Beauty Redefined Blog

Shedding for the Wedding? Shed the Lies Instead!

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Every bride is reminded her wedding day is all about her. But instead of focusing on the happy relationship, major industries keep women focused on one new aspect of being a bride: becoming as small as possible for the big day.  

I, Lexie, got married while I was a PhD candidate knee-deep in studying all these unreal beauty ideals women are up against. Because of this, I chose to do my “big day” Beauty Redefined style to maximize my happiness and minimize my body angst. So, from a personal perspective and a research-driven lens, let’s talk about what the now-commonplace pressures of “shedding for the wedding” mean for women everywhere.

Before the year 2000, there were very few pushes to get women to lose weight before their weddings.  Advertisers and industry execs hadn’t conceived of this new “flaw” yet.  In fact, Cornell researchers found only one weight loss ad in all the 1990s wedding magazines they could get their hands on! Photoshopping didn’t become an industry standard until the late 90s, so women featured in magazines and ads weren’t being digitally manipulated out of reality quite yet. AND plastic surgery didn’t shoot through the roof until the 21st century, when rates of cosmetic surgeries performed in the U.S. increased 446 percent to reach $12 billion in 2010, with 92 percent performed on women. Simultaneously, the weight loss industry is flourishing unlike ever before, with $61 billion spent pushing the quest for thinness at all costs in 2010 – more than twice as much as in 1992.

Oh the pressure. Don’t fall for it. Just buy a dress that fits!

So it isn’t surprising that a full 70 percent of nearly 300 engaged women said they wanted to lose weight – usually 20 pounds – a 2007 Cornell study found.* Where on earth would they get that idea?

Since 2000, industries revolving around diet and weight loss, plastic surgery, weddings, and women’s media have placed a target on brides-to-be. In the last decade, we have seen the rise of popular TV shows, advertising campaigns, surgical procedures, magic wraps to lose inches in minutes, and diet plans/pills that demand an unattainable “bridal beauty” that is harmful to health, happiness, relationships, and female progress in every way that really matters.

These days, master cleanses (pedaled by the likes of Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow in order to fit into their red carpet dresses or go naked on set) are popular among engaged women. “Bridalplasty,” “Shedding for the Wedding,” “Bridal Bootcamp,” (and other hopefully canceled shows) teach women that in order to show your face on your big day, you must fight against other women on your quest for necessary cosmetic procedures, extreme weight loss, and endure public shaming. In the last decade, researchers have seen a major escalation in anorexic behavior among brides-to-be, and have labeled it “brideorexia.” Plus, 10 percent of women who start extreme pre-wedding diet and exercise programs will develop a lasting disorder, according to Dr. Ira M. Sacker, eating disorder specialist and professor at NYU Medical Center.

When I got engaged, I knew what I was up against. I talked to Lindsay about my goals for making my engagement and wedding as “Beauty Redefined” as possible. I wanted to be happy, I didn’t want to buy into all the lies these industries were demanding I fall for, and I wanted to keep the focus on celebrating my relationship with the awesome man I found that loved me – not just a vision of me, but ALL of me. And so I made a plan of attack to do my own version of “shedding for the wedding” – NOT shedding weight, but shedding all those lies I’d heard from the time I was a teenager in the late 90s about what I had to look like to be happy on my wedding day.

I truly grew up believing I had to look a very particular way in order to be happy, to be successful, to be loved, to qualify to be married at all. But something very powerful has been confirmed to me in the last year. All those messages I grew up surrounded by are LIES.  And while I hoped they were lies, I can now prove it. Because I do not fit the ideals media tells me I’m supposed to fit to be happy, successful, loved, and married. And guess what? I’m happy! And I’m (trying my hardest to be) successful! And I’m loved! And I’m MARRIED! It’s crazy, and it’s true. And whether you are married or single, planning a wedding or not, these strategies apply to all of us. They worked for me, they work in scholarly research, and they will help you understand your worth in a world that so often confuses you about who you are just to make a few dollars. 

Click the image to check out our sticky notes that are PERFECT for providing unexpected reminders for publicly displayed body-shaming magazines!

Click the image to check out our sticky notes that are PERFECT for providing unexpected reminders for publicly displayed body-shaming magazines!

