Body-positive bridal: What if I look stunning and I accept myself for who I really am?

April 20 | Guest post by Kelsi Jensen
How I surrendered to a positive bridal body image
Thick Thighs Thin Patience Hand Embroidery

On Tuesday, my clothes weren’t fitting. I mean, they were fitting, but they weren’t working. You know how sometimes there’s nothing in the fridge, or in the closet, or on the radio? That’s how they weren’t fitting. The zipper zipped and the button buttoned, but the person in the mirror looked ill-fit, wrongly-dressed, confused, and fraudulent.

The following Monday, my mom and my best friend would go with me to try on wedding dresses for the first time, and I’d been looking forward to this moment longer than I’d been engaged. But what the hell was going on with my body, and how could I fix this in time to try on dresses?

On Wednesday night, it came out of my mouth faster than I could process the fear: “What if I don’t look good in a wedding dress? What happens then?” I’d found myself on the phone with a friend, tallying off the list of note-worthy happenings: the visits, the bridal appointments, the body image, the self-hate.

“You know all these things are connected to each other,” she said to me, as I abruptly broke down in a series of sobs that didn’t ease up as she continued, “I don’t think the fear is ‘What if I don’t look good?’ I think the real fear is ‘What if I look stunning and I accept myself for who I really am?’”

You know the phrase "it hit me like a ton of bricks"? Well, this hit me like a brick building. Her words sung through the cathedrals of this body that felt the least bit sacred or holy, their restorative love seeped into the torn cracks in my self-image, and I was brought to my knees. Dumbfounded. What if I look stunning in a wedding dress and I accept myself for who I really am?

On Thursday, I’d connected the roots of this body-hating weed to deep family traumas that I’ll save for my therapist… but I was also thinking a lot about what it means to be a bride with a human body in this body-obsessed, diet-driven, inspired-by-negativity culture we live in.

I can walk around thinking and saying that I’m not going to buy into the bridal body-trimming industry, but it’s not that simple. It’s not as if these narratives about being "thin and trim and perfect" by the time of a big event haven’t been running rampant in movies, and magazines, and music, and the thick American air I breathe in every morning. It also whispers, “if you could just be better…”

The thing is: weddings have become so incredibly stripped from their purpose that we forget why we’re doing them in the first place. Weddings existed before Facebook, before photographers, before bridal boutiques. Weddings are actually about the celebration of starting a family together. Weddings are not about being thin.

By the weekend, I was trying so hard to love my body. But to be honest, I wasn’t making a ton of progress. I was expecting the engine in my little machine of self-love to spontaneously jump-start. I was expecting to move from believing that I’m physically wrong and “in progress,” to owning my body, loving it, thinking it’s fantastic. “I can beat this,” I thought, “I can intellectually beat this.”

But you know what I was still trying to do? I was still trying change myself. The “acceptance” that my friend spoke of was still miles away. Only this time, I wasn’t trying to change my body, I was trying to change my mind. And I can’t change my mind without losing it.

So you want to know what I decided to do? I decided to own it. No secret. No struggle. No “trying.” This is my body with curves, and dimples, and cellulite, and suppleness. This is my mind, which critiques and shames and beats me down. And you know what happened? The power of it all went away. The fight was over. I was free. I heard once that the person in the battle who raises the surrender flag isn’t the loser, because that’s the person who gets to live. That person is free. Isn’t it poetic that truce flags and wedding dresses come from the same color family?

On Monday, I tried on wedding dresses. My body was incredible, draped in white silk and white lace, exactly the way it is. The things about my body that bugged me just a couple days before were somehow lost in the magic of the wedding dress. My hips and my belly looked fertile, and graceful, and womanly. My arms, which I regularly pinch and prod, fell beautifully over strapless bodices. My small breasts felt honored to be a part of this vivacious body. I loved the sexy and substantial woman reflected back at me in the mirror.

My body is my body. It has hair, wide hips, fat, and a womb. My body is of substance. It’s not the flat, smooth, trim silhouette my skinny jeans are made for. But my body is the body these dresses are made for. Marriage is not for girls. Marriage is for grown-ups. To be a “bride” means to be a woman: a grown-up, formed, filled-out woman — whatever shape that may take. To be a “bride” is not to be a Cover Girl. To be a bride is to be who I really am. And you know what? I look stunning.

