I am not my envelope: Letting go of my body image anguish

March 24 | Guest post by lichtstrom
By: RichardCC BY 2.0

I've been reading a lot about body image, self-perception. I've also been thinking about how we fall prey to the societal ideas of what we SHOULD look like, as well as being attached to the perception we have of ourselves and wanting to keep our presentation consistent with that image.

Recently I've been thinking about the many levels of body perception we have to deal with.

One of the items that has been plaguing me, on the body image and self-perception point, is the size of my breasts. They were not only a literal pain in the neck, they were a source of really unwelcome attention from the age of 14 (when I hit puberty and grew three sizes in three months).

When I was 17, I had a breast reduction to remove my then-GGs. When the plastic surgeon asked me what size I wanted to be, I replied "Make them as small as you can. I'd prefer flat." When I woke from anesthesia, I had a between A and B and was happy as can be. Over the next five years, I grew into a C and stayed there for almost 20 years. I wasn't necessarily happy with the C, but it was so much better than my original state.

Fast forward to the year 2008. I'm getting my first bra fitting. The fitter says I have a D cup. I break down in tears in the fitting room. (Embarrassing.)

Fast forward again to 2013. I'm measuring myself per Reddit's "A Bra that fits" instructions. I get 34FF. I break down into tears again.

Most recently, some folks have been posting old pictures on Facebook, and I'm finding myself in pain over the fact that I look, as I said to my partner, "normal." And this is not a judgement in terms of size — this is me being deeply, and vulnerably, attached to my self-perception with smaller breasts.

I am finding I don't WANT to have these things on my chest during the wedding.

I have been putting off scheduling my consultation with the corset maker. This has led to tons of second guessing myself, worrying about what types of responses I'll get from other people and family members, about my clothing choices — not only for the wedding but for other parts of life as well.

Then I realized I was focusing on how I looked over how I felt, or how I wanted to move through this event. I was thinking about wanting to be my "perfect self," but only on the outside.

I finally let it go. I finally hit the point where I said "I am not my envelope." Sure, I want to feel my best during the wedding, but the choices I will make for that will be focused on what is right for what's inside the envelope.

I reminded myself: That corset that I've been agonizing over… I chose to look for a corset not only because it would support me better than a bra would, and require no special undergarments, but also because the last time I danced at a wedding I hurt my hip pretty badly and was limping for weeks. A corset will help me with that by keeping me aware of my movement and maintaining my stability. These are sound, strategic choices that have nothing to do with how I look in it.

Now I'm planning on writing a mantra card and sticking it on my wall: I AM NOT MY ENVELOPE.

If you've read this far, thank you! I'm hoping this can help others who are fighting with self-perception. I'd love to hear how others are working on it.

  1. Great post! I had a breast reduction 8 ago and also asked the doc to make them as small as possible. He said anything smaller than a B would look like a funny pancake shape, so I had to live with a B. It was SO much better than my DDDs and when I had those Bs it was wonderful in comparison. I had a similar feeling of deep disappointment when I went from B to C a few years later, I'm probably closer to a D now but I refuse to get a bra that fits 😉 I just want to thank you for sharing your thoughts! You're right to put your feelings over your looks- feeling better leads to looking better anyway.

    2 agree
    • You're probably being tongue-in-cheek, but please do get a bra that fits! A well-fitting bra should actually make your breasts look smaller, while cramming them into a too-small cup will make them look lumpy and more prominent.

      29 agree
  2. Its a struggle everyday with fluctuating hormones, monthly weight gain and loss…..somedays the girls get held up pretty well, and sometimes its just a matter of wearing the right concealed bra/shirt combo. Sometimes I wish I could just cut them off. Sometimes I love them.

    What you say about not being your envelope is exactly right though. I am not my boobs. They are my blessing and my curse, my identity and my trial.

    I blame the FASHION industry. Why should they have to be HIGH AND PROUD all the time? Whats the point? Why am I trying to conform to this?

    Thanks for the post…..its a conversation worth exploring….

    4 agree
    • I totally call my big boobs "a blessing and a curse" all the time. But NOW I'm totally expanding the saying to this: "They are my blessing and my curse, my identity and my trial."

      4 agree
      • 🙂 Its funny how we dont want the attention we get from them, but at the same time, Id be afraid to let them go completely.

        5 agree
  3. I've struggled with body image too. I never really cared about it until I got engaged. Suddenly we have to take all these pictures AND if we're a woman we need to look PERFECT in them. This stage of my life is really testing me. Especially my acne- I didn't worry so much before but now I'm freaked out because it's really out of my control and it's just not going to look perfect the day of and I have had to come to terms with that! It's very challenging getting all these messages about beauty routines from the bridal industry.

