The Wedding Dress Conundrum
I often talk to clients about the issues of body image and self-esteem. Recent experiences have served as a reminder as to why this is such an important issue. Let me share a personal story.
Outside my life as a psychologist I have been busy planning a wedding. Next weekend it’s time to go and find the perfect wedding dress. Exciting? Yes. But I’m also noticing this is when body image concerns start to creep in. “Why?” I ask myself.
I’ve always prided myself on having a fairly good body image and not allowing my happiness and self-esteem to be dictated by my size. I have never tried to lose weight to fit back into “those perfect pair of jeans.” Instead I keep my clothes ranging across 4 different sizes and wear whatever my body feels comfortable in at the time. I firmly believe that if I am engaging in relatively healthy practices that my body will be healthy regardless of size and so is the size it should be.
For me this means eating relatively healthy most of the time and exercising relatively regularly (when my busy schedule allows! But that’s a different story on the importance of making time for self-care).
I love preparing and trying new foods. Much of my time with my family is spent eating these foods while having a glass of wine. If this results in a few extra kilograms around my bottom and thighs, well so be it, I am living a life that is meaningful to me. So why all of a sudden was the idea of buying a wedding dress giving me the urge to become a gym junkie?
I think the answer lies in media and social perception. We are surrounded by messages on a daily basis about the latest rapid weight loss diet, exercises that are “guaranteed” to help us group those extra pounds, and images of the “ideal” female body (although this certainly applies to males too). We don’t stop to think how the average person with all their other commitments such as work and family can possibly find the time to make changes to line up with this “ideal.”
The first thing I did when I started making wedding plans was look up checklists of what to do. I was horrified that on just about every one it stated “start your exercise and diet plan” often up to 12 months before the wedding. Is this not a day where you are supposed to be comfortable and accepted as who you are? I thought.
When I realised I was starting to have unhealthy thoughts (which weren’t making me feel good either… guilt every time I ate something I “shouldn’t” or was too tired to exercise) about needing to lose a certain amount of weight before wedding dress shopping, I stopped. I reminded myself that losing weight is not a value but being healthy, self-respect, and having life balance can be. I had already been planning to work on engaging in a bit more self-care in regard to my physical health, mainly in the form of walking before or after work most days. I made a conscious decision to only allow myself to do that amount of exercise to precent my choices being driven by unhelpful perceptions of body image. And of course I’m still allowing myself the occasional piece of Toblerone when I take a break with a coffee!
The reactions of other people to this decision has been interesting to say the least. Some people are incredibly supportive and understand my reasoning. Others are a bit sceptical at the idea that I can’t do too much exercise because I have wedding dress shopping to do. “Why not start running, rather than walking,” they say. I explain that it is not realistic because I have no intention of maintaining that over the course of the year. The response to that one is, “well you will just have to, to make sure you fit into your dress.” I want to enjoy my wedding day and not be distracted by the thought of whether or not I shed the last couple of kilos. My partner loves me for who I am and more importantly I am happy with myself the way I am.
So join me in the Stigma Rebellion and say no to media and social perceptions on what the “ideal” person looks like. Bodies are designed to be different (just like we all have different personalities) so stop trying to conform and learn to love your body the way it is.
If you are struggling with body image, you are certainly not alone. We are here to help. Psychologists can assist you to learn skills to improve your self-confidence and engage in meaningful activities that are not defined by your body.