  1. This truly spoke to me. I have lost 88 pounds since I got engaged and although I won't lie, I wanted to look really good on my wedding day, it was more about the fact that I was facing serious medical issues and I needed to do it. I have a totally different body then I did 10 months ago. I look and feel different. I am working on embracing this new body much like I accepted my more plus size one. I look great in my dress too. The things I usually worry about are gone when that dress goes on. Thank you for saying what I have been thinking.

    6 agree
  2. "To be a bride is to be who I really am." That's so fu^&ing powerful, Kelsi. It reminds me of this quote from a very old post on APW: "I forgot to bleach my teeth, lose weight, shape up my arms, find a substitute for my canceled fitness classes, do a makeup trial, and so on. I looked beautiful." I read that post every couple of months to give myself a slap in the face.

    I constantly feel myself getting caught up in the idea that I must be the perfect version of myself on my wedding day — which, for me, has resulted in an incredibly unhealthy obsession with finding the absolute *perfect* wedding dress. You know, the dress that isn't anything like all the other wedding dresses. The wedding dress that's going to match my fiancee's wedding dress so well that all the unsupportive family members aren't even going to notice that it's a two-dress wedding. The dress that's going to make me feel so beautiful that I don't even remember that we've received exactly zero support (financial or otherwise) from family as we plan this shindig.

    That search sure was exhausting. Yesterday, I returned to my favorite bridal salon – the salon in which I started trying on wedding dresses EIGHT months ago. (Yeah.) They were having a sample sale. I saw a dress that I thought was pretty and fun. It looked nice next to my partner's dress, especially when we put a little belt with it.

    It was not the most flattering dress I have tried on. It doesn't highlight my "good" parts, and it does highlight some of the less-ideal ones. The dress is a sample, so it has a LOT of issues. I didn't cry when I put it on.

    But you know what? It's a lovely dress, and it made me happy to wear it. And it just felt like it was high time to accept myself for who I am — but more important, to accept my wedding for what it is, and to stop trying to make it something that it isn't. I am imperfect, and our wedding is going to be imperfect. Being a bride really does mean being who you are. It's your wedding; you can't hide yourself.

    Thanks for sharing this today.

    7 agree
    • You know, it's interesting. I had a lot of conversations with the women who were helping me put on these gowns and I actually asked them if they thought the whole "THE Dress" thing was real or not. I'm so glad I asked, because they said that for some women it is, but it's often not. It's a myth.

      If the dress is my "moment," what's that going to say about my marriage? I bet you and your fiancee will look amazing. Congratulations!! I send you all the strength and focus-on-the-real-intention in the world braving your family. You've got support from me!! <3

      3 agree
      • Thanks, Kelsi! :O) You rock! I hope you're in the Tribe so I can see you rocking your wedding dress in your wedding pictures someday!!

        1 agrees
  3. OMG!!!! I'm so proud to know you Kelsi! You are amazing. Sending you love love love. XOXO -bethany

    3 agree
  4. Author's Note:

    I wanted to take a moment and give a shout-out to my bride-identified Brides who are maybe not curvy, or maybe not female-identified, or maybe not about to wear dresses. You Brides are AWESOME. I'm marrying one of you brides!! You Brides are not bound to dresses, or curves, or womanhood. Like all of us, though, you Brides (or Grooms, or Unicorns, or People) are 100% encouraged to surrender to your authenticity… 'cause that's the only outfit we all want to see.

    <3

    24 agree
  5. Thank you for posting and sharing this.
    I needed this so much right now.
    I'm a plus-sized woman and I've struggled with my body for years.
    I'm getting married in October, to the most wonderful man I've ever known.
    And I have been debating on seriously knuckling down and trying to lose some weight before my wedding.
    But now, I'm not going to. I'm going to be me on that day, and this is the way I am and the way I've always been.
    Besides, the money I'd use to try and lose weight would be so much better put toward a fabulous dress.

    4 agree
    • Cynthia, I've been feeling the same way. And while I will continue exercising, because it is healthy and makes me a sane person (well, as much as I can be!), I am not putting pressure on myself to lose weight. You know what? I'm the same size I was when my fiance proposed. And there was no condition – "here's a ring, but if you don't lose 10 pounds, or 20, or 30, I'm taking it away." Our guys love us for who we are – not who we think we need to be! 🙂

      6 agree
      • I have to keep reminding myself of this. It's so hard when everything in the world is telling me the opposite! But he proposed, he loves me, he thinks I'm super sexy. I need to start agreeing with that.