    5 agree
    • Coming to terms with it is a HUGE struggle (for me, not acne but weight), but the most powerful thing I've found is that, as I commented further down, even though I'm often not happy with my body image on a day to day, when I look at photos of my recent Legal Marriage day, all I can see is how gorgeous and fucking happy I looked. That's what it's all about, right? Being happy? As long as that shines through, that's ALL you'll be able to see.

  4. Great article. I keep fussing so much about how I will look, as I have been dealing with some major injuries and weight gain. While I still want to lose weight, I will try to keep in mind that I AM NOT MY ENVELOPE and that my fiance and our families love me anyway! Thank you! Good luck with your wedding and I'm sure you will look amazing. Keep up the positive attitude. Your fiance loves you for who you are!

    1 agrees
    • Oh god, injuries plus unwanted weight gain are the worst. It's adding insult to injury (pretty much literally). I feel ya.

  5. Yay I love that you shared this on the main blog! It's so true….we are so much more than our envelopes and so even more beautiful. <3

    3 agree
  6. I completely agree! Part of me wants to fall into the "lose weight for the wedding" trap, but I've already purchased my dress, in a size bigger than most of my body, because of my boobs. And the wedding is over a year away! So in an effort to save money on alterations, I'm making no effort to lose weight, just to maintain my weight where it is. This is forcing me to accept my body, my envelope, exactly as it is!

    6 agree
  7. Im from the other side of the spectrum I've got small boobs. 34B, when I was trying on wedding dresses the consultants would constantly ask if I was going to have padding sewn in. My thought was hell no! Why would I fake having bigger breasts when everyone knows I don't? My mother also was trying to get me to go tanning before the wedding, I told her everyone knows I'm pasty white and I'm ok with that.

    Some days I wish for larger breasts or less translucent skin, smaller hips, a mythical thigh gap, less hair on my body….the list goes on, and some days I don't give a F***. I'm slowly learning to love my imperfections and own it. Slowly… but it is happening.

    16 agree
  8. I swing between acceptance and agony over my round belly, which I clearly get from one side of my family and seems a genetic destiny. I pretend I'm concerned about the health effects of belly fat (visceral fat around my organs, getting into my bloodstream, causing metabolic syndrome, etc.), but it's really just vanity. And comfort…I hate struggling to tie my shoes or pick things up off the floor because my belly is in the way. No one else seems to notice or care (which is the case with all our body issues, I'm sure), so it's nice to have a forum like this to share my angst and not feel like I'm imagining things. That said, I am NOT my envelope! I need a mantra card for that too.

    6 agree
  9. I agree totally. And in letting go of my own body issues, some of my guests are left bewildered. For example, I just got off the phone with a close female relative, who was going to go work out because she was getting so, "F-A-T." I know this is not true, I know she is not getting fat, because she works out like a fiend. Also, I've seen her heavier, and loved her heavier- especially when she brought home bakery cakes and ice-cream. I am proud of her success and marvel that she feels like she is getting larger after "not working out for three weeks." I haven't worked out in three years! She has so much to be proud of, so when she told me, 83 days before my wedding, that she was getting "F-A-T," I simply said, "We're working on the body-acceptance model for our wedding. There is no room for fat-shaming or the F-word in our wedding or wedding planning. We celebrate the bodies we have." Nobody wins in those conversations. And with 83 days to go, a full-time job and being a full-time grad student, there is very little I can do about the size of my behind (or boobs – the article is about boobs). I just can't really hear it from my nearest and dearest. Especially not right now. The crazy thing is, she somehow thought her comment was supposed to make me feel better. I really don't get that last part.

    9 agree
    • I can relate to this not just in a wedding context but on a day to day basis. My partner and I have a mutual friend who has never been large but lost weight a while back. She looked great before and after. However lately almost every conversation/facebook post, etc is related losing weight/how she is so f-a-t/needs to work out.
      I am overweight and swing between doing something about it to not giving a hoot but I am suprised at how offended I find myself at her comments. Partly because of the sheer volume of them and that they seem to appear in many conversations and also considering I have always been larger than she, if she considers herself so fat then I am left wondering at how she views people such as myself!! I just want to shake her and make her see she is beautiful, inside and out, always has been.
      Phew rant over. Apologies on hijaking such a good post!

      4 agree
      • Yeah, I don't know why people can't see that a lot of those fitspiration or worse, thinspiration photos asks memes are really hurtful and contemptuous of others. I have a really hard time with a friend who has recently lost weight, taken control of both her eating and exercise habits and her life. On the one hand, many of those changes, like leaving her loveless marriage, thinking more about how she parents, and being more comfortable in her body are things that I not only approve of, I actively campaigned for. However, her association of her weight-loss with her other victories makes her feel like her agency is intrinsically linked to how much she weighs. The other issue I have is that on Facebook, she is always posting memes that denigrate people of my weight and especially disabled people like me. All of those "pain is weakness leading the body" and "what's your excuse?"and "if you want it hard enough, only then will you get it" posters and photos are really hurtful.

