As soon as my fiancé and I announced our engagement, there were a number of questions and comments we heard over and over and over again from our families and friends. One week after we got engaged, we attended a party with his extended family and I think I heard these three questions from every woman in attendance:
“Have you set a date?”
“What are your colors going to be?”
“Have you started picking out THE dress?”
As weird as it was to have questions about wedding planning details ONE WEEK after announcing our engagement, it wasn't surprising because those particular women are all Pinterest users with their own “wedding boards.” However, I was very surprised to hear this comment repeatedly:
“Uh-oh, if you're having a wedding that means I really have to start changing my body so I can be there!”
…Huh? It's well known that most advertising targeted at brides emphasize a very narrow range of body types, which is part of the reason why so many other wedding-focused online communities have entire forums dedicated to brides changing their bodies for “THE BIG DAY.” But I never thought that people attending a wedding were required to feel bad about their bodies, too. Apparently I was wrong.
To be honest I felt kind of guilty about an event I'm throwing causing loved ones to feel bad about themselves, even though I know that I didn't say or do anything to create those feelings. In fact, my de-facto response to “I need to change my body for your wedding” is always either, “But you look great just the way you are” or “Since when does attending a wedding require changing your body?” No, my friends and family came up with these ideas all on their own. But why?
I've done a lot of thinking about why people just attending a wedding feel the need to change their bodies. Understanding their reasons has helped me figure out how to best communicate to my friends and family that I love them just the way they are, and that they shouldn't feel the need to change for me… IF that's what they're trying to do. I've discovered that, in many cases, people's desire to change their bodies really doesn't have much to do with me, my fiancé, or planning to celebrate our marriage at all!
Here are some of the reasons that I've identified:
Some people actually wanted to change all along, and a wedding gives them a convenient deadline
There's really nothing wrong with this one. While you should never be pressured to change your body if you're already happy with it, there's nothing wrong with wanting to change it when you're UNHAPPY with how you look (assuming you're healthy and those feelings aren't caused by some form of disorder, obviously). For some people, being invited to a semi-formal event that's several months in the future provides a realistic deadline for body changes they've already been planning.
The wedding party feels just as pressured as the bride to look “pinnable” or “blog-worthy”
This one upset me a lot. One of my bridesmaids who had never talked about changing her body in the past suddenly started working towards changing. She told me it was because she “wanted me to have nice photos.” Of course I've been doing my best to assure her that this is a ridiculous idea: I asked her to be my bridesmaid because she's my friend, not because I expected her to look a certain way!
Just like the advertising I mentioned earlier, a lot of wedding blogs only feature brides AND bridesmaids with a narrow range of body types. That content ends up on Pinterest, which has probably exposed a lot of people to wedding inspo who would have never looked at it before Pinterest. That's based on my personal experience: I never had a “wedding binder” or “wedding inspiration board” before I signed up for Pinterest. And would my 14-year-old cousin be planning HER future wedding if she weren't on Pinterest? I highly doubt it. Anyway, the homogeneity of content on wedding blogs and Pinterest probably contributed to my bridesmaid's feeling that she has to change her body in order to be in my wedding.
Relatives feel pressured by the idea of wedding photos lasting forever
At the party from the beginning of this post, our engagement announcement inspired my fiancé's grandmother to dig out her wedding photos… And her sister's wedding photos… And her three daughters' wedding photos. All of them are older now, and their wedding photos are the only images we've seen from their younger days. I think that my grandkids will probably only see my current self in wedding photos, too.
Photographers tend to sell this idea of “timeless” wedding pictures, and they're right in at least one respect: your wedding photos will probably be seen by many generations of your family. I believe this idea, combined with many people's narrow definition of attractiveness, has contributed to some family members' feeling pressured to change their bodies for my wedding. My fiancé's mom, sister, and even grandmother have all made comments about “wanting to look good in the photos.”
Weddings may reunite you with people you don't see very often
Large portions of my family are scattered around the country, and therefore don't get to see each other very often, and the same goes for many of my friend groups. To these people, my wedding isn't just a celebration of my fiancé and I getting married — it's also a class or family reunion. Something about being reunited with old friends makes people want to look their best, and again combined with many people's narrow definition of attractiveness, this has made a few of my friends and family members think that they need to change their bodies before my wedding.
I'm doing my best to emphasize body positivity, communicate to my friends and family that I love them just the way they are, and help those who wouldn't otherwise want to change their bodies understand that looks don't dictate one's ability to celebrate a marriage.
Understanding people's thinking has really helped me communicate those things more effectively, in a way that resonates with my loved ones.