        3 agree
  6. Oh jeez, I needed this today. 4 months til my wedding and I still haven't lost that 10 lbs I said I'd lose. My fiancé still loves me. My dress fits anyways. Why do I think I don't already look great? Thank you!

    7 agree
  7. I never got the 'OMG the dress' moment… I love my dress, I wouldn't have brought it a year before the wedding if I didnt… Plus it was reduced to less than a 1/4 of the original £2k price tag!
    But I am trying to lose weight for me, not loads, the dress fitted my boobs and bum, was just a bit big around the waist…so if I'm altering it a little anyway, I figured lose a little weight and alter it a bit more! But I lost 15lb in last 8 weeks. A colleague asked if I intend losing more, when I said yes, maybe another 20lb, she was shocked. She said something that surprised me, bear in mind I used to be a UK size 8, im now a size 16. So i feel big compared to ten years ago. She said, "you have boobs and a bum, yes. But you have that Jessica Rabbit thing going on, why do you want to change it?"
    I never saw that as a grown up, ive evolved, I'm not skinny now, im curvy, in a Jessica Rabbit way. I'm still going to lose a little more, but actually I always thought Jessica Rabbit was super sexy, so I may stay this way!

    4 agree
  8. I soooo needed to read this right now.

    My dress is…okay. It looked better on the model in the picture than it does on me. But I'm growing used to that and intend to look stunning anyway.

    1 agrees
  9. this is perfect. thank you so much for posting.

    i'm a future bride who is terrified of trying on wedding dresses because i don't like the way i look. i've put on some weight since, quite frankly, being happy and fully accepted by my partner. after realizing that i was fearing what others think of me, i have cut out anyone who would possibly be a part of choosing my dress from the equation. i don't want to fear what my mom, old high school friends, or anyone else who knew me as a much thinner person would say…i'm wearing the shortest, cutest dress i can find (cellulite and all, my friends).

    i want to embrace the iteration of womanhood that my body has chosen to give me. no better time than our wedding!

    1 agrees
  10. Its difficult to express the gratitude you feel reading something like this. Bouncing between 'I thought it was just me' and 'wow-inspired.'
    When I got engaged there was over a year to the wedding, plenty of time, said everyone, to lose weight and be that PERFECT bride. Its amassing really, when it comes to weddings everyone and everything seem to be peddling the same message. Thin = happy and perfect, anything else, why even bother. From the moment the ring lands friends, family, TV, magazines, – suddenly you find your self in a world of disapproving glances and uniform assumptions.
    My engagement has not quite went to plan. In late January I was sitting at traffic lights, when an inattentive driver smashed into me from behind. The resulting 4 car accident left me with a few injury's. Damage to my ribs irritated an old condition into a full blown flair up. Months of pain later I Google 'chronic pain and wedding' – BOOM- I find Offbeat Bride.
    Still sore and ever closer to the big day this sight, and articles like this one have helped me get perspective on the wedding. Its not a day to be worried about arms wobbling, its a day to be happy to be alive. A celebration of love and happiness, the start of a new family. When I'm low or a bit overwhelmed I head to Offbeat where I always find that calm supporting voice advocating for what really matters. Finding this community has been the definition of a silver lining for me, being injured is rubbish, being stuck between my bedroom and hospital appointments rather than dress fittings and cake tastings is frustrating, but I feel now, with the advice and support of articles like this one, that despite my worries and hang ups, both old and new, its time to chuck the self-hate perfectionist out the window. For me, being a bride means being proud of who I am and everything that I've went through to get to that alter. Thank you for helping me to see that.
    Time to enjoy a fat-tastic wedding, with my fantastic friends, family and fiancé

    4 agree
  11. I dream about one day going back to my ideal weight. I'm not okay with my body. But I'm realistic about the fact that this may never happen cause I don't actually do anything about it.
    Bearing this in mind, I didn't think I could do in the six months I was engaged what I had failed to do the 10 years before. So I embraced it. Unlike you, I was sure, absolutely sure, there were wedding dresses out there which would make me look good despite these "flaws". What surprised me was how many did it. It wasn't the small minority, the dress at the end of the rack, slightly hidden and forgotten. It was most dresses.
    That's what they're made for, I guess. And I'm glad. It's a day we deserve not worrying about our figure.

    2 agree
    • Yes! Exactly. What I've learned is that these dresses are made for real bodies – but my skinny jeans, the clothes I can get at the store – expect me to not have thighs, or hips, or anything… These dresses do, as does my fiance! Now the work is in my head… xo

      3 agree

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