When I excitedly began planning my own wedding at the end of 2011, I had a dirty little secret: I was thrilled that I finally had the perfect excuse to get really skinny again.
I don’t think I’m alone here; many women work very hard to lose weight for their wedding, it’s almost expected that you do nowadays. Why?
Well, for one, you want to look your “best” for your big day and in our crazy world, that often means your skinniest. Secondly, it’s one of the most photographed days of your life and, sad but true, the camera really does add 10 pounds. And lastly, white dresses are not the most slimming fashion choice, so you’re swimming upstream.
There’s nothing inherently bad about wanting to lose weight, for some people this is a very healthy goal, but the reason I was ashamed of this desire is a bit complicated. For a bit of a backstory, when I was 13 years old, I stopped eating. I had hit puberty quite early and it scared me terribly. I wanted it to stop; I thought if I could just become really tiny I would stay a child forever.
I was 5 feet tall and 7 inches. At the peak of my anorexia I was barely 89 pounds. I would have kept going undoubtedly if I hadn’t been “caught.”
Eight months later after being bribed/threatened to gain weight and then forcibly medicated, I was 120lbs much to my surprise. I felt like a stranger in my own body. My weight has fluctuated in a healthy range ever since, and I’ve never had a full-on relapse, but eating disorders don’t just “dissappear.” The mindset of an anorexic stays with you forever. Even in periods of happiness, health and self-acceptance, it is still a part of you. It is still a part of me.
Because of this, I was apprehensive and ashamed of my desire. When people know you were anorexic in the past, whenever you lose weight, they don’t say, “Wow, you look great!”, instead it’s “Are you okay? Do you need to talk?” On top of that, I’m a yoga practitioner and teacher, aren’t I supposed to be “one” with my body, the paragon of peace and health? It was embarrassing to be so interested in losing weight for such a superficial reason.
So I gilded my weight loss goal in words of “health” and “balance”. I became a little more conscious of my diet, which was actually a good thing. I restricted all wheat, dairy and sugar and maintained my plant-based lifestyle. But, in honor of the “balance” part, I still allowed myself to indulge occasionally and enjoy going out to eat with Thad. Although I was not practicing Ashtanga with extreme instensity everyday (I was a home practitioner at the time which was hard!), I was walking a lot and going to Pure Barre classes or Pilates at least 2 or 3 times a week. I was building muscle, not losing weight. This was frustrating, but not terrible and so in a moment of self-love, I threw away my scale! I decided to focus on the way I felt, not the number. That was a healthy empowering choice, but that liberated emotional state didn’t last.
As the wedding day got closer, I began to freak out. I was designing and DIYing the whole affair pretty much single-handedly. I accepted a bit of help here and there, but for some reason I felt like I had to do it all myself, to prove something to someone…still not sure who. I was making myself super stressed out and I stopped being able to sleep. For the 2 months preceding my wedding I battled with crippling anxiety and insomnia. To make it worse, despite my very light eating and heavy exercise schedule, I was not getting any thinner at all! The stress and lack of sleep were making it virtually impossible. I kept pushing on though. I tried to relax and be healthy – I meditated, I took long baths and detoxifying herbs, I drank warm water with lemon and took apple cider vinegar shots daily, I tried to do a raw cleanse (which led to a panic attack) – I was trying to do everything right but I felt like my body was trying to sabotage me. In truth, I think my body was actually trying to prevent me from getting really sick. It held the weight on, despite my attempts to shave it off.
You’re probably thinking now, well, you didn’t lose weight because you didn’t need to. You are right, sort of, but “need” was not a factor here. I wanted to be waify and delicate like Kate Middleton when she shrunk for her wedding. I wanted to be a wire clothes-hanger for my vintage dress to hang upon gracefully.
I didn’t want to embrace my hour-glass figure. I didn’t want to love my softness, the feminine curves that cover my hard-earned Ashtanga muscles. I had fallen victim once again to the mainstream media’s construction of “beauty” and it was paralyzing me. And even though I’m a small girl, merely a size 25 in my blue jeans, I still cannot relate to the pictures of the models I see in the magazines. I still cannot see anything of myself in those narrow, thighless, boobless, buttless, long limbed girls with seductive smiles and gaunt cheeks.
This conundrum threw me up against my deep-seated issues of perfectionism, my fear of failure and my fear of normalcy too. In my biggest breakdown, a week before the wedding, I realized the thing that I was most upset about was that I had “failed” at becoming anorexic again and yet I could see just how ridiculous it all was! No amount of green smoothies and chaturangas were going to turn me back into that bony little girl I had once been. It was time to move on, it was time to release that little girl’s trauma so that I could grow up and become a married woman. Weddings are all about transition, but I was resisting that and it was tearing me apart.
Driving home from a class with my friend Faith (who has a beautiful healthy living blog) I admitted to her my sadness that there I was approaching my wedding day without having dropped to that elusive and unattainable goal of 108lbs. She listened with kind supportiveness and then offered me this wonderful reflection. She said, “You don’t want to be that bride that when all the guests look at you their first thought is ‘wow, she must have really dieted a lot and worked out to look like that’. You don’t want people to immediately just think of your weight when they see you on your wedding day. Don’t you want to look yourself? Don’t you want your guests to recognize you as you. Wouldn’t you rather their first impression upon seeing you walk down the aisle is how incredibly beautiful and happy and real you look?”
That really hit home to me. She was so right. I surrendered to the fact that it was time to move forward into this new adult phase of my life.
I woke up (after barely 2 hours of sleep!) on the morning of my wedding all bloated and PMS-y (the universe’s final kick in the pants for me to get the f-k over my neurosis!) and there wasn’t anything I could do about it but just smile and breathe. So I did a few sun salutations, stood on my head for 5 minutes and then took the longest cold shower of my life before slipping into my grandmother’s wedding dress. I was shaky and scared and very very excited.
Despite the months of exhausting self-imposed stress, when it came down to it, I felt absolutely joyful and radiant. Just like Faith said, I did look happy and beautiful and ME on my wedding day. I looked soft, feminine, rosy, dare I say, “fertile”, traditionally the way a bride was supposed to look! All the drama leading up to the day simply melted away when I met Thaddeus at the altar. The only thing that mattered at that point was our love, our friendship, our devotion and our commitment to one another. I could have been standing there in my pajamas for all I cared!
Looking back now, 7 months past, I could say all that stress and anxiety was pointless and stupid, but I don’t really think that way. I think it was a necessary part of my growth. In fact, I’ve never felt happier in my body than I have this year. Yes, I see its flaws, I know my butt is big and my thighs are round and somedays this bugs me, but more than anything, I know deep down that this doesn’t mean I’m good or bad or pretty or not. My weight doesn’t determine my value or my happiness or my place in the world. I’ve felt more freedom around food in these past few months than I’ve experienced in years…and to be honest, I think I might even be a bit thinner now then I was at the wedding, despite the cheese and chocolate I thoroughly and regularly enjoy. Because I’m not stressed about it now! Oh, the irony!
I have no wise or grand closing thoughts or advice for you. I just thank you for hearing me out. Healing works in funny ways…and it is always, always an on-going process.
Love and Blessings,
PS – These pictures were taken by the amazing and talented Sarah Cramer.