What I Learned From Dress Fitting Stress

[This is a post that is going to talk about weight, specifically me worrying about my weight and body size even though I am a thin person. So you might not want to read this if you struggle with disordered eating or body image problems or even if weight talk just makes your eyes roll. But it does have a happy ending.]

I bought my wedding dress in August. It fit snugly when I bought it. I weighed myself and I took my measurements and I said, “Self, if you are bigger than this, your dress won’t fit.”

Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for neurotic disaster? It was, and I wish I’d never done it.

Do you want some overly detailed background on my body image? I hope so, because you’re getting it: I think I’m probably a couple standard deviations right of center when it comes to body satisfaction. A big part of that is because I am thin, so society isn’t constantly telling me that I’m lazy, unhealthy, or a bad person, even though I’m usually at least one of those things. In my adult life I’ve weighed thirty pounds more than this and ten pounds less than this and at all points I felt great about how my body looked. [Granted, thirty pounds more than this at best puts me into the “in-betweenie” category. This isn’t that remarkable a feat of personal body acceptance, but sometimes it seems like any woman who loves her body has a supernatural resistance to the kyriarchy].

Losing a lot of weight was weird for me, especially because I didn’t try to do it. I was simultaneously terrified that I was sick, delighted by all the positive attention weight loss brings, guilty because I didn’t “earn” that praise, excited by my new clothes, mournful for my lost DD boobs, fearful that the weight would come back and I wouldn’t love my old body anymore, and immensely irritated because, really, what is so praiseworthy about being thin that a possibly sick person deserves credit for shrinking? [See also]

I wasn’t sick, at least not physically (anxiety can make you lose weight because you burn more calories when you are panicking. That stress is so much more likely to kill you than fat is. Thin != healthy). My weight settled into a happy place where the Wii fit doesn’t make my avatar flop like a wet noodle and I get fewer “eat a sandwich” comments (Sidebar: don’t say shit like that! You don’t get to tell other people what they should eat or their body should look like).

But weddings make you do the wacky. The spectre of my snug sample wedding dress made me worry about my weight in a way that felt foreign and wrong. I went on a new antidepressant and almost immediately gained five pounds. Five pounds which no one but me and the waistband of my jeans noticed. This brought on a minor freak-out that involved a lot of internet research about how much seams can be let out and trying to convince myself I could always buy a new dress (those attempts at rationality always ended in tears). And then, and understand I feel like a traitor when I confess this: I tried to lose those five pounds. I upped my cardio [I already exercise almost every day because a) It tremendously relieves my depression b) I like being reasonably “fit” such that I can lift heavy things and run up flights of stairs without getting winded c) I am mostly unemployed and have a lot of time to kill] and tried drink more water, less beer, and to snack on fruits and veggies instead of cheese and crackers.

I avoided weighing myself to try to hold body hate at bay. But with two weeks to go before my dress fitting, I stepped on a scale: I had not lost one pound. And I cried. I’m ashamed of that, but it is true.

But I somehow snapped out of it. I wore a really tight dress on my birthday, one I’d previously intended to return for being too small, and I felt like a million bucks in it. Maybe I actually was a little slimmer even though my scale number stayed the same. Maybe not. Maybe I just let go and got to be the person I normally am, the person who loves her body, so I felt the dress looked sexy instead of too small, even though nothing had changed.

I realized how much I missed the feeling of loving my body and feeling sexy without subjecting myself to judgment and fear. So even though putting myself through more cardio and dipping carrot sticks instead of pretzels into my hummus might have, possibly, made my dress fit when it otherwise would not have, it doesn’t matter. The moral of this story is not “I worried about my weight so I exercised a lot and then my dress fit, hooray!” The moral of this story is after finding out my dress fit, I realized the stress and the bad feelings about whether or not the dress would fit were not worth it.

I’m writing this and sharing this (with trepidation, because the last thing I want is to perpetuate diet culture and body hatred) so that I remember that over these next two months. I want to look good on my wedding day, sure, but I want to love myself for the rest of my life. So I need to let myself love my body regardless of what clothes it fits into.