Resist Pinterest and back away from those bridal magazines: Choose a time period to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic. I chose to never pick up a bridal magazine, read a bridal blog, go to Pinterest wedding pages, etc. This made it much easier for me to not hold myself or my wedding to the standard of others, but plan it the way I wanted it. I was able to steer clear of all Photoshopped wedding dress models and idealized images of “bridal beauty.” I believe this was the most important goal I accomplished. I ordered two dresses online – one from a vintage boutique and one new dress I’m wearing in my pictures that was sure to fit me. Both were fantastic, and I got to steer clear of bridal salons completely!

Forget your arbitrary wedding weight or size goals: Make a goal to stop or limit the number of times you weigh or measure yourself.  When we fixate on arbitrary numbers, that often gets in the way of our health. Start judging your health through your activity level by setting a fitness goal instead of a meaningless number, and you’ll get somewhere great! I did not weigh or measure myself throughout my engagement and set a goal to maintain my fitness routine at the gym as I had been doing previously, but not work to lose any weight to change my appearance for the wedding. My fiancé fell in love with me the way I am, and I didn’t want to buy into the lies that told me I had to “vow to wow” on my wedding day by losing weight. 

Stop that negative mental script: Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds — whether they’re comparing themselves to Photoshopped brides on Pinterest or not. Recent studies show us that girls who don’t like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. If you think you’re gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself? Set a goal to stop saying negative things about yourself. Start with your thoughts — acknowledging when the negative ones creep in and consciously replacing them with self-affirmations (go big on the cheesiness here). Choose a day, a week, a month, whatever you can do to start it, and make it a permanent practice! While I had previously been working on this goal, I decided to take it up a notch and cut out all negative talk entirely – even when trying on wedding dresses or viewing my engagement or wedding photos.

Think nice thoughts instead: On the flipside of the last study, research has found that girls who respect their bodies are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They make healthy lifestyle choices way, way into the future.**  Since what we THINK about our bodies has a strong connection to how we TREAT our bodies, set a goal to shut out negative thoughts as they come and replace them with positive truths! I replaced any negative thoughts that crept into my mind with something positive about my abilities and found major improvements in the negative script that would run through my mind when I was feeling self-conscious.

Put your wedding budget where your mouth is: Make a goal to only shop at stores that treat females respectfully in their advertising and products.  Speaking up with your pocketbook is one of the most powerful ways you can show retailers what you will and will not put up with. For my bridal showers and bachelorette party, I made sure my friends knew I didn’t want to support Victoria’s Secret because I didn’t approve of their marketing. Everyone respected my wishes and VS was not among my gifts! I didn’t feel like I compromised my beliefs for my wedding and my friends got to hear why I am a hater of VS and all other marketing like it. You will be hounded by weight loss and “bridal beauty” advertising online the second the internet finds out about your engagement. Targeted ads on everything from Facebook to Gmail will blast you with reasons to feel shame and want to hide/fix parts of yourself for your “big day.” Don’t even think about clicking on those anxiety-inducing ads. They make money the second you even click. Do it for YOU and your pocketbook! 

Lexie and her husband — un-Photoshopped of course!

Don’t Let Your Photos be Photoshopped out of Reality: If you hire a wedding photographer for anything from your engagement pics to your bridal and wedding shots, speak with that person about your goals to be all of YOU, which includes looking like you in your pictures. In a media world where Photoshopping is an industry standard, it might be tempting to just stay quiet and let that photographer make you look your “personal best” (gag). But imagine the influence you can have on all those loved ones who will see your photos. What if you let them see reality, instead of some hollow, blurred shell of you? What if you let them see those crinkles by your eyes from smiling so much? Or your freckles, stray hairs, the actual curves of your body (or lack of curves!), etc. Plus, you will likely always compare yourself to your wedding pictures. Give yourself a realistic image so you aren’t constantly coming up short. Take hold of your beautiful reality and OWN IT.

