Body Image, Wedding Planning and the Wedding Industry
Alexis’ note: This post was inspired by current clients, former clients, community members, colleagues, and my own experiences as both a former engaged person and a current vendor within the wedding industry.
Quotes from individuals are anonymous, unless otherwise noted; non-attributed ideas are my own opinions and thoughts. This post is meditative, by no means exhaustive, and meant to spark further thought sharing.
If this topic resonates with you, please share this post, and visit @citylovephotog on Instagram in order to further engage with conversations about this and other areas of the wedding industry that are outdated and deserve to be updated. If you have any comments or thoughts on how we in the wedding industry can do better regarding this topic, you can add them to the comments section of this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I made appointments at two separate NYC bridal salons and planned a day around going with my sisters. Neither store even had dresses for me to try on in a large enough size to fit over my head. I was left standing in my underwear in the middle of the bridal salon, with two attendants stretching a dress in front of me to show my sisters what the dress “would” look like if I had been able to try [it] on.
It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.” — Anonymous currently engaged person
“No one should have to get bungee corded into a gown. No one’s body is a problem. Every bride has the right to experience her body and her wedding free of judgment and quiet (or outright) messages that her body isn’t bridal. Featuring brides that are “size 0” as the standard on advertising and social social media for vendors and designers has reinforced an unhealthy standard. Not everyone should feel they need to be “sweating for the wedding”…I struggled to find vendors that didn’t see my size or body as a marketing platform or problem.
Candidly, I didn’t anticipate my body being such a discussion and felt worn down by our experiences with vendors. I assumed all were the same by the time we were well into planning.”
— Anonymous former engaged person +
current member of a wedding party
“I find myself getting this urge to tone up as I get closer to the day.
So even thought I think it’s silly to lose weight for [one] day,
it’s so ingrained that there’s still a want to do it. Ugh.”
— Anonymous currently engaged person
Meditations on Body Image and the Wedding Industry
I can remember getting my own wedding photos back from our photographer, just shy of seven years ago. I remember delighting in how our photographer captured moments between important people in our lives who had never before met. I remember looking at a photo of our cousins, both Annapolis grads, standing by the bar, laughing together. I remember especially loving the wide shots of the crowd gathered before our ceremony, a sea of faces like a who’s who from our combined years of living, all of them smiling with anticipation. And I remember how, sifting through the photos, pretty much without exception, I hated the way I looked.
I won’t outline the specifics of why that was here; I think we all know the story. Like far too many of us, especially those who identify with the female experience, I had been conditioned culturally from a young age to hate my body as a matter of course. The true shape or strength of it never mattered. For nearly as many journals as I kept detailing my intellectual and emotional pursuits through the year I turned 27, the year I got married, I had journals filled with daily food intake: endless lists of calories, each tiny unit of spent energy a tally of my body’s purported social value, as well as my own.
Weddings have a way of amplifying and often further distorting the embedded narratives of the cultures they represent. I want to believe we are entering a time in the wedding industry, as well as in the wider world, where we can crack open these narratives that no longer serve us, to dissipate their power and create something new in their place. Yet, in this time of questioning and transition, while there is still so much work to do around these narratives, real humans are still planning weddings, still living in tender human bodies, and still trying to reckon with the external forces of expectation that weddings facilitate.
Recent meditations on the particular intersection of body image and weddings all seem to have a similar tenor to them at their core: a person, most often of conditioned by female experience, has spent a lifetime to get to a point where they accept their body, only to find that once they have become engaged and entered into the zone of wedding planning, they are once again body disoriented and encouraged to get #sweatingforthewedding, or #sheddingforthewedding, or #shreddingforthewedding. Kaye Toal’s article for SELF magazine, “I’m Fat and I’m Not Losing Weight for My Wedding,” as well as Kelsey Miller’s piece for Refinery 29, “I Thought I Was Cool with My Body. Then I Got Married,” speak to the dissonance that occurs during a time, which in theory, should be one of positive internal focus (like…celebrating the fact that you and your partner are committing to a life together!), versus one that is patently superficial, and rooted deeply in patriarchic notions and the outdated One Perfect Day narrative (which dovetail nicely, I might add).