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24 responses to “What I Learned From Dress Fitting Stress

  1. My wedding dress was two sizes too small. The tailor made it fit. She did tell me that I would need to lose 5lbs. I didn’t. It still fit. I lost that weight right before the wedding anyway, since the anxiety and stress meant having less time to eat.

    I lost about 30lbs my first year of law school. Before, I really hated the way I looked. I felt crummy about myself. For the last three years, I’ve come into body acceptance. I have weeks where I gain a few pounds and feel unhappy about it, but that’s usually because I’m also not exercising (and I agree, exercise keeps depression at bay). When we got married and I gained 10lbs, I felt depressed about that and about my life, so I finally committed to losing it. I’m actually down 13lbs from my high in January, and I feel really really good. Looking in the mirror makes me happy. I don’t like that I don’t feel happy when I’m heavier, but it is what it is. I think we all have things to work on about ourselves, whether it’s how we look, how we feel, how we feel about how we look, or whether we leave our shoes under the dining room table and our cereal bowls on our desk.

  2. I am currently at my all-time heaviest weight. I am still in the “But You’re Not Fat!!!” category, but I am definitely overweight by BMI. Day-to-day, I feel great about and love my body, but there are definitely times when I dread cameras and mirrors. I am also getting married in 2.5 months, and I am terrified that my wedding pictures will be photos I hide away because I am unhappy with my body. I love my dress, I love the way I feel in my dress, and I am reasonably confident that I will feel like a knockout on my wedding day and will look at my photos with joy, but I am still scared. And I don’t want to go on a bridal diet because a) I already eat well and exercise, b) I don’t have time to stress out about that on top of all the other shit going on, and c) I don’t want to perpetuate the must-lose-weight-to-be-a-bride *thing*. But I am scared. Luckily, my dude loves my body, I have awesome photographers who will capture the (hopefully!) joyful day, and, most importantly, I love my body and feel pretty darn sassy 95% of the time. I just have to remind myself of those things.

    • Word! I was underweight when we got engaged, and I kind of hated this idea that everyone would expect me to at least be absolutely no larger on my wedding day and possibly skinnier? I did not want to be any skinnier. But I also don’t want people to judge me for “letting myself go” before my wedding.

      On the flip side, I’ve read a lot from people who lost weight while engaged and felt embarrassed by people’s expectation that they did it just for the wedding.

  3. I’m about 5 pounds down from the heaviest I’ve ever been. Many of my clothes still don’t fit. but you know, I wore a skin tight sequin dress to my bachelorette party last weekend and I felt super sexy and amazing. I feel empowered by working out more and drinking less and eating healthier, even if my appearance hasn’t changed at all. For me it’s just action versus inaction.

    • Yes, yes, yes! And go you!

    • I completely agree that exercise/eating well tend to make people feel better in their lives. I think the issue is exercise/eating well for the purpose of changing size tend to make people (not all people, though) miserable. I take exercise for granted in my life. If I have an injury or a super time-consuming job and can’t do it anymore, I’ll feel LOST.

      But I don’t eat very well. I mean, I love vegetables, but I also love fried food and beer. I could be worse but I could be so much better.

  4. This is so damn level-headed and thoughtful I want to reach across the internets and high five you. 5!

  5. I love this post. I completely relate and totally understand.

    My wedding is in two.5 weeks, and I have gone through the exact same thing. I know it’s a little late, but weight training. Seriously. You don’t necessarily lose a lot of weight, but you just get … smaller. It’s science, somehow. But you get stronger, and smaller, and it’s awesome. My dress went from being too big (pre-alterations), to almost too-small (post-alterations), so I’ve been doing the ridiculous bridal working-out song-and-dance (and had to endure comments from lots of friends that are all like “really? I didn’t think YOU’D be into that” which I just don’t know how to take). But anyway, yeah. Weight training. Good.

    xo

    • So back when I was at my highest weight, my blood pressure was scary high (birth control pills were the culprit) and my doctor suggested I lose ten pounds. I tried weight lifting, mostly because I’d been so inspired by the chapter “Cheap Meat” in Woman: An Intimate Geography (which you absolutely must read if you haven’t). I LOVE weight lifting. There was a moment where I arm wrestled a (totally sedentary) guy and he was astonished that he couldn’t easily beat me. I was insanely proud of that. I love getting stronger.

