It pretty much blew Jordan’s mind when we got the wedding photos back and I immediately said “I should have done more about toning up my arms.”
I think it’s normal for all brides to be anxious about how they look on their wedding day, from wardrobe malfunctions to 80’s-style hair nightmares. That journey for me was challenging. When we first got engaged, I thought “okay, I have almost two years…I’ll become a gym rat and lose a ton of weight. No problem.” Well, I definitely found excuses around that —grad school, marriage prep, a job search, and moving halfway across the country “got in the way.” I was in the middle of making all of these huge changes, trying to set myself up for a successful career and marriage, and that was bringing up a lot of self esteem issues…throwing a lifelong battle with body image in there was overwhelming. So I went into the dress search with the idea that I hadn’t worked enough to get my body to fit a dress, so we might just have to take what we could get. (Yes, that sounds terrible. Because it is.)
We started off the dress search at David’s Bridal…mostly because I needed to get over my fear of walking into a bridal shop with no dresses that would fit me, and I knew they carried a wide range of sizes. Our experience was great, but I didn’t find The Dress. My favorite part was when my mom pulled a dress that I would never choose for myself (a closer-fitting a-line lace dress with cap sleeves), and it ended up being the best one I tried at DB. That helped ease my fears a bit.
The next store was a bridal institution in Peoria. I remembered going there for my first communion dress. This is where my bridal nightmare came true…a very derisive sales clerk declared they only kept size 6 dresses in stock, and simply held them in front of me, attempting to pull the tiny bodices around my seemingly-elephantine frame to “give me an idea of what it could look like.” She was very angry when, after the fourth of fifth attempt to do this, I announced we were finished here, and no, I did not want to schedule a follow up visit. I know it was especially hard for my mom to watch me struggle through what is supposed to be a time of total bridal bliss, according to wedding lore (media). I felt guilty that I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I wish I would’ve just laughed it off and said “We’ll find something!”, focused on spending a nice afternoon with her.
I went home, had a large glass of wine, and sent a dejected text to my wedding planner, who suggested we try Adore Bridal in Morton, Illinois. I immediately called for an appointment—the store was closed, but the owner happened to be there and picked up, and excitedly told me they just had a cancellation for the following day. Our appointment was so wonderful—I found myself having a great time picking out dresses that actually fit (some were too big and had to be clipped to fit! UNTHINKABLE.), where I felt pretty in most of my options, giggling with my mom and sisters as we navigated masses of lace and tulle. It’s so cliche, but as soon as my consultant zipped me into The Dress, I knew it was “the one” and felt gorgeous and glow-y. My sisters gasped with delight, my mom cried, and I went home happy. It was kind of mind-blowing to find something I felt pretty in, when I had this mentality that it was my body that needed to fit the dress, not the other way around.
So, you think that I found The Dress, learned my lesson, and finally loved myself? The story does not end there, friends. My next idea was “Okay, so I look good in my dress, except for my arms, so I’ll work to get those toned up and look like a strong and healthy curvy girl on the big day.” I worked hard, including training for and completing a triathlon (a huge win for appreciating my body and what it can do), then hiring a personal trainer specifically for weight training. I looked and felt better, and was definitely stronger, but still didn’t think my arms looked good enough. Despite all of this egotistical negative self-talk leading up to it, I felt gorgeous on my wedding day—my hair, makeup and nails were professionally done, I had a gown that was tailored to fit my body perfectly, and I was surrounded by people who loved me. Jordan’s reaction at our first look put me on cloud nine and banished any remaining nerves. I laughed and cried and hugged and danced, and when I took off the dress and washed off the makeup, I still felt wonderful.
Soon after we returned from our honeymoon and were settling into married life (which is basically engaged life where you can think about other things besides keeping track of RSVPs), I attended a Weight Watchers meeting where our leader shared how her body image issues affected her marriage—her husband always made her feel beautiful, but her negative self-talk was very difficult for him to hear and respond to. That opened my eyes—I had always felt like those had been MY issues to deal with, but now they were OUR issues…and I didn’t want to do that to our marriage, on top of all of the other things we were going to face on this journey.
So I decided to cut myself a break, focus on working towards health and taking care of myself, and spare Jordan the self-depreciating remarks. I’m still working on it, I don’t have a list of tips or advice, but I wanted to be honest about what was going on beyond what you can see in the photos. Showing the professional photos without some acknowledgement of the journey it took for me to appreciate them seemed dishonest somehow. Because wedding planning isn’t just about music selections and white vs. ivory linens…getting ready for marriage isn’t just joint checking accounts and name changes.