… We’ve all been there – or will be there – and once you do, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It’s the weekend of your best friend’s wedding and you’re a bridesmaid.
You’re back at your parents house; surrounded by crinkled pictures, dolls in plastic bins, old love notes from high school boyfriends that you refuse to throw out (even if they’re all married with a kid on the way; nostalgia is a real disease), and a high school Geography and Algebra book you never returned.
You’ve just showered: the fumes of yesterday’s spray tan wafting through your nose. Your hair is up in some makeshift form, water running down your back, and a towel wrapped loosely around your chest.
You’re hunched over childhood chest of drawers.
Where the hell is it? You’re wondering, tossing aside a neon yellow tank top you bought in Costa Rica on your Senior trip.
You push around an oversized college t-shirt, a ragged spaghetti top, and some winter Long-Johns your mom bought one Christmas that you never wore them. (They’re polka dot for Christ’s sake).
You sigh. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I WORE THOSE BLOODY SPANX, You’re now chastising yourself – moving on from the Long-Johns.
Kim’s wedding? Amanda’s? April’s?
You’ve been a bridesmaid 10 times in 3 years. Nearly all of the weddings have been in your childhood hometown so you’ve developed a method of leaving all “wedding necessities” at your parents home (to save some $$$ on the planes).
You feel a bead of sweat form at your hairline. (or is it water from the shower? You don’t know. Truthfully, you flew in last night, drank one too many margaritas with the bridal party at the Tex-Mex restaurant – and now you’re hungover and everything feels like a feat.)
You check the closet again. Three used bridesmaid dresses hang in your childhood closet where once filled a closet full of Polo shirts, Anthropology dresses, Urban Outfitter leggings, and smelly UGG boots (’cause you never wore socks).
You grin to yourself. You had nicer clothes at 17 than you do at 27. But hey, you’ve moved so much that you’d rather have less crap than have more.
Anyway, you can pat yourself on the back for being “minimalist” later.
Right now, you’re on a mission.
You yell downstairs.
“MAAAAM,” you wail. “Have you seen any Spanx around here?”
“I have mine,” she says. “Haven’t seen yours.”
“Can I borrow them?”
“I won’t lose them.”
“You lose everything I give you,” she complains.
You hear your Dad stir on the couch in the game room next to you.
“I won’t I SWEAR,” you yell louder.
“Alright, come down and get them then,” she says reluctantly.
You scamper down the stairs, past your 12-year old deaf dog that rattles when you step near her.
You meet her in her bedroom and she hands you the Sara Blakely death trap nude Spanx.
You know you’ll be uncomfortable the rest of the night – but as Khloe Kardashian once said “It’s not about making you look thinner, it’s about no lines.”
You chuckled when you read this ’cause who are we kidding?
You know with an eating disorder, it’s never about lines.
It’s always about looking thinner. Looking the best. Unattainable goals.
It’s not your “day” persay, but hell, you’re in a majority of those pictures and you’ll be damned if you have to look at that shiz for 40 years and feel large.
You sigh, unravel the bastard material.
You hate this shit yet forget to wonder why you do it.
It’s just always how it’s been.
Besides, all the other bridesmaid have them on, and you don’t want to give them a reason to look at you.
Pain is gain, right?
You promise yourself as you slip them on that day – you’ll write about this.
… So, here you are.
Happy Wedding Season, y’all. Let’s talk about women and weddings and body image and eating disorders.
Cause I’m hella’ tired of this Gone With the Wind corset bullshit, and it’s time we ask ourselves exactly why we do it?
Every wedding season, I go through the same struggle: to submit to the culture or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings. I love my friends. I love the anticipation of boarding a flight home and I love the festivities, the speeches, and even the morning of preparation where everyone is running around frantically trying to stay on some inevitably ignored “wedding schedule.”
Some of my best memories are made at receptions and rehearsal dinners:
But, coming down from a wedding last weekend, I’m sitting here in a coffee shop in Boulder, my spray tan stained and streaked, my chin broken out from the overdose of airbrushed concealer on wedding day, and my body image confidence wavering as it always tends to do the week or two after a wedding.
Why is that? I wondered to my therapist the other night. Why do I always seem to jump right back into that eating disorder mindset after a weekend celebrating someone else’s event?
I’ve thought about it all week – each time I mirror-checked for new pimples or weight gain – and each time I’ve felt guilty for continuing to avoid the gym.
And, here’s the thing: weddings are affairs build on illogical expectations – and that’s for both the bride and the accompanying party.
None more than myself.
A few weeks before a wedding and I start to get that little tick in my head. “How do my arms look?” “Will the dress still fit?” (It always does) “Is everyone getting their make up done?” Oh, body dysmorphia.
Inevitably, an email chain starts with anywhere from 6-12 women on it discussing the appointments for the upcoming weekend.
“Make up, for those who want it, will be 120$ plus tip. Eyebrows will be 25$… the Bride is paying for everyone to get lashes. For those of you who want to get your hair done, a few of us are booking appointments at 7:30am on the Saturday of the wedding. It’ll be 55$ plus tip.”
There’s a LAUNDRY LIST of appointments that accompany each wedding – and here you are as a bridesmaid trying to scramble and figure out what everyone else is doing.