        I had to come to the place of body acceptance because I had so far to go to the shitty WIC standard. There was no way. I decided what I really wanted for my wedding was to feel happy and loved, and there was no good reason for my body brain bully to be invited. I didn't invite other people that made me upset, so why should my brain bully be invited?

        4 agree
  10. I love this! One of my first thoughts when looking at dresses was my god I have to have straps I need to have my trusty over-the-shoulder boulder holders in place (34 GG). There is no way I would have the confidence to not wear a bra. I would not feel pretty and thats what matters. After seeing a few dresses I fell in love with a strapless one and love the way it shows off my figure but complements the wobbly bits 🙂 So the challenge that lies ahead is to find a bra that will support me without the chance of me flying out when I hit the dance floor :p I am going to hit this with the mantra "I am not my Envelope" If I cant find a bra then I shall hold my head high and deal with it 🙂

    3 agree
    • I'm a 32FF in the same situation. Try looking for a body or basque instead of a bra – the longer line gives better support and you don't have to worry about it sliding around, the band flipping over, or the cups moving out of place.

  11. Reddit's a bra that fits has changed my life. I went from a 40D to a 40F/42DDD and I've never felt more comfortable in a bra. I've recently gained a lot of weight, partially due to illness and medications, and it was wearing on me a great deal while I made my wedding dress. However, once I put it on and started making alterations I decided "I'm ok with this. I am who I am, and I'm loved." I decided finally not to put pressure on myself to lose weight for the wedding. It's going to be awesome regardless of my arm flab.

    6 agree
  12. "I am not my envelope." Wonderful mantra that I will be adopting from now on! Thank you for this honest piece.

    3 agree
  13. I ordered my dress last September. The sample size which I tried on in the salon did not fit AT ALL. And I still found it funny that i picked it. I just knew, for some reason. Despite being squeezed into a sample size that looked more like sausage casing than it did a dress.
    I finally put my dress on, last Saturday no less. And as I looked in the mirror, I found myself fighting the stereotypes. Did i look like a bride? Is the dress not appropriate for my body? Could I lose more weight?
    And then I took a breath, and realized that it didn't matter. It didn't matter what size I was, it didn't matter that my dress is untraditional. And it sure as hell shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks. I focused on my fiancé and I knew he would love me even if i wore a trash bag.
    So banish the negativity, if you can. And focus on your love. You are a bride, not a size.

    2 agree
  14. i started treatment for an eating disorder shortly after getting engaged, and postponed the wedding because i couldn't handle the pressure to be beautiful and needed more time to work on myself. the wedding is four months away now, and i'm starting to notice a lot of old thoughts creeping up. thank you for this reminder, i definitely needed it.

    2 agree
    • That must be really tough. You're a brave person, & I'm willing to go out on a limb & say you must have an amazing partner who must love and support you very much. 🙂

      Can I suggest you read my comment a bit further down? I wonder if it might also help you 🙂

  15. i also have small boobs (barely a 34A!) and have been paranoid and anxious about dress shopping since my mom told me at 14, in front of all of my friends i was homecoming dress shopping with, that either me or the dress must have some shape; we can't both have nothing. after years of my mom buying me padded bras, padded tops, and god forbid, padded bikinis, it is still hard to find women's clothing designed to fit the body of a 12-year-old boy. but when i find something that fits and makes me look good in it, i buy it in every color they have!

    2 agree
  16. This was a very touching read. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    For me, the struggle with my appearance is due to how much weight I've gained in the past few years – but especially in the past year. I'm fine with the DD breasts I've gained (I love how a full rack looks in me), but I hate that now my tummy sticks out past them. To me, this is no longer okay.

    And for possibly the first time in my life, I have visible cellulite on my legs. I've always been quite proud of my legs, & now they're not nice & taut & shapely, they're lumpy.

    And my arms are fat. Sometimes a top might otherwise look good, but it pinches my arms. I've had to have my partner pull a no longer fitting shirt off of me because it was so tight around my upper arms I couldn't get it off myself. (I don't even know how I got it on in the first place.)

    My friends tell me that I'm still beautiful, and if I want to lose weight for health reasons, or even just coz I want to, then that's great & I should work on it. But if I want to lose weight because I think I'm ugly now, and because I'm afraid I won't look good on my wedding day, then I should stop being silly.