      When I lost those 30 pounds, I lost a lot of strength too because my body ate its muscles. It was hard to get back into lifting, because I could remember what I used to be able to press and it was so frustrating to not be able to even approach that. And now I’m out of school and don’t have a free gym membership, but I did level up my hand weights recently (to 8lbs! To do things I used to do at 15lbs on a “light day” at the gym).

      Anyway, hooray for weight training!

  6. I haven’t commented before, but thanks. I really needed this today. 🙂

  7. I love you! And you looked HOTTTT in that birthday dress (if it’s the power/lightning dress I’m thinking of).

    I have always been a chubster, but I’ve also always been really confidant and happy. And that’s because, as you have so eloquently pointed out, it is driven by what’s INSIDE of you. And girl, I think you’ve got it. ❤

    • Thank you. I am referring to my Power/Lightning dress, which is what I will call it from now on.

      I love how confident and happy you are in your body. I’m so lucky that I have friends of all sizes who love their bodies and routinely look amazing. You’ve got it too, babe!

  8. antoinette jeanine

    I’ve finally come to a sane place with the wedding weight thing. It was a long journey. And I’m not even engaged yet (although I will be by June 6th. Just don’t tell my future in-laws I know that).

    My FH and I started dating December of our first year of college. I weighed about 115 lbs, up 7 from my high-school weight. I was already full of hate for how much I’d gained and ready to believe I was too fat and disgusting to be loved. In the 5.5 years since then, I gained 73 more pounds and, in the past year, lost 20.

    Sometime during this interminable pre-engagement period, it occurred to me that a wedding could be an incentive to lose a bunch of weight. While suffering on the elliptical, I started picturing myself in a sleeveless dress (I particularly loathe my arms, so much so that I’ve been known to wear cardigans in 100-degree heat).

    Then, and I don’t particularly know when, it struck me that my future husband still loves me even though I may look like I ate my former self. He still thinks I’m sexy; he still loves my figure. I’m the only one who hates myself, and even if I lose incomprehensible amounts of weight I’ll still find a reason to hate the way I look. When I weighed 108, I hated my lack of chesticles. I’ve always hated the fact that I’m 5’0, and there’s nothing I can do to change that — except build the stretching machine from Muppet Treasure Island.

    So that’s how thinking about weddings made me sane about my weight, and accept that I’d honestly be OK getting married the weight I am now. I found the most lovely dress with sleeves (http://whirlingturban.com/wedding_boutique/boutique_detail.php?id=33) and I’m happy just knowing that I’ll be comfortable and happy and pretty.

    That’s the long way of saying thank you for this post.

  9. This was an awesome, awesome post. I agree with all your ideals and I’m really happy for you that you’re working towards loving your body. I think you’re totally right that the stress and angst aren’t worth it, and perhaps the same can be said of most wedding-related stress and angst. Some of it is, probably, when you’re actually wading through serious heavy important family-building stuff, according to APW anyway, but I suspect for the most part I’ll just be so over it all afterwards.

  10. Friend! (I’m a lurker, but since I’ve been lurking so long I can call you friend) Great post, I’m getting to that point of just being ok with my weight for the wedding day. Quick story I was working a lot and gained about 25 lbs from when I was in law school, got laid off 6 months before I got engaged. the brightside of the lay off was that i had a ton of time to exercise. I started running again and lost 20 lbs without dieting. Then got engaged at my new and improved fit self and I started to feel the pressure of trying to lose maybe just 10 more lbs before the wedding. Bought a dress over a year before the wedding date and it fit. So I started thinking “Now I can’t gain a one single pound right? And wouldn’t it be better if i just got toned and lost that 5lbs?” Well me and this last 5 lbs have been fighting, i’ll lose 2 then have a fun weekend and gain 4 and recently I just decided that’s fine. I fit into my dress, damn it! why am I putting pressure on myself! so i’ve been just been focused on maintaining weight which i can do with my normal routine and minimal dieting (i.e. choosing salad with meat instead of a burger 50% of the time) and trying my hand and some light weight lifting to try and tone my arms.
    —hopefully i can look back at this and remind myself that i’m not stressed…

    • Hi, friend! I totally relate to what you are saying here. I have a Wii Fit, and I don’t usually do the “body test” (weighing) part anymore, but back when I did (because it’s the only way to get the little stamp on the calendar! Argh!) I noticed my weight went up and down 3-4 pounds over the course of most weeks for no apparent reason. Worrying about the specific numbers is crazy making.

