Body Image and the Wedding Industry

body image and the wedding industry

I have a lot of ~feelings~ about planning a wedding. It’s been a weird experience so far – some bits have been ridiculously fun, and some bits have been downright hideous (and eye wateringly expensive!). My expectation was that as soon as you had a ring on your finger it was all prosecco and Pinterest and that has definitely not been the case, but perhaps the thing that has irked me the most is how much of a role body image plays within the wedding industry.

I’ve seen enough friends and family walk down the aisle to understand that everyone wants to look their best on their big day, but it wasn’t until we got engaged that I realised how much pressure there was to fit a bridal beauty ideal. The first time I really noticed it was when I attended The National Wedding Show with my Mum and sister, where the message that you needed to change how you look for your wedding was loud and clear. Slotted in between people selling wedding invites and photographers touting for business was a Slimfast stand – they were handing out free shakes to help you get started on your “wedding dress diet”. On the main stage in the arena they were talking about the best exercises to “tone those arms up”. Everywhere you turned was something to compact the message that looking like yourself on your wedding day is not okay.

This general theme is continued in every wedding magazine I’ve read (with the exception of Rock n Roll Bride which is all kinds of wonderful!). So many of the features are about dropping a dress size or getting perfect glowy skin. I genuinely read in one magazine that you should start your wedding skincare routine 18 months out (so realistic, no?!) and regular personal training sessions for the bride to be are deemed a necessity rather than a luxury. As someone who is currently planning a wedding and cutting back in every other area of life to be able to afford it, I can’t help but wonder who can fit such extravagances into their budget.

Trying on wedding dresses threw up even more discussions about size and weight and diets. Pretty much everyone helping me in the stores inferred that brides tend to want to lose a bit of weight in the run up to the wedding and that I should factor this into my selection. Comments were made about which dresses made me look slimmer or how certain cuts may or may not be flattering to my shape. As someone who is a size 12 (which is below the UK average) with a healthy BMI, I find it worrying that the natural assumption was that I would almost certainly want to “slim down” to fit into my wedding dress. God forbid I would buy a bloody dress in the actual size I was!

I think the thing that pisses me off the most is how gendered the whole thing is. When we went to buy Sam’s suit, not a single comment was made about his shape or height or whether he planned on losing any weight. He simply bought a suit in the right size and we were off. Not one of our male friends has talked about how they’ll look on our wedding day, but 4 of my 7 bridesmaids have talked about booking in for microdermabrasion or having their teeth whitened or losing weight to be #weddingready.

Do you know what? I call bullshit. I don’t want to feel like I need to look like someone else on my wedding day. I don’t want to feel like I need to tone my arms up or have more dewy skin or wear hair extensions that make me look like Rapunzel. Guess what? Sam already knows that I have cellulite and a spotty chin and a hint of bingo wings and he still went ahead and asked me to marry him, because he doesn’t care. So why would I spend a load of time and energy on trying to mould myself into some distorted bridal ideal when the only person I’m trying to impress would think I looked gorgeous walking down the aisle in a bin bag?

The truth of the matter is that there’s money to be made by making engaged ladies feel like they aren’t already enough. There’s gym memberships and expensive skin creams to be sold by playing on people’s insecurities. But I’m not falling for it – I want to walk down that aisle feeling like me, not like some cardboard cut out in a white dress.

If you’re also trying to fight the wedding industry pressure, some other ladies have written very eloquently about this subject on the ace Love My Dress and Unsorry Mag. And remember – you don’t have to look any certain way to look bloody babin’ on your big day. You’re perfect just as you are and so am I.

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  • I don’t know why but I never really noticed this when I was planning mine. I didn’t do any crazy diets and didn’t really feel under any pressure to either, maybe it just went over my head? Saying that I did wear huge Bridget control pants under my dress to minimise my tummy so maybe I was worrying about it without even realising it!

    • I’m so glad you didn’t notice the pressure as I am finding it kind of overwhelming!x

  • missgetaway

    I honestly paid attention to body image in the wedding industry as I never really came in contact with it. But now that you’re talking about it I can see what you mean. This is so screwed up, isn’t it? Shouldn’t the day be all about celebrating the love between two people? Instead it’s focused so heavily on looks and a particular ideal of beauty.

