Buying 'The Dress' doesn't need to be terrifying. In fact, it might help you love your body even more.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
May 09, 2017

Buying a wedding dress is either a champagne-filled dream or an experience so horribly fraught they made reality show out of it. Either way, the pressure to find your perfect dress for your perfect day can be extremely overwhelming. But if the thought of standing on a dais wearing a gown that costs more than your monthly salary while family and strangers critique your body doesn't sound like fun (and really, who wouldn't be terrified of that?), take heart. Shopping for a wedding dress doesn't need to make you crazy, vowing to go on a liquid cleanse until you get married. In fact, it can help you love and appreciate your body even more. (Related: This Bride Embraced Her Alopecia on Her Wedding Day)

Step one? Ditch all the expectations. It's not your mother's dress or your best friend's dress or even the bridal magazine's dress-forget what everyone else wants for you and focus on what you want. Next? Let these happy brides tell you:

It encouraged me to #LoveMyShape

"Dressing for the body I have and not the one I want made me look (and feel!) beautiful. The dress I fell in love with was a size 6, and I was a 18-20 when I tried it on the first time. My sales attendant was wonderful though and helped me to see the possibilities in it and never once did I feel 'fat' or 'ugly.' Although I will say that just like with other clothing, plus sizes still get the shaft when it comes to selection and customer service." -Julie C., 32, Stow, OH

"At 57 years old, my age adds an extra wrinkle (ha!) to the experience of shopping for a dress. I accept my age and for me this means my wedding dress needs to be simple and elegant-with a few extra adjustments. My skin is not as fresh as when I was 20 so I will get a spray tan. My breasts have lost volume so I invested in a good push-up, padded bra. Plus, I'm only 5'3" so instead of getting lost in a long dress, I picked a short, lacy number. I love to dance and now I will be able to with no problem. My dress highlights my athletic body and gave me confidence the second I tried it on. This experience has taught me it's really all about accentuating the positive and not worrying about the rest." Deborah P., 57, Eugene, OR

"I've always been a tall girl and have always felt a little self-conscious about towering over other people. I finally found a dress I liked, and I went to try it on and was dismayed to find it was, of course, too short. But the price was right and it really was a beautiful dress. I decided I could continue to stress about something I couldn't change (my height) or I could just embrace it and make it work. I bought the dress and picked a lovely pair of flats to go with it. On my wedding day I felt beautiful and was just glad to be getting married to such a great guy. Later I found out that my height was one of the things that made my husband first notice me and to this day is one of his favorite things about me." -Angie J., 35, Murrieta, CA

"Working out helped me know my body in a way I never had before. Instead of judging it, I was able to look at it objectively. This meant I knew exactly what would be most flattering on my body type-so much so that I bought my dress online and never even tried on a single dress. In fact, the only time I went into a bridal shop was to find bridesmaid dresses. When my dress arrived in the mail it fit perfectly. I absolutely loved it, andI learned to trust my instincts about my own body." -Jenny S., 36, British Columbia

"I made the mistake of going on the birth control pill and picking out my dress at the same time. Even though I had my dress tailored perfectly, I hadn't accounted for what the extra hormones would do to my chest. I had all sorts of extra boob to stuff into that poor bodice come the day of the wedding! But that dress taught me to see my body with kindness and respect all the changes we go through as women." -Katie W., 40, Denver, CO

I highlighted my favorite features

"In shopping for my dream wedding dress, I learned the most important person in the process is the girl who has to actually wear the dress. There are so many people who have opinions on everything about your wedding and will give them to you, whether you ask for them or not (including comments about your body and what it should look like, yikes!). So shopping for my dress showed me the important thing is to tune out all the outside commentary and to go with what you love. For me, that meant a strapless dress, first because it's elegant but in my comfort zone but also because it shows off my shoulders and arms, two body parts that I love and have worked really hard on." -Cassie S., 29, Boston, MA

"I'd recently lost 100 pounds but while I knew I'd lost a lot of weight I still felt 'fat' and I thought I was too heavy to look good in white. At first, I refused to even consider a white wedding dress, but my maid of honor convinced me to try on a few very traditional dresses and I ended up falling in love with one. Seeing myself in the dress helped me recognize and appreciate all the hard work I'd done to lose the weight and accept that it was really me now. Plus the halter neckline-something I would never have considered when I was heavier-showed off the killer back muscles I'd developed from lifting weights. I felt like a badass princess on my wedding day and enjoyed every moment of it!" -Leah W., 38, Austin, TX

"When I imagined my wedding dress I had always envisioned something slim-fitting and sleek, the height of elegance and sophistication. But the truth was that my body was extremely pear-shaped-big thighs and bum, small breasts-and all of those types of dresses made me feel even more self-conscious about it. I finally had to accept that my ideal dress shape didn't work with my body shape.I ended up choosing a dress that was the exact opposite of my vision, with a very full tulle skirt and tight, strapless bodice. True, it was the exact opposite of what I thought I wanted, but when I came out of the dressing room my mom, my grandmother and the saleswomen all burst out in tears! I knew I had found The Dress." -Sara D., 30, Baltimore, MD

I realized that the dress isn't everything

"The limited selection of plus-size dresses was painful at first but it helped me realize that ultimately the dress isn't the important part, marrying my husband is. I finally found a simple, elegant dress that makes me feel like the most beautiful version of myself. There's a lot of pressure to look a certain way for your wedding and that can cause a lot of stress during an already stressful time. Finding my dress taught me that it wasn't my body that was the problem, society's ridiculous bridal expectations were." -Kenlie T., 36, New Orleans, LA

"I had an eating disorder all through high school and college, but I'd been in recovery for over a year by the time I met the man who would become my husband. I was doing pretty good with staying healthy until I went shopping for wedding dresses. My mom wanted to splurge and get me a designer dress, but all the sample sizes at the boutique were so tiny that all I could see was the weight I'd gained. Plus staring at my body in the mirror for hours was agonizing. By the end of the trip, I hadn't found a dress but had decided to go on a pre-wedding diet. After a few skipped meals, my fiancé knew something was up and told me that if a wedding dress was going to make me go back to anorexia, he didn't want me to get one, the wedding wasn't worth my health. I knew he was right. I ended up getting married in a white lace dress I found at the mall-I tried on different sizes until I found one that fit, then my sister cut out the tag before I could even see it (and be triggered by it). It was perfect." -Marie H., 26, Salt Lake City, UT