I grew up believing I probably wouldn’t find love because I didn’t look like someone that was capable of being loved, and I debunked that major myth. When you look at reality, everyone debunks these myths in so many ways. Those lies that yelled that I must VOW TO WOW on my big day – are such major lies. I didn’t change my appearance in any way – I refused to go tanning, I didn’t highlight my hair, I wore my usual amount of minimal makeup that I did myself, I didn’t lose any weight – all to prove a point. And my point was proved. My husband fell in love with ME – not a vision of me, but all of me. And my “big day” was a celebration of love that wasn’t even about ME; it was about us and our families. I woudn’t have done it any other way. I am SO glad my husband loves me the way I am, but I have had to fight to love myself first. It isn’t anyone else’s job to convince you you are beautiful. A significant other can do a world of good to improve your health and body image, but they can’t do it all for you. You get to be the hero in your own body positivity fairy tale, but having a loving supporter (or several) is key.*Neighbors, L., & Sobal, J. (2007). Prevalence and magnitude of body weight and shape dissatisfaction among university students. Eating Behaviors, 9(4), 429-39.

**van den Berg, P., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2007). Fat ‘n happy 5 years later: Is it bad for overweight girls to like their bodies? Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 415-417.

  1. Sarah
    Sarah01-24-2013

    Congratulations on your marriage! I got married 11+ years ago, and I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to purposely buy a dress that you can’t fit into as “motivation.” Wedding dresses are hugely expensive! Why waste money like that, or put yourself under so much pressure in order not to waste money? Ugh.

    I’m not a fan of the wedding day being all about the bride, either. It should be about the union of two souls, the joining of two families. The groom should fit in somewhere, too!!

    • Cynthia812
      Cynthia81204-03-2013

      Could not agree more. The groom and the marriage are not an afterthought.

  2. Elisabeth
    Elisabeth01-24-2013

    I wonder how much of the Bridzilla nonsense we hear about recently is linked to this. Planning a wedding can be stressful anyway; starving oneself on top of that seems like a recipe for disaster.

  3. Rachel
    Rachel01-24-2013

    I fell for the lies and had to buy a 2nd wedding dress because of it! Not worth it. Thankfully I was keeping my dress fairly inexpensive…but could have gotten a much nicer one instead of 2!!! You look great, and I’m glad that you don’t find any value in following that fad.

  4. Kelly
    Kelly01-24-2013

    I honestly think most men think the chaos surrounding a wedding is ridiculous. I’ll admit I’ve watched some crazy wedding-related reality shows, and when the women are off killing themselves to look different, 75% of the time the men actually say, “I don’t want you to not look like you on our wedding. I am marrying you.” This is when they’re doing things like putting in hair extensions, hiring makeup artists, etc. And I thnk they genuinely mean it. One girl went from a bob hairdo to hair all the way down her back and you could tell her fiance was like, “WHAT?!”

    Another girl tried to make her bridesmaids look bad with ugly dresses and by wearing their hair up because she was so insecure in her body. I kept thinking, “So you’re going to hate the wedding pictures for the rest of your life just so you can be the “prettiest?”

    The psychology around it is warped!

    That said, you look and looked great and happy! You’re an inspiration to everyone!

    Can I ask how you did things like buy a dress or plan the reception without getting sucked in at least a little? I mean, walking into a bridal shop is sensory overwhelm. And the bridal consultants might be the worst of all – some of them actually push the “Well you’ll probaby lose weight, right?” agenda.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined01-24-2013

      Hi Kelly! Great question. I walked into one bridal shop at the very beginning and after trying on a dress that was sized like 5 sizes too small, I took a different plan of attack. I ordered two dresses online and LOVED them both. I found a vintage shop on Etsy (lots of cute shops on Etsy without photoshopped models) and ordered a beautiful vintage, beaded lace dress for an incredibly low price. As a backup, I ordered a new dress at a popular store online that I’m wearing in my pictures. It was not perfectly fitted, so I knew it would fit me well. Those are the first two articles of clothing I have ever bought online, and I highly recommend it! My self esteem went up through the whole process! As for the reception, I opted out of one. I was married in Newport Beach, CA, so everyone involved in the wedding had to travel there. We had a wedding ceremony and then a luncheon, and I must tell you my engagement was the HAPPIEST time of our relationship, up until the marriage. I didn’t have any crazy stress to keep me from feeling happy and excited about the big day!

