One of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy is aptly titled “The Diet.” Once again, Lucy wants to be in the show and Ricky says no. Yet Lucy gets it into her head that if she somehow can lose enough weight to fit into the dancer’s costume (which is conveniently already made, and unfortunately a size too small), then Ricky will have to see that her talent was there all along. I first saw this episode when I was eight years old, and the influence of media and entertainment on my body image had already begun.
Growing up I was never overweight in a clinical sense, but I was always carrying a little extra, or so I thought. The day my mother gave me a “real” bra to replace my coveted cotton trainer, I headed off to middle school and mourned the days of comfort that I now thought were long gone. Why are these straps so itchy? I lamented. Can everyone tell that this isn’t a sports bra? I had entered a state of perma-fidget, uncomfortably navigating wider hips into my butterfly-bedazzled jean skirt that was now too short for the finger-tip test. Amid a sea of pin-straight, small-cupped figures, I felt huge, taking up space that I didn’t feel I deserved.
This perception of my appearance bled into my high school experience, coloring every interaction. I constantly hid under double-layered camis and bulky sweatshirts from my father’s closet. I had a ton of boys who were friends, but no boyfriends. I had allowed this view that I was existing within an unacceptable body type convince me that I was not even in consideration for romantic gestures.
Prior to my engagement, when my then-boyfriend and I were getting serious, I would grow more nervous with each milestone (moving-in together, adopting a cat) because I knew that we were moving toward the most terrifying experience to someone with a poor body-concept: trying on wedding dresses. Maybe I didn’t want to look like a pretty princess with a puffy dress and glass slippers, but I wanted to look pretty.
Shortly after the news of my engagement broke, a co-worker highlighted just how pervasive this idea of a perfunctory wedding dress diet had become in our culture. After an unusually large breakfast that morning, I wasn’t too interested in my pre-packed lunch. Unloading my lunchbox, I selected half of my sandwich, and returned the rest to the fridge for the next day. Walking by, she saw me, stopped, and said, “Ah, getting an early start on that wedding dress diet, eh?” Judging by the grin on her face, I decided replying that I just wasn’t that hungry seemed pointless, so I smiled and gave a half-nod. Another co-worker was quick with the tip to “focus on your arms,” not commenting on my specific body, but noting this was an area that showed little forgiveness in a strapless taffeta number.
Anxious to get rolling on my wedding planning (I only had 8 months, people!), one of the first items checked off my to-do list was dress shopping. I went with my mother, and future mother and sister-in-law, to a small, local bridal shop about twenty minutes from my house. The years of rom-coms watched and magazine articles read swirled in my head, screaming out how I was supposed to feel about myself. Although you might intuitively think that wedding dresses subscribe to the practice of vanity sizing, in reality it’s quite the opposite. After taking my measurements, the bridal consultant brought back show dresses marked with digits I had never seen within my own wardrobe. Overwhelmed by emotion and layers of tulle, I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to put myself through this stress. I informed the consultant that I didn’t need to know the sizes, and two dresses later I had found “the one”.
Looking back on my body-image journey, I had always been aiming for the “just”—if I just lost those ten pounds I had convinced myself I didn’t need, everything would be better. If I could just get down to a single digit size (who came up with that standard anyway?), everything would be better. If I could just stick to a 1,200 calorie/day diet, everything.would.be.better. In that dressing room, half-naked in front of a complete stranger who pulled me through the other end when I was suffocating in fabric, I made the decision to avoid a crash diet or extreme exercise regimen. Instead I would enjoy my engagement, and celebrate with champagne and celebratory dinners and nights cuddling on the couch. I would have wedding pictures that looked like reality—not a shadow of whom I thought I needed to be. My fiancé was marrying me for me, just the way I was in that moment.
(Image via NC)