my heaviest now, I’m not exactly healthy in terms of activity level either. She’s going to go through the “I don’t look good enough to be in a wedding” thing (and probably is already kicking herself about it, all things considered), which I didn’t even start to think was “a thing”… but she’s my First Mate. It’s going to be her mission to keep me sane leading up to the Mighty Fine Shindig. So, we’re going to go to her house after work a couple days a week and shake some booty. 🙂 If I shrink a little before the wedding, okay. If not, she’s making changes to better herself. I can support that for “my person”.

  13. I have to be honest, I can’t relate to this very well. I have been a bridesmaid twice (for my brother and my best freind respectively) and I didn’t care at all how I looked, really. I went into both weddings resolving to do and dress as I was told, to not indulge my own vanity, and to consider only the bride’s happiness.

    I didn’t succeed 100% because I overslept on the day of my brother’s wedding and didn’t have time to wash my hair. It’s visibly greasy in the photos. I worried about it a bit but I kept telling myself; “the bride looks like a rock star, nobody is looking at me!”

    Which was true.

    • Dry shampoo. It’s amazing stuff. Or talcum powder makes more of a mess but does the job. 🙂

  14. I’m so saddened by my friends who are freaking out about how they look for my wedding. It’s driving a wedge into our friendship. I’m trying to be patient and supportive, but I really tire of women who are obsessed with physical appearance, and watching one of my oldest friends turn into a waistline obsessed zombie is driving me insane. She used to be a size 10, and now is a 4. She suddenly turned into someone I barely recognize in skin tight clothing and towering high heels, that is obsessed with brand names and status symbols, who can’t talk about anything that matters. I tried to give the situation the benefit of the doubt, but it’s been so many repeated instances of these superficial priorities being at the forefront of her life. It’s rubbing off on another bridesmaid and suddenly everyone involved in the wedding keeps talking about body size every time we get together. I feel deeply saddened that everything needs to be about waistlines and not the love shared by me and my fiance, and celebration of life. I appreciate this column and the opportunity to vent.

  15. Personally, this article couldn’t have been posted at a better time. My one bridesmaid is one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever met: tall, fit, blonde and beautiful. Her self-confidence, though, is so low that she’s comparing herself to my maid of honor (my sister, who also happens to be one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever met). Now she’s telling people she hates her dress – that she picked out – and has barely talked to me in months. All of this has caused me the most stress in my year of planning, and I have no idea how to talk to her about it. I chose these women because they’re family and I love them, not because I need them to look a certain way. I’m trying to be understanding and not angry, but the closer the wedding gets, the harder it is not to be pissed.

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