Speaking candidly with members of the CLP community on this topic, including former clients, this core dissonance came through as the ultimate heartbreaking undercurrent of the #sweatingforthewedding narrative: that somehow, despite finding partnership and love, committing to each other and preparing to make that commitment public in the face of your community, your body would be ultimately unlovable as it is. The deeper subtext, then: despite finding partnership and love, your entire self would be ultimately unlovable as you are. Unless you #sweat, #shed, #shred, and have those perfect photos to remind you of an idealized self who never existed in the first place. The wedding industry as yet another opportunity for the control of female bodies, the erasure of how we actually are, to create standards of how to be that are impossible, damaging, and completely besides the point of modern committed partnerships, and the ceremonies that consecrate them.
Here are some further thoughts from two formers CLP clients, who described their own experiences at the intersection of body image and the wedding industry. I am grateful to them for sharing these words:
Thoughts from A:
1) During the process of planning your wedding, what were some of the ways in which negative body image messaging impacted your experience?
Throughout the wedding planning process, I felt variations of a subtle or not-so-subtle pressure to appear as a picture-perfect version of myself.
The dress shopping experience made me really uncomfortable. I don’t like being the center of attention and all of a sudden it felt like I had to strive to be some sort of model — and revel in the experience of being on display. No matter what size you are I think there’s an objectification that happens when wedding dress shopping. I felt it in subtle comments from dress vendors or even female members of my family who wanted me to show or hide certain parts of my body.
There’s also an almost universal assumption that you’re going to undergo a miraculous transformation through diet and exercise before your wedding (again, no matter what size you already are). I love food and wine and couldn’t imagine giving up these comforts (during an already stressful time) and putting even more pressure on myself, all to reach some unrealistic standard of perfection.
Finally, I have to admit that looking at my own wedding photos, I feel negative body messaging whispering in my ear. I LOVE my photos and the way they allow me to relive my wedding, but every now and then I see a photo of myself in my dress and can’t help but notice the parts of my body I don’t like or think, “Was this the most perfect version of me?” I hate that this unfair societal pressure haunts even this experience.
2) Were there vendors or other members of the wedding industry that you felt offered a positive experience around body image?
I’m not just saying this because you’re asking...but you! During an early planning call, I remember asking advice about whether professional makeup was a must from a photo point of view, and Alexis responded that there was no right or wrong. From the beginning, City Love Photography stressed the importance of making choices that felt right to me. The photography experience itself could have been so fraught with the pressure to appear perfect, but instead Alexis was most often the person in the room who made me feel the most at ease in my own skin on a day when all eyes were on me.
3) Please include any other thoughts you would like to share on this topic, negative or positive:
While not related to body image per se, my hair and makeup choices for my wedding contributed to my sense of positivity around my appearance. I had my talented friend do my makeup because I wanted a more natural look, and went to my regular stylist (shout out to Melody at The Bird House in Brooklyn) for my hair. I have a pixie cut and was shocked by how many people asked whether I was going to grow my hair out or do something “different” — assuming all brides should have flowing locks. Instead, my hair was just a more polished version of its everyday self.
These were important ways for me to take ownership over my appearance and feel like myself on my wedding day — and I think that’s key in all of this. No matter what your dress size is, you’re going to receive messages from all sides about how you should look on your wedding. Throughout the planning process I tried to ask myself, “does this feel like me?” And when it did, the confidence always followed.
The following thoughts are from former CLP client, Hannah Lupien (pictured above). She requested that I include her photo alongside her thoughts to emphasize that wedding industry body-related “bullshit” (Hannah’s word, and I approve!) happens to bodies that are actually culturally normative:
Let me start by saying that I’m fat. I wear straight sizes and fit in airplane seats, so I can’t speak for people who face even more stigma and body shaming than I deal with, but society still calls me fat. This isn’t new or relegated to my wedding-planning experience, but I was shocked at the ways in which the Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC, a term I’m using mostly in jest) went above and beyond to make me feel bad about myself.
My second caveat is that I’m speaking about the time my partner and I planned a wedding together, but also about the handful of times I have been a bridesmaid interfacing with the WIC.