      • Courntey
        Courntey02-20-2013

        I really wanted a formal wedding, with a formal wedding gown to go with it, so the Etsy dresses really weren’t for me. But I’m still very skeptical that the girl who took my measurements ordered a dress a size too small. They did have all sample sizes that were “normal person” sizes between 8 & 12, so the sample fit, but when the dress came in it was very tight. They ignored all my concerns though & said since it was a lace up I could make it looser on the day of… I regretted listening to them. The ladies there were really quite sweet though, I don’t think they were trying to push any type of agenda, I think they were just as manipulated by it, so I don’t blame them.

        That said, THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS!!!!!!!! I’m wedding seller on Etsy, as well a wedding blogger and have been trying to think of a way to say basically everything here to my brides. I will be sharing this on my page & blogging about with some excerpts tomorrow. I’ve been wanting to do such a post for a long time, but have always been fearful of coming off “preachy”, and then Monday I decided to start a series on different styles of bridesmaid dresses (as in sophisticated, formal, vintage, etc. NOT body type based style) and as I looked at the models I began to worry about helping along an agenda that I’m so passionately against.

        I love looking at the beautiful dresses that designers create each year, but I recognize the runway is one the biggest pushers of the you-must-look-one-way agenda. I want to make it abundantly clear that I am against that, and I don’t want brides, bridesmaids, or women in general to want to buy a dress because it will make their body look a certain way, but rather buy a dress because it’s beautiful. I really want to stress that it is OK to like pretty things, I LOVE pretty things, but it is trying to become a pretty thing that can really affect our happiness in a negative way. Because true happiness will never be gained by becoming a pretty thing, but only from becoming a pretty personality, and our pretty things are to be an expression of that pretty personality, not definers of it.

        Thank you so much for this wonderful site! You two girls are very talented & inspirational writers.

        Courtney

        P.S. Lexi, you & your new husband look incredibly adorable & happy together! Congratulation!

  5. Kelli Anderson
    Kelli Anderson01-24-2013

    i have always loved BR and everything it stands for. i love this post, and thank you for sharing.

    my only thought to interject: a man, a best friend, a mother, a teacher, a yoga instructor, anyone can *help* (i would italicize the word instead of those dorky asterix if that was on option, but you get the idea) to fix body image issues, or any other emotional dysfunciton. in therapy, it is called “corrective emotional support”. healthy + positive relationships are emotional medicine, no matter the dysfunction. yeah, toting a man around as arm candy can’t necessarily magically heal insecurities, but a truly healthy relationship CAN. please, BR, don’t overlook this important point!

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined01-24-2013

      Oh it’s there! You might not have caught it because I just wrote it into the post 10 minutes ago! Check out the second to the last paragraph – all about how Prince Charming can’t heal your body image woes but he can surely help them, as my husband did for me. Thank you, Kelli! You’re a smart woman!

      • Beauty Redefined
        Beauty Redefined01-24-2013

        And I (Lindsay) should note that I just barely added a couple lines to that paragraph to clarify that supporters are 100% necessary. Thank you Kelli!

  6. Jules Hunter
    Jules Hunter01-24-2013

    I love this post for many reasons. I felt so frustrated during my engagement process because (before I was dating or engaged) to my husband, I felt more secure about myself than ever before, which in turn translated to a healthier lifestyle. I had also been losing weight slowly because of this healthy lifestyle months before my engagement. As I was engaged, many close women in my life, commented on my “trim figure” and praised me for the great job I was doing to lose weight before my wedding. It was so disheartening that people just assumed I was “dieting” to look good On my wedding day/night. 7 months after the wedding, I’m happily waiting the arrival of our honeymoon baby, and it begins all over again: “you look so tiny”, “you don’t even look pregnant! How nice!”, “I bet you will lose the weight quickly”. It seems as if I can’t catch a break from hearing negative body comments. I pray we can do and be better as women to celebrate a happy and healthy relationship, or the beauty of a baby actually growing inside of our bodies, or our kindness and talents, and quit commenting on the looks (whether they come across as positive or negative). You two know how grateful I am for what you do! Thank you, thank you!

  7. Kirsten
    Kirsten01-24-2013

    Could you post sources for the two studies you mention in the points on stopping the negative scripts and thinking nice thoughts instead? I firmly believe you are right but would like something more authoritative to point people to.

  8. Melanie English
    Melanie English01-24-2013

    Hi – I love this, I hope my recently engaged step-daughter will read it and absorb it.

