Psychology Today: Fighting the Unhealthy Cultural Push for Wedding Weight Loss

Collage made from google images search results.
Collage made from google images search results.

I've written in the past about the pressure put on so many brides to lose weight for their weddings (and how I suggest people handle it). I love that Psychology Today is now tackling this sticky subject with their article, Fighting the Unhealthy Cultural Push for Wedding Weight Loss:

For heterosexual couples, wedding preparations are often "all about the bride." From every angle, wedding media is largely marketed towards women, and while these outlets certainly offer helpful ideas and suggestions for the wedding stuff (e.g., flowers, caterers, and music), they also offer potentially harmful ideas and suggestions about brides' bodies.

Diets, cleanses, bridal boot camps, wedding-dress workouts…losing weight for a wedding can become an obsession, a distraction, and a source for stress during an already stressful time.

It’s estimated that 33% of women are advised by someone important in their lives (e.g., parents, friends, even fiancés) to lose weight before walking down the aisle (Prichard & Tiggemann, 2009), with heavier women hearing these comments more often.

Why do women, who are no more weight-conscious than the average person, turn into brides-to-be who are so motivated to lose weight for their weddings and what can we do to help them?

The article starts with obvious suggestions like Don't suggest a bride lose weight for her wedding, but gets into some more nuanced ideas as well, including Talk about the wedding as more than pictures. It's a great question to consider: how has wedding photography increased the pressure on brides to look "perfect" at their weddings? I also like this article because it doesn't demonize those who want to lose weight — it simply asks how people can manage the pressure applied to lose weight during wedding planning.

You can read the full article here.

  1. So many people have been giving me specific instructions to tell my wedding photographer, regarding highlighting their bodies in a "positive" way (i.e., so they look thin or their nose looks small or their arms looked toned, etc) that it feels constricting to me, as the bride, because I don't want to have to worry about that all day AND I'm sure it will feel doubly constricting to my photographer for obvious reasons.

    I'm trying to figure out how to balance my own insecurities with enjoying my day (it's not like I'm immune to worrying about my "good side" and my round belly – working on it though!), but also how to concurrently respect other people's wishes/insecurities without explicitly telling my photographer that he's not allowed to ever take a picture of my future MIL in profile (very specific, very difficult request) since I feel like if my photographer is on eggshells, that will reflect in the pictures. I don't *want* perfectly posed photos of my friends and family looking like magazine models; I want real pictures of them enjoying our wedding. But I also don't want those with insecurities to hate the pictures and themselves in it because I ignored their requests — regardless of how befuddling and, frankly, silly I think they are. It's tough stuff to reconcile and just shows how icky and pervasive beauty standards have become.

    9 agree
  2. I have to say I love my curves, but I dont like how full my face is. So I will be trying to loose a small amount of weight to slim my face down. I wont be going all crazy and starving myself, and if I dont end up loosing then I dont. But I do think it is a shame, that is the first thing mentioned. And of course, I heard it from a few people when I told them I was getting married.

    4 agree
  3. Amusingly, while I have made it quite clear that I have no plans to lose weight for my wedding, all my female family members have been dropping hints that *they* will be dieting to fit into *their* dresses. It's bizarre. I keep telling them they don't have to, and indeed I don't want them to, but my words are falling on deaf ears.

    19 agree
      • Thanks! I remember reading that post a while ago, but couldn't remember whether it was on the Tribe or on the main blog. (So… many… posts… *grin*)

    • That was actually something that drove me crazy. I had a bridesmaid who went crazy applying acid treatments to her skin (!!!!) so she would "look good in pictures." It's been six months and I'm still not really over that.

      1 agrees
    • I actually had my best friend of 20+ years ask me "if I'm pregnant in time for your wedding, do you still want me in it?" It just blew my mind. I was upset and hurt; Like somehow just because I'm getting married I flipped into a total superficial, shallow bitch that would toss a friend out for putting on a little second baby weight.

      11 agree
      • Last year, while I was in my friends wedding, her aunt asked me how far along I was, and I certainly wasnt pregnant, so it could be worse….

        2 agree
    • If they're saying they have to diet to fit into their dresses, I'd tell them they should have just bought dresses that fit them in the first place!

