How I Overcame the Societal Pressure to Lose Weight for My Wedding

The disordered eating habits that plagued my youth began to bubble up as soon as I got engaged.

Lexi Weber Wedding
Photo: Getty Images

"Let it out," I told the seamstress, pointing to the fabric seams running along my hips and thighs. "Let all of this out."

My wedding dress, an ivory, strapless trumpet gown with a sweetheart neckline,looked beautiful on my five-foot-four athletic frame — so long as I stood perfectly still and kept my breathing shallow. I tried lowering myself onto a nearby seat, only to discover that I couldn't hinge at my hips.I clumsily slid off the slick leather chair onto the floor of the tiny studio and began to panic that I had just spent more than a month's rent on a dress I couldn't even sit in. Beads of sweat begin to gather at the small of my back.

I was fed up.

Up until I started to plan my wedding, I finally thought I was 100 percent comfortable with my body. I spent a good portion of my twenties recovering from an eating disorder that had plagued my high school and college years. By the time I was 30 years old, though, I was the confidante you called when you needed a pep talk about your totally normal pregnancy weight gain and a reminder that "snapback" culture is complete BS. I was the person you turned to when you wanted to vent about the pervasiveness of diet culture. Essentially, I was the body-positive hype girl.

Suddenly, my [Instagram] account's Explore page was an endless scroll of Photoshopped brides encouraging me to whiten my teeth or "tone" my arms.

But when I got engaged in 2021, I was bombarded with emails featuring body-shamingsubject lines you'd think had been ripped from a 2010 magazine cover. Think language such as: "Your Step-by-Step Guide to Looking Flawless On Your Big Day," "Need To Slim Down for Wedding Season?" "Join Our Bridal Boot Camp Today!" and "Brides Reveal Their Best Weight-Loss Tips."

The societal pressure to lose weight before my wedding day didn't just flood my inbox; #bridalbeauty also rose to the top of my Instagram algorithm after I searched for hair and makeup artists near our wedding venue. Suddenly, my account's Explore pagewas an endless scroll of Photoshopped brides encouraging me to whiten my teeth or "tone" my arms.

The overblown emphasis on physical appearance, and weight loss, in particular, could be felt offline, too. At my first bridal appointment, the attendant zipped up a strapless number on me and stuffed the sensitive under-arm skin that was poking out of the dress back into the bodice. "You'll have to remember to have your bridal party smooth your back fat once you are in the gown," the attendant said to me. Once she noticed the shocked look on my face, she quickly added, "Extra skin, I mean. Everyone has it."

During another dress-shopping appointment, I found a spaghetti-strapped, fit-and-flare gown that I liked. As I stood on the platform in front of my bridal party and mother, the attendant praised the curve of my butt and tiny waist — but even the "good" comments made me feel uncomfortable. "This will look great taken in here," the various attendants would say, pulling at the bodice and pointing to the area just under my butt. "You'll want to accentuate your waist by adding a detail there," they'd add. "You can have pads sewn in to enhance the chest area." Whether the words they uttered were meant to be flattering or helpful, all I heard was, "You need to accentuate what society deems as 'pretty' and find a way to fix the rest." The idea that you need to drastically change your appearance for one single day of your life implies that you'd look better only when there's less of you — that how you look right now isn't good enough.

Throughout much of my engagement, my body was sending up emergency flares. Even though I had been in recovery for more than a decade, the pressure to jump on the "shedding for the wedding" bandwagon triggered my years-long battle with an eating disorder. Occasionally, I found myself taking inventory of the calories I consumed in a day and mentally calculating how long I would need to work out to burn them off. The familiar urge to skip meals crept up, as did the compulsion to criticize every aspect of my physical appearance. Many times, I had to stifle the inner voice telling me I needed to become a thinner, wrinkle-free, bigger-boobed, hairless version of myself in order to look my best on The Happiest Day of My Life.

Lexi Weber Wedding
Photos by Brittany Lauren / Venue: Lighthouse Cove Event Center, Dewey Beach, Delaware

The truth is, though, I didn't aspire to be the most beautiful version of me — at least, based on society's definition — on my wedding day. In fact, every time someone told me I would undoubtedly be my most beautiful self during my nuptials, I think of a photograph my then-fiancé took a few years ago. It was a late summer evening, just after an ocean swim. My face was makeup-free and sunkissed, and my naturally wavy hair was unbrushed and wild— the polar opposite of the extreme beauty standards brides are supposed to live up to. And yet, I look content, happy, and beautiful. I recognize myself in that photo so fully.

I learned the best way to counter the societal pressure to look the "right way" as a bride was to check in with the version of myself who knows better than to buy into unrealistic beauty standards.

As the days until my wedding whittled down, I turned a blind eye to those cringe-worthy emails and tuned out the toxic comments about my body. Instead, I sought out that carefree, radiant version of myself who knows her worth isn't tied to her physical appearance and focused on what makes me feel my best emotionally, mentally, and physically. I learned the best way to counter the societal pressure to look the "right way" as a bride was to check in with the version of myself who knows better than to buy into unrealistic beauty standards.

When I went to pick up my wedding dress, I tried it on one last time. The fabric in the hips was looser with the new alterations, and the zipper closed easily — even when I breathed normally. I took a few long strides and practiced sitting once more, bending easily at the hips this time.In the floor-length mirror in front of me,I sawthe same woman I met in my thirties — the fighter who stopped starving and punishing herself. The woman I saw was the part of me who accepts and loves herself exactly as she is, regardless of the number on the scale.

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