    It's a real struggle for me to accept it. I mean a really difficult struggle. I look in the mirror and often hate what I see. It's so upsetting to try to put on cute clothes that used to fit & find that I can't button up that blouse, or can't pull those jeans on past mid thigh.

    But then I do have those days when I still think I look damn good. And I try to focus on those and project that feeling on to the rest of my life. I try to remember it when I'm having bad self image days.

    Oddly, the thing that has helped me the most is that I just had the Legal Ceremony a couple weeks ago (The First Wedding will be this September, & the Second a Wedding next Sept), & I bought a cute white cotton dress for it. When I tried it in, I thought it was okay, but mostly it fit pretty well and was cheap so I went with it. My friends said it looked good (from the photos I sent them) but I wasn't really convinced.

    On the day of the Legal Ceremony, I was just so happy and excited, & did such an awesome job with my hair and makeup, that I finally understood what they meant and I really did feel gorgeous.

    And looking at the photos that we took that day, even though yes, my tummy sticks out past my breasts; even though yes, if you look for it, you can see my cellulitey legs; even though yes, my arms are chunky; even though yes, I have the slightest double chin… Those are not the things I notice or think about when I look at those pictures. What I notice are my beaming smile, and my husband's rather more restrained grin. I notice how tightly and happily I'm clutching his hand. I feel so happy and loved and wonderful.

    So having my imperfections caught on camera on one of the happiest days of my life has made me realise that I can want to improve them, but if I don't, I'm still fucking gorgeous.

    5 agree
  17. I had to comment on this as I have been doing a great amount of self-reflection lately on my body image issues. Especially with my wedding coming up this Friday! (woohoo!!)
    I can certainly appreciate where this woman is coming from, and relate to the desperate need to redefine our view of our bodies as women. I love the mantra, "I am not my envelope." I will be adding it to my bathroom walls which are currently plastered with positive thoughts I've written down on scrap paper. This is how I cope and help myself believe that I am beautiful in my own way. I have nice, happy thoughts to read every morning, all while getting ready in that unforgiving mirror, rather than starring at all of my insignificant flaws for the first hour of every day. Things like, "Good Morning Beautiful!", "Look at that hair!", "Sexy bitch…look at you!", "What gorgeous eyes you have!" It may sound corny, but it TOTALLY helped me. I wake up every day and read MY OWN POSITIVE thoughts about myself. They aren't just nice things some people feel the need to say. They are my own words. That's significant because I know for a fact that even if I feel like SHIT today, I did have a moment where I thought that about myself at one point…that's so comforting to me. Plus, when you use your own words, you say exactly what you hoped anyone else would say to you…It's all about loving yourself again. Fall in love with you body again ladies…it's a force to be reckoned with!!!

    1 agrees
  18. As 40 J/GG (depending on the country) I don't want to GI wedding dress shopping. I've also gained a lot of weight since I bought my first dress for a cancelled engagement when I was 20. The worst thing is no one has undergarments that fit. I also worry that I'm going to look "slutty" because of cleavage. Been engaged since July and no planning has been done :/

    • Can't recommend Reddit's fit guide and shopping resources highly enough. Measure yourself, measure again and buy online (if you can't order online, find a friend who can order for you… it's SO worth it!) You'll be able to find an undergarment that's perfect for trying on dresses without depending on what stores have in stock. Redditers also have tips for making sure your boobs are separated with way less chance of cleavage.
      It's unusual advice, but if you're super concerned about your cleavage situation, I fully recommend finding the right undergarment first, then picking/altering a dress to work with it.

      1 agrees
  19. I am loving this 'Not my Envelope' Metaphor… I wan't to take it further. So, random off the top of my head….

    I am not my envelope. All those stamps – they just show how far I've traveled. All the places I have been. The faces I have met along the way. All those wrinkles in the paper – they just show how many times I've opened myself up. How many people have seen all that I contain – how important my contents are. I have put myself out there. Many caring hands have carried me, to this destination at which I now arrive. I am not my envelope. But I love it just the way it is – even when sometimes, I wonder if the envelope accurately reflects the letters inside, still I know – this is MY envelope. No one else has an envelope just like me. No one envelope has traveled the exact journey as mine, from where I began and all the places I have been – to where I am arriving, now. And when this envelope reaches the person I have decided to give it to – holding my envelope in their hands, they will be overjoyed. It will be the best thing they have ever seen. They will be so happy to receive it. All the anticipation of the time it took to arrive – the weeks, months, years of travel that brought me to precisely this spot, this one moment in time – with shaking hands, they will take care to open it – open me – cherish me – and love every word of the letter inside. I am not my envelope – but I would never have gotten here, without it – exactly the way it is.

    So, here here for random poetic inspiration! Thanks Offbeat Bride <3

    3 agree

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