      1 agrees
  4. Amusing that I read this right after coming home from the gym, where I just kicked my own butt as part of my wedding preparations…but not because I'm trying to lose weight for my wedding. Rather, this is how I deal with stress and all of the crazy emotions that go along with wedding planning. My fiancé is the only one who seems to get that though. Most people just smile and nod like "yeah, OK, sure, that's what you SAY, but you'll be so much happier when you've lost a few pound." Nope, I'll be happy if we can continue to wedding plan without fighting, which is happening because I'm not stressed. My fiancé knows what I look like and he loves me anyway. I'm doing this for my own health (mental and physical, because let's be real, it will be better for me if I'm healthier. Not skinny. Healthier.) and not the pictures.

    29 agree
    • Oh, yes, that is super annoying. I also already went to the gym regularly as part of my mental, physical, and emotional health and I've also gotten the little smirks and things like, "Wow, someone's getting ready for their BIG day!!" every. single. time. I get back from the gym. And when I say, "Oh, it helps with stress, plus it was always part of my routine" it's just more of the, "Mhmm, suuuuuure" attitude and winky-winks.

      Drives me bonkers.

      12 agree
  5. I have lost a significant amount weight in the last year, but the motivation was not my wedding — it was my health. The wedding just gave me a deadline 🙂 And after doing yoga for a year, I've built some pretty sweet muscles that I can't wait to show off. For me it's all about feeling healthy and strong. And my honey's not complaining!

    10 agree
    • Me too! I started losing weight in July of last year, got engaged in September and people still comment on how I'm getting in shape for the wedding. I lost the bulk of that before I was even engaged so… no. I'm losing weight because I had gained a lot due to quitting smoking and being in a happy relationship that made me want to go out and eat lots of food and realized that if said happy relationship was going to stick around and I was going to continue not smoking I had to do something about that. I did not spend hundreds of hours working out so I could look nice for a couple hours. Talk about poor ROI…

      5 agree
  6. "Why do women, who are no more weight-conscious than the average person, turn into brides-to-be who are so motivated to lose weight for their weddings and what can we do to help them?"

    Maybe this is off-topic, but I think this is a TERRIBLE question on the part of Psychology Today. First of all, the use of "the average person" right after "women" implies that only men are people and women are women. Second of all, women are WAY more weight-conscious than men, so this is a dumb question.

    What they are probably trying to ask is, "Why do women who may not normally be weight conscious become motivated to lose weight for their weddings?"

    It's still kind of a dumb question though because there aren't very many women who aren't already weight-conscious to some degree. Having a high pressure social event just amplifies already existing anxiety about the subject, which drives people to try to do something about it in order to reduce said anxiety.

    If we want to have a discussion about women and weight consciousness, we need to have a discussion about beauty norms, sexism, and the ways that we police women's bodies and looks. I think just addressing "wedding weight loss" is short-sighted and doesn't get at the actual root of the problem, which is that women are judged on their looks first and their accomplishments second, where the reverse is true for men.

    19 agree
    • "The average person" in psychological terms is genderless. It's supposed to be, figuratively, if you grabbed someone off the street, regardless of whom, what would their inclinations most likely look like. So, in the mythical race, gender, sex, color, ethnic, religion blind world of mass statistics, the average person typically believes X or Y about A or B.

      I see where you're coming from with your critique, but in considering the source, it's typical psychological parlance for "an amorphous blob person who, in reality, probably doesn't exist".

      12 agree
      • It's the commas that make the sentence ambiguous. They set off "who are no more weight-conscious than the average person" as a contrast to "women" as if all women are the same, and as if these strange creatures called women are not, in fact, people. It's terrible phrasing. Were I the editor, I would have rephrased it this way: "Why are some women who are normally no more weight-conscious than the average person . . ."

        /English teacher

        7 agree
        • Yeah, the editor in me also twigged out at "women, who are no more weight-conscious than the average person…" While "average person" might have a specific meaning in psychology, the editors of an article for general consumption — even one in Psychology Today — can't assume their readers will be aware of that restricted usage. And counterposing "women" with "the average person" implies that the "average person" must necessarily be defined as "people who are not women."

          Bad editing on that part, definitely.

          1 agrees
    • Yes, agreed. Using women after average people is a really heavy implication that women aren't people. But also, seriously the question is why are women like this? I DON'T KNOW, are there still constant and varied forms of media and discussion about how terrible women's bodies are and how they should definitely be improved in a million ways? Yes? That might be the answer.