    Love, kerstin

  • Yes Sophie!!
    I’m so glad someone is saying this. This is the message that needs to be told rather than glossy magazines telling us how we should look.

    Francesca Andrews

    • Thanks Frankie – I have found it SO frustrating x

  • I could not agree more! If I want to tone up and lose weight it will be for me, not because I need to look like a stick insect on my wedding day. The person waiting for you at the end of the aisle will think you’re perfect whatever you look like, and that’s all that matters.
    Love the positive message behind this post – go you!

    • Thanks Sophie – I keep trying to remind myself that what matters is getting married, not what I look like x

  • Yes, yes, yes. And a lot of shop assistants and bridal consultants just assume that you’re trying to lose weight. At a lot of fittings, I got so much “But when you’ve lost 5lbs this dress won’t be snug here, but we’ll have to make an adjustment here.”

    • I hate that automatic assumption – so many people said “you’ll probably want to lose a bit of weight but we can take it in”. I don’t blame the ladies in the shops directly, I think it’s just become such a norm which is incredibly scary x

  • You know my feelings on this, but just wanted to give you a little cheer for this post! It distresses me no end, especially since the end goal just seems to be ‘thinner’ and ‘smaller’, no matter where you started or what your relationship with your body is like. I went to a wedding fair last weekend in bridesmaid capacity and there were liposuction stands in between the flowers, cakes etc. and it does make me a little sick. It’s totally natural to want to look your best for the day (and for every day!) but just the immediate assumption that best is ‘thin’, with no wriggle room for that. God forbid you should take up too much space with your body, or make a speech (women should be seen and not heard) or be anything other than demure and beautiful.

    I found it really difficult going to fittings with my friend because every dress she tried on, she’d say ‘but imagine it when I’m thinner’ or some variation on the theme – and there’s only just so many times you can say ‘but it’s beautiful now, you’re beautiful now’! I was lucky that I got my wedding dress made by a super awesome lady who basically said ‘as long as you don’t change shape between the final fitting and the day, we’re golden’ and that was the end of body chat (and makes sense, from a dress fitting perspective!).

    The problem is not the individuals who buy into it, though – I get the pressure, and I can understand succumbing to it when it’s already a stressful time – it’s the industry that makes so much money off that insecurity and on telling women (in particular) that they’re not good enough. I just hate the idea of women being unhappy with how they look on their wedding day, of all days, because they didn’t manage to diet enough or their bodies don’t do quite what they wanted to them to do – it should be a joyful, wonderful day where you stuff your face with cake!

    • I totally agree with you on all of these points! I have been so surprised at how many friends have asked me what diet I’m going to try or if I’m upping my gym sessions – I know they’re not saying it to be offensive, it’s just deemed the norm. It’s frightening really and I hate how much pressure there is on what’s meant to be such a FUN day x

  • What a wonderful and well written post! Hooray for loving yourself as you are! I think this applies to all of us, engaged or not and i couldn’t agree more! Alice xxx

    • You’re very right Alice, it’s a much broader challenge x

  • Felicity Anderson

    Love this! I’m soon to begin planning my wedding and can’t be bothered with any of this hype, I haven’t read a wedding magazine yet and I don’t plan to ( Rock and Roll Bride not included) a great party and loving vibes is the aim of the game. Happy wedding planning! xx

    • I would definitely steer clear of the wedding mags! It’s so easy to lose track of the end goal which is just having the best time ever with the people you love x

  • This is a valid point…why do we get sucked into this idea that we have to change for the big day? Thank you for calling out on this, a great and insightful post! Frankie x

    • I didn’t realise how intense it was until I got engaged but it’s so frustrating! x

  • Amen to this! I was really ill in the run up to our wedding so just being healthy was the aim – if anybody had mentioned anything about losing weight, I would have ripped them apart! I actually lost 7lbs in the week before my wedding purely because I had a kidney infection and the meds made me literally not want to eat but with or without that 7lbs I would have been very happy with how I looked because I looked like myself! xx

    Beautylymin| LuxuryFragranceGiveaway

    • Exactly! There is so much other stress that starving your body as well is a sure fire way to cause a meltdown x

  • Sabine Skarratt

    Brilliant post, as always Sophie, I 100% agree with you. I got married last summer and in the 18 month run up to the wedding countless people asked me if I was on a ‘wedding dress diet’ when they saw me eating healthily and I tried to resist the daily round of office cakes. I always try and be healthy was my reply! Well 80% of the time anyway (huge believer in balance!)