There are explicit ways people fat shamed me: “how much weight will you lose before the wedding?” I heard this at almost every bridal gown appointment, and numerous other WIC interactions. (Why venue managers think this is a relevant question is BEYOND ME). Time and time again I received suggestions to wear Spanx or a corset to conform my body to the dress. I ended up wearing both on my wedding day, which I still regret. There’s no cellulite in our wedding pictures, but what did I give up?
There were implicit, structural ways that the system told me my body wasn’t right for The Happiest Day of Your LifeTM. Why don’t bridal gown companies make a larger range of sizes? I found a dress I loved, but it only went up to a size 12 (bridal 12 = street size 8 or 10, which is a whole other problem I won’t get into). The employee helping me was about as nice as one could be, but her suggestion was still that I try a juice cleans.
Even when the dresses are available for order in a wide array of sizes there are usually only one or two samples in the store. A smaller person can try on a larger gown and clip it, but a larger woman can’t put on a smaller gown. Why oh why were the sample gowns so frequently in sizes like 4 and 8? I cried, standing on the sidewalk in Times Square, after a bridal consultant suggested I hold up the bridesmaid dress in front of me in the mirror, since they only had a size 6 sample and couldn’t be expected to cater to “abnormal body types”. I had left work early for this humiliation, and ended the encounter by writing a $300 check for the nonrefundable dress I felt I had no other choice but to purchase.
If you sell the dress up to a size 26 shouldn’t you carry a 26 to try on? Wouldn’t that say to your potential customer that you value their business and respect a plurality of body shapes and sizes? And if you think that “every bride is beautiful” shouldn’t you treat the woman who is a bride-in-the-making like she doesn’t need to fix her body?
There’s so much more I could say about body image and the WIC – lack of racial diversity, a push for more and more makeup/treatments/extensions/procedures, and a narrowing of the breadth of real options to present yourself as an individual bride, to name a few – but I’ll end with just one more. Under all of critiques and suggestions, and behind all of the narratives about beauty, is the specter that your fiancé won’t love you. (If you don’t get mink eyelash extensions can you really expect him to marry you anyway?!). It’s heartbreaking. We all want to be loved, and planning a wedding shouldn’t make you doubt the unconditional love between you and your partner.
Three vendors in particular were conscientious and supportive:
• City Love Photography (duh!) – Alexis was amazing to work with in general, but in particular she wanted to understand our values leading up to our wedding. She never told me to suck it in or hit a skinny angle because I think she knew that would degrade trust and undermine what we were there for.
• Beauty Marks NYC – Ashley did the makeup for me, my mother, and my sister (Maid of Honor). In our trial session she didn’t make me feel bad for not knowing much about makeup; her goal was about making my feel great, even when that meant wiping it all off and starting over. She asked me questions about how I see myself, not about how the world sees me, and I’m thankful for that.
• BHLDN – The bridal clothing line of Anthropology isn’t where I ended up buying my wedding day look, but in retrospect I wish I had. Over three appointments the sales reps were unflaggingly kind and body positive. They’re also paid hourly, not on commission, so I didn’t feel rushed or pressured to buy something more expensive. In part because of this, and perhaps because of the company’s ethos, they never relied on a narrative of fixing a broken or unacceptable body to meet someone else’s standards. They also carry some less traditional wedding options, and a good range of sizes, which are much closer to street sizes than traditional bridal sizes.
A few final questions and thoughts…
Thank you to everyone who contributed their time + words to this post.
For those who are currently planning or involved with planning weddings, or those recently wed— how did you experience the interfacing of the wedding industry with body image? What were your negative and positive experiences? What vendors made you feel awesome, and how can we as vendors do better for you and engaged couples in the future?
For my wedding industry colleagues: what are you doing in your business to support your clients around this topic? How can we continue to improve?
This topic for me is so important both personally and professionally; it ultimately brings up more questions than it does answers. Please do comment below or email me, and join in the discussion over on Instagram. Let’s keep this conversation going, so that we can initiate and create real change in the wedding industry, around this topic and so many more.