      3 agree
  7. PT has been pretty shitty in the past, with articles about how "feminism is the anti-viagra", all geared around misunderstandings of evolutionary psychology. I'm glad they're tackling the subject from this angle, rather than trying to add to the pressure, but it still seems to skirt the issue of sexism.

    5 agree
  8. Weight loss pressure is horrible any time but the article is right that weddings bring out the worst of it. Just like it seems to bring out the worst of behaviors over everything.

    A friend I was a bridesmaid for a couple years ago handled the pressure on her to drop weight really well. When she got her dress, it was an old sample and fit off the rack (miracle for a plus size bride I say). So when people would ask if she was loosing weight she could gladly say no because she didn't want to pay to have the dress taken in. And you know what, she looked beautiful on her wedding day.

    2 agree
  9. I didn't plan on losing any weight for my wedding. I had planned on eating healthier the week of so my sensitive stomach wouldn't freak out for any reason. What ended up happening was a few months ago (my wedding is in less than two weeks) I got a nasty stomach flu. I got the normal 24-hr bug but then I completely lost my appetite and anything I ate made me look and feel like I ate my body weight at a buffet. A doctor told me I was reacting to yeast in things after my flu and put me on a diet of veggies and water and yogurt until my appetite came back. I ended up losing about a pound a day from when I was sick. People joke to me that at least I got a good "result" but it was absolute misery.

    It's funny because my seamstress told me I'm not allowed to gain or lose any weight because my dress ended up fitting perfectly and they aren't doing a final fitting.

    2 agree
  10. I just got married last Saturday and although I haven't seen my primary photographer's shots yet, the shots from the guests are being posted on Facebook and Flickr and I am stunned at how good I look. I am a large woman who did not try to lose weight for the wedding. I bought a dress that felt like a million bucks on. Felt. On my wedding day I felt like a million bucks and that is what shows in the pictures. I was comfortable and happy and didn't want to take that dress off. It was a wonderful day that my husband and I and all our guests enjoyed and I wish the same for all of you.

    6 agree
    • Best wishes on a long and happy marriage and it's wonderful to hear that you felt so beautiful!

      4 agree
  11. When we first set our date, I was hoping to shave off a little extra weight. I'm a runner, but also a solid size 12 who even after finishing multiple half marathons, never seems to get my body below a 10. Thankfully, I realized really early that dieting was a TERRIBLE idea.

    Granted, I don't eat poorly. I don't drink soda, I primarily eat vegetables instead of meat, and I generally avoid most overprocessed snacks. But I am my father's daughter, and ultimately, I will only lose a significant amount of pounds if I take on one of those ridiculous grapefruit for breakfast, slice of salmon for lunch-type diets.

    Wedding planning has been stressful enough. Like a few of the other commenters, I've used my morning and weekend runs as outstanding and healthy stress relief. One day a week, I do a strength-building exercise DVD because a) it's pleasant and b) if it actually works, I'll be happy with my arms in a strapless dress on the big day. And if it doesn't, all I've 'wasted' is 30 minutes a week of positive energy.

    I would never judge any women for a bridal workout routine, but I'm so happy with myself for recognizing early on that a slice of pizza here and there and office worker's birthday cake is way more important to my quality of life than seeing 10 extra pounds off my frame in my wedding photos. My priorities aren't everyone's (including my sister, who DID shave off her extra ten pounds for the day), but I'm happy with them. Plus, cheese man. Who doesn't love cheese?

    7 agree
  12. I just went through this at the gym.

    I was upgrading my personal training membership with the training salesperson instead of my actual personal trainer.

    I originally started working with a trainer about a year ago so that I could get my blood pressure down and, if it worked out, lose a little weight in the process, but I don't necessarily have a target "for the wedding" or in general besides get my blood pressure to a healthy level after getting some unsettling readings at the doctor.

    So, in the conversation my fiance came up, as the gym memberships are on his credit card and the salesperson goes "oh, when is the wedding?" and then tries to sell me a more expensive membership to "fit into my wedding dress" at which point I had to inform him that I would just get a dress that fits me and that that's not why I was doing training. I had get him to stop talking about the wedding (which is over 2 years from now) TWICE more before I could finally sign up for the much cheaper plan I had intended.

    I secretly hope that my shutting down his notions of wedding weight loss may help another woman in the future who is feeling sound in her body but just wants a jump start when signing up with him, but given his persistence I doubt it did.

