I am engaged. I am not on a diet.
When my partner proposed to me in October, I was disturbed to observe that alongside my joy, the first thoughts to creep in were tainted with worries about my body. The dress, the fittings, the imagined opinions of gathered friends and family about my arms, my stomach, my behind.
My feminism, my therapeutic commitment to HAES (Health at Every Size) and rejection of fatphobia and diet culture, my personal work over a lifetime to accept my rubenesque figure and to feel worthy of love – all withered under the blast of this powerful cultural imperative: pre wedding diets.
Do I need to be x pounds lighter, x inches thinner, to wed?
Is this body good enough to hold on to this partner, this relationship?
Then, darkest of all:
Which wedding diet should I quietly begin, and how can I keep it a secret?
My identity, my personal politics, and my membership in a beautiful gender and body-diverse community are vital to me. Never ever would I be a bride who loudly discusses calories in the workplace break room, or who makes her attempts to cut out whole food groups into an all-absorbing hobby. Never would I give voice to my internalized fatphobia, and risk both contributing to a more hostile world for others or, shamefully, letting others know how much I have yet to fully accept my own body, as it is.
Within hours of the accepted proposal, the thoughts grew like weeds. The old urge to try to diet came on like a text from a toxic but alluring ex. Princess Diana once said of her husband’s open-secret affair, “there were three of us in the marriage.”
Would secret wedding diets be a third shadow standing between my partner and me at the altar?
Why do so many brides, when faced with the closest thing to a declaration of a commitment to be accepted and loved in perpetuity, immediately feel the intense requirement to change our bodies?
The gravitational pull of this new identity, “bride-to-be,” weighs heavier than I would have expected. My practice of allowing myself to eat intuitively and trusting my hunger cues has become more difficult as this other voice, the voice of the half-starved bride, grew louder. Old ideas from my upbringing, drenched in diet culture and counting (calories, carbs, points) bubbled back to the surface.
In the car on the way to try on a batch of wedding dresses, my best friend said to me, “You are the only bride I know that hasn't immediately started some crazy crash diet.” At times it feels impossible to maintain this honored status.
Brides are expected to be anxious, combative, and inflexible.
In fights with their families over the venue, the showers, the guestlist. Rigidly demanding too much from their closest friends in the bridal party. To be emotionally volatile, ready to rage or cry at the drop of a hat or a bungled RSVP. Wedding planning is inarguably stressful, brings strained family relationships into close contact, and is sadly rife with infuriating misogyny – but these are also the classic mood-instability symptoms of low blood sugar.
Has anybody wondered whether these ‘bridezillas' have hulked out because of their deep soul-crushing hunger? Is anyone around on standby to offer them a savory sandwich or a buttery croissant when things start going off the rails?
In the months since getting engaged, I have had to work hard, committedly, to decolonize my own ideas of what it is to be a “bride” and to loosen the straitjacket of expectations around gender presentation, cis-normativity, the bridal body.
But the culture has done its work: online advertisements for weight loss programs run alongside those for shoes and veils, measuring tapes dance like sugar-plum fairies and careless seamstresses warn not to gain weight or the dress won’t fit. Fatphobia seeps in and out of our pores. It’s in the air we breathe. It takes so much willpower to keep exhaling it, rejecting it.
Thank heavens for the work of the fat activists and body liberationists, nutritionists, doctors, writers, and scholars who have come before.
The best antidote for me is the mantra: diets don't work, diets don't work, diets don't work. The research is clear: 95% of diets fail, they harm our metabolisms, they create more health risks than they solve. They are psychologically damaging, ruining self-esteem and triggering eating disorders or worsening existing disordered eating (and thinking) patterns.
They are based on the fundamental oppressive falsehood that some bodies are better than others and come with a flood of shoddy and misleading pseudo-science. They encourage grandiose delusions of control over our bodies, health, and mortality itself. See Aubrey Gordon’s work, including the podcast Maintenance Phase and her two important books, for fun and accessible resources on the science and culture around these sobering facts.
I refuse to spend the next five months hungry, worrying about wedding diets.
I will not participate in a pre-wedding diet that could do irreparable harm not only to my body and mind, but also my most important relationships. Moving through this next milestone with my body and self-love intact will take all the resources I can muster. I am as committed to doing so as I am to loving my partner as well as I am able, as long as we both shall live.
But resisting the pressure to whittle myself down before I walk down the aisle is taking a lot more work than I'd like to admit. I won’t let that skeletal, shadowy third – a diet – monopolize my attention, stand between my loved ones and me, and steal my joy at my wedding. She is not invited.