      And yes, holy cow, being out of work does wonders for one’s fitness. I worry a lot about when I’d find time to work out if I got a full-time job (especially one with a commute)

  11. I have always wanted to write (blog, LJ, nextangstybestseller) about surviving my breakup. A notable part of that roller coaster was a bunch of (to me, inexplicable) weight loss. As you know.

    I didn’t notice I was losing weight. I TRULY remember eating (I mean, sure that first week or so, no I was not eating…but I lost weight for months) and I certainly wasn’t working out. I was barely moving! Seriously. I remember a LOT of sitting on couches. I still don’t get it, today! A moment that will always stick with me was when my bikini waxer lady was all “wow, you’ve lost weight.” When I was sprawled half naked on a table in what I can only assume is the least flattering position imaginable. After that, I decided my friends weren’t being overprotective and my waist bands weren’t all suddenly defective.

    After reading this entry and that incredible blog entry you linked to, it got me thinking: a significantly weird part of the experience was all the compliments–which were almost always followed by “girl, what have you been doing!?” As in, “what’s your secret!”

    Ah, what to say in that moment? The truth? The whole and nothing but the truth? Hrm. “Well. Funny you ask. I’m not sure what’s doing the trick exactly. Sometimes I don’t want to eat because I’m so sad, and my anxiety/depression issues are funneled to my gut, that I’m reeling in pain from my stomach feeling like it’s actually imploding in on itself. …sometimes I stare at food in my kitchen and try to make a decision before I physically lose the will to stand up anymore, but I fail at that a lot. …perhaps subconsciously, I know that eating will keep me existing and why put effort into that! …but really, I don’t know the answer. The last thing I’m thinking about and the least thing I could care about each and every day I wake up and each night I go to bed is what fucking size jeans I am!!!”

    That would have gotten me some intense blank stares at a fun party.

    Sometimes I just lied. It was easiest. “Oh, just working out, watching what I eat. You know.” Sometimes I was a little more honest, risking some follow-up. “Uh, I’m not sure, honestly. Weird!” Sometimes I was for-real honest, just withholding emotions and adding the tried and true Abby defensive wit: “Oh, I’m on the old break-up diet! You know, don’t want to eat because I’m so sad! It’s pretty extreme but still better than Atkins.”

    But that tirade you just read above…that’s closer to the real truth. And no one wants to hear that. But HONESTLY–I think if I would have said all that, as tears streamed down my face by the end, you know what someone in the room would have eventually said? “Well. You LOOK great.”

    I get it. I really do. I’m not above any of this. Sometimes yeah, I find myself looking at pictures from that time and thinking man, my tummy looks pretty awesome. But I can’t imagine going back to being that sad. To life being that sad. And if that means I’m not allowed to imagine going back to teetering on a size 4, then I happily accept.

  12. wow! i went through the same thing. i am normally a size 4. my dress is a size 6 but it was tight! its a corset back and everytime i was in it i felt like i couldnt breathe and saw my arm fat hanging over. i worked out like crazy until my next fitting and only lost a lb! my fiance said bc i was building muscle, hmm! the next fitting i told them not to pull so tight and omg! it fit so much better. still tight, but oh well! i can do it!!!!!! i hated that month of watching every little thing, its hard. girls just love yourselves the way you are, being healthy but not obsessive!

  13. High five on writing a weight post that was altogether awesome. I’m glad that you feel good. And if you exercise every day you’re not lazy. 🙂 I love meeting people who also feel good about their bodies, and have managed to feel good about their bodies at many different shapes and sizes. “meeeting.”

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