    I’m ashamed to admit that I did buckle and gave in to the hype. I became a bit obsessive with every last detail and how I would look and put huge pressure on myself to look ‘perfect’ because it was a day I’d dreamt of for about 20 years! The day was magical and I felt amazing, I was a bit upset with myself afterwards when I got the professional pictures and my arms didn’t look toned on a lot of the group pics. I was holding my bouquet so didn’t have my usual hands on the hip pose to avoid bingo wings!

    But ultimately that is the real, unedited me and as you rightly say – my husband knows the bits I dislike and loves me anyway and I know he would have felt the same if I was a stone heavier on our wedding day.

    Kudos for you for not being sucked into it and having such a level head on your shoulders. I’ve certainly learned a huge amount from it all, and feel much more chilled out about things these days x

    • It’s so easily done Sabine, you shouldn’t feel ashamed at all. There is so much pressure out there that it’s bloody difficult not to cave! The whole industry built around it drives me crazy x

  • Ahhhh Sophie this is wonderful, wonderful post. I got hitched in May 2015, and I did slim down a bit; now I kind of just needed an excuse to cut back a few pounds anyway, and I was motivated beyond belief to cut some crap a bit. But I did not appreciate the assumption that I would! Me and Gem were both sort of on it together so it was OK with us… but that was OUR choice!
    It’s daft they do pressure to lose weight with wedding dresses, because any bride will look their best shape ever in their wedding frock because a. it’s beautiful and you’re radiatingly happy,. but b. it’s also v often made to fit you so perfectly that anyone, anysize would fail to look their absolute best!
    I didn’t do wedding magazines, partly for this reason, and because I was marrying a girl none of the images were my wedding in my mind, so I just didn’t bother.
    Also, I am a super organised person, well I used to be more so, but my wedding planning was a different matter – I sort of just went with it, and stopped with the worrying/analysing it all… because the industry is enormous and if you don’t just go with it there is NO END to stuff to do and things to choose between!
    Holly xx

    • Exactly – it’s probably the only time in your whole life that your dress is tailored just for you! I like your approach – I think I may need to adopt that too x

  • YES!!! I find it insane how the timeline guides all say to start beautifying yourself 18 months before – honestly, what is the point? Why does it matter if you’re thinner than you are when you got engaged? It’s so arbitrary! Men never have to face the same scrutiny regarding their appearance and it’s so annoying. I love Rock & Roll Bride, I think all of the weddings are much more inspiring in there anyway 🙂 xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Life, Travel, Italy

    • I think thats what is so annoying – my fiance hasn’t faced any pressure to change how he looks! x

  • Urgh, I have so many feels about this. The comment I heard most when I got engaged, was about how the weight would drop off from stress……well, it didn’t, and it didn’t need to drop off anyway. But I seriously felt the pressure to look perfect, which resulted in me critically looking at my pictures wishing I’d done something different for months afterwards. SO silly! xx

    • It’s so easily done isn’t it?! The logical part of my brain tells me that Sam loves me regardless and that I’m very happy with how I look, but the crazy wedding devil on my shoulder tells me I should be going spinning 5 times a week. I hate it! x

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  • I’m am horrified to read about the wedding industry playing on bridal looks like this, but at the same time I am not surprised (unfortunately). A lot of industries aim to capitalize on women’s looks and insecurities and that’s sad. I’m guessing that these damaging messages aimed at brides stem from the fairytale narrative (the princesses looked perfect when they got married to prince charming, and we should too).

    I’m so glad you wrote this post and the message is clear: look how you want to look on your wedding day, not how the industry/society wants you to look.