    I got married just over 7 years ago, I thought I needed to lose weight, I was a size 16 (UK) at the time. I went to a bridal shop with my Mum – supposed to be a happy, princess experience right? Nope – all the samples in a size 16 were sized small, at least a size, presumably to save money on the samples – the result , because they didn’t have any samples in larger sizes, me standing on a box in a middle of a room, with mirrors all around, with a series of dresses that didn’t do up at the back – hardly motivational or even a good representation of what looked nice. I didn’t stay long.

    I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight and eventually I bought a skirt, bodice type top and shawl from ebay. All fitted me beautifully and I felt great marrying a man who also loves me for ME!

    not full length, but here’s a picture of me, him and my son, on the big day – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=28870829965&set=a.28868454965.48921.603739965&type=3&theater

  9. Mary
    Mary01-24-2013

    This is so great. When i was planning my wedding people were saying things to me like “you only have 6 months left to lose weight” or “you shouldn’t eat that, as you are getting married”.
    My husband fell in love with me at this size, and i’ll probably be this size for most of our marriage, i see no point in losing weight just for one day. A lot of people were really shocked by that attitude. They wanted to know how i planned to fit into my dress with an attitude like that, and i just told them I’d buy a dress that fit me rather than one that was too small. I ended up getting one made so it fit me perfectly and my dressmaker never told me to be any other size than what i was.
    I had one friend who got her teeth whitened for her wedding, and its not like there were even bad before her wedding, but she really wanted to have sparkling white teeth for her wedding photos. I think there is far too much emphasis on how the bride looks on her wedding day. its not a beauty pagent. Its too people showing their love to the world. If they can accept each other for who they, are, why should others tell them they have to be something else.

  10. Lilly
    Lilly01-24-2013

    Great article as always! I also share the opinion that others have posted that the wedding shouldn’t be all about the bride, and honestly (and personally) “bridezillas” drive me crazy, I can’t stand them! I get that the wedding is a special occassion, but getting obsessed and narcissistic? Ugh! I mean, getting plastic surgery just for the wedding? REALLY?!

    Also congratulations for the wedding! Let me tell you, you looked lovely, very “organic” (for lack of a better word), so natural and pretty! I love the simplicity of your look, you WOWed me, and that’s a look I’d definitely go for if I were to get married… I just love how beautifully natural it is… or naturally beautiful? Or both? In any case, I know beauty does not define us, but I’d go for a look like that 1000 times before going for an over the top, fake look which would leave me feeling like I’m not being myself.

    Keep up the good work, BR! I’m loving all of it.

  11. Lindsay
    Lindsay02-13-2013

    I totally agree, I just got married in January and I was set against dieting for just this day. I wanted to enjoy life and time with my fiance, not stress about what I was eating or how much I was working out. I didn’t do fake tan, nails, hair or any of that either. We had our teeth whitened, but that was actually a wedding present from a dentist friend. I ordered my dress from ebay (sent them my true measurements and only went into a local shop later to have a last minute fitting). Everyone is right, he wants to marry you – not some altered version of you. Here is a pic from the day. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=544334785591616&set=a.544333025591792.126249.151771218181310&type=3&theater

  12. Susan
    Susan02-26-2013

    Just stumbled across this and its great. You put things very well and in an intelligent manner. These issues do eat away at our self esteem and I see that now occurring with my daughter and the facebook thing. Boys constantly play girls off against each other using these ridiculous standards as a weapon as far as I can see. Its all so very unhealthy but luckily my daughter is now seeing through the nonsense. not bad at 14 years old.

    You look lovely as a bride also.

  13. Carrie
    Carrie03-02-2013

    Love this. Love Lexi. It’s true. You don’t have to be perfect to get the love of an amazing man who loves you more for WHO you are not what you look like. Physical appearance/attraction is important, but is not the ONLY thing. It is one of the things that draw men to women and women to men. If our relationships are based only on physical attraction we are missing out on true and deep love. I did not photoshop any of my wedding photos and need to remember that they are me as ME! Not a fake glamor wedding, just me. in love. happy. right time. right place. right person. snowstorm. flat hair and all. ;)

  14. Carli
    Carli05-24-2014

    This is one reason why I eloped! :)

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