    1 agrees
    • This right here is exactly why I gave up my search for a gym after I got engaged. I just do not have the patience to deal with the insinuation that the only reason I'd sign up at a gym would be to get my body "bridal-ready" (yes, someone actually used that term to my face), being at a gym would just make it harder for me to resist that pressure.

      1 agrees
  13. This is resonating with me so much more than you know.

    I am a chunky monkey, as my family would put it, and since we became engaged 6 months ago, there has been constant talk of losing weight, with a count down to how much time i have. And, I have been swept up in it, starting at the gym, watching what i eat, and feeling so, so, so shit about myself. They have come from a good place but I am a sensitive lass and it has hit me hard.

    6 months later I am bigger, so self conscious that any picture of me makes me want to cry and I am aware at all times of any jiggle, and bounce and what people "might" be thinking. All in all, I have become depressed, and this is in turn makes me not want to exercise, eat right, or any of the other things. So the kind suggestions, weight talk has done the opposite that they set out to do. Pfff!

    I used to like how I looked, I am not blind, I am aware I am bigger. Still that is what I have always been in this relationship and OH seems to like it!

    Fuck this pressure, really. I am supposed to be excited, as i plan to do this just the one time, but.. all i feel is stress and the feeling I am not living up to my side of the bargain. What gives? I am being gifted a designer wedding dress of my choice – and all i think is "how am i going to shoe horn myself into one?"

    Weight is a feminist issue and its messing with my wedding happies. How dare it! How dare others! How dare they! It's my body!!! I am more than the lbs i carry!

    7 agree
  14. I had no intent of losing weight for my wedding.
    I went wedding dress shopping only two weeks after we got engaged, simply because that was when people were in town to come with – but it was probably the worst body image day I've ever had.
    Mostly by the consultant, I repeatedly got told that the dresses I wanted made me look short and frumpy and that I should wear this other dress that I hated. In some dresses she'd say something like "Depending on what your weightloss plan is… "
    I understand that some girls do want to lose weight and that it is a common thing for women to do especially for their wedding but I was so offended that she assumed that was my main goal.
    I wound up with a dress I don't love and felt bullied. I am drastically altering my dress at a different location to get it a bit more to what I had wanted.
    It's been a constant challenge with myself. I don't hate my body by any means. It was just difficult to come out of the wedding gate and start with that. Then, similar to other people, I have girls who are attending telling me how they "havent hit their goal weight for the wedding" or how "they need to start going to the gym for the wedding" "no more dessert for me til your wedding". My sister also sent me a message that said "was looking through old photos, we were so skinny back then." I've gained weight but its relationship weight. My fiance loves me. Why should I feel bad about how I look.

    4 agree
    • Less than two weeks to my wedding and a guest just texted me and said "As of today my wedding diet is in full force. oh boy" 😐

  15. Man, OBB is giving me all the timely posts today, I love it.

    I've always promised myself that I would never succumb to the pressure to lose weight for my wedding day, but the messages are EVERYWHERE and even before I got engaged I tossed around the idea of maybe trying to shed some weight (I've put on a little relationship/birth control/sedentary office job weight in the past couple years). I've also been meaning for some time to get back on the exercise bandwagon for my own health, but I feel like if I start now, I will get tangled into exercise for the wrong reasons.

    Thankfully, I got engagement photos done last weekend and from what my photographer previewed to us, the photos reminded me that I'm lovely just the way that I am and there's no reason for me to go on a weight loss plan.

    2 agree
  16. Oh I really hate this pressure. For me it is an even more sensitive subject because in my last relationship my ex was abusive and really broke me down, he really just wanted to change everything about me. Especially my weight.

    My fiancé is so incredibly supportive and really does love me as I am ( which is decidedly curvy, but I like it), but it's hard when even my mum is all like you're beautiful as you are BUT you'd feel so much better if you just lost a little weight. I can't seem to get through to her that I'm only just beginning to even like myself again let alone love myself, but the only time I feel bad about myself is when people tell me to lose weight.

    I'm trying to love my curves anyway. I have a fabulous wedding dress that fits almost perfectly right now and I'm not going to change myself. I can't wait for my wedding and I know I'm going to be gutted I can't wear my dress again cos it's so comfy and fun!

    So yeah I'm gonna love my curves – my fiancé does. It does floor me how much he loves my little pot belly though lol! But I love that he does. 🙂 xx

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