It’s a mindfuck. While obviously there are far more stressful things in life, there’s absolute pressure when you’re part of a wedding party to submit and take on every appointment that everyone else is doing.
Sure, make up is “optional”… but, like, is it? Are you really going to be the only bridesmaid who doesn’t have the eyelashes or the spray tan? And, let’s be honest, the competition between women is real.
You’re not getting eyelashes or spray tans for a partner or a potential date – you’re getting that shit to “keep up with the Joneses.” You’re doing that because groups of women judge each other. And it’s subtle in eye moves and body scans, and it’s also not subtle at all.
“Linds – you’re killing it. This is the hottest I’ve ever seen you,” one of my best friends said last weekend after I had eyebrow fill-ins, airbrushed make up to cover wrinkles, blown out hair, a spray tan and 24-hour lipstick.
I looked up at her and my mouth gaped open.
“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks. Don’t get used to it.”
Her comment has eaten at me for the past week.
Naturally, as soon as she said it, I thought immediately at how unrealistic it was that I could look like that all the time – and then I thought about how her comment really just implies that she was “shocked” I could look as good as she – I suppose – felt I did.
I hate that shit; the way women have these condescending little ways of attacking each other.
Immediately, I started to factor in all the ways I could “try a little harder”
“I mean, I could get a spray tan every now and then for events,” I thought. “I do feel so good right now. I look sooo much better tan.”
“I could budget for eyebrows. They really do make my face look more angular.”
… Where does it end as a woman? Where does it bloody end?
I sat at a friend’s house last weekend and his beautiful, younger fiancé spoke about getting “pre-emptive Botox.”
I stared at her. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. You’re beautiful AF. And 5 years younger.
Of course, I judged myself.
Should I start Botox for that wrinkle between my eyebrows?
Should I set aside money for laser hair removal? I have PCOS; it’d be so convenient.
Should I… Should I… Should I…
You’ll feel hotter. You’ll be hotter. It’ll make you more confident.
Your partner will always love you.
…. Where does it end?
Indulging in body image insecurity is a drug that once you begin to taste – you’re never gonna get off the train.
It’s stronger than heroin or anorexia. It’s instant gratification.
I came back after the weekend and I’m sitting at my partner’s apartment talking about the weekend. The good times – the dances – the moments I wished he could’ve been there for (he’s in a 6-month intensive coding school) – and then I began to casually mention how I really liked my spray tan.
Doesn’t it look good? I asked him – showing off my stomach.
He nodded – but he gave me a look that seemed to suggest he saw through my comment.
I think I might get it for bigger events, I said, testing him.
That’s up to you babe, he finally said. But, I just … I can’t tell that much of a difference. It’s all in your head.
Bullshit, I thought, and to some degree, I’m probably right.
Let’s be real: airbrush make up does wonders. Extended eyelashes make your eyes bigger. Tans make you feel better about the cellulite. I’m not gonna be unrealistic here.
But, I come back to the same question every time and ask myself:
For how long?
For how bloody long?
And can you manage it? Are you the type that can manage it?
Or will it turn into something you want more and more? Until the next thing.
And the next.
Until you’re getting ass injections.
Until your lips need some work.
Until your hair thins as you age and you need fake hair.
Until, until, until.
I can budget for all these things.
I can budget 300$/month for extensions, add-ins, cover up, and color.
I can go out for drinks with friends and feel like maybe I’m attractive.
But, what’s the end goal? And can I end?
You board the train slowly: with Sephora make up in place of drugstore concealer.
You maneuver the train with 150$/month Yoga classes for that perfect “tone.”
You sit down on the train with 55$ spray tans for an event – and afterwards, you immediately feel insecure because you’re worried people around you will think you’re now “less attractive” without that color.
You ride the train with laser hair removal for your armpits, and wig hair that makes yours seem more voluminous.
You add on at every train stop.
You ride and ride and ride – and for me, I start to feel trapped as it races past destinations to de-board.
You begin to think that now people only know you as “this way.” As the person with bigger hair, tanner skin, whiter teeth, and toned arms.
How can you ever go back? They’ll talk about you. People will say you look terrible.
They’ll notice the wrinkles, and the cellulite.
And that weight gain.
You. Must. Stay. On. Top. Of. It.
The truth is I’m sitting here today in this coffee shop reflecting on this mentality I’ve held in the past – this culture – and I’d be lying if I said it’s not hard to climb on board in the first place – and I’m not innocent of it. Never will be.
I bought 35$ Sephora “Illuminator” a couple weeks ago after a bachelorette because I thought it helped with crow’s feet.
I’m not innocent of this shit. I fall prey to it all the time, and I did this past weekend.
But, I also sit here – planning trips for the summer with my partner, and I know, I just know innately, that there has to be a line. I have to set a line. If I don’t, I won’t have the money to live.
To be wholly alive and present and have those passing moments of happiness I feel when I’m with my partner in a hot springs in the mountain.
I know that I have fought so damn hard to exclude my eating disorder from daily life. I know that I have fought for 3 years to rise above the wave of insecurity and body dysmorphia.
I know that the moment I begin to cater to my body image insecurity past the point that I do now – it will be a lifestyle I take on as an identity.
I don’t like my wrinkles. I don’t like my pale winter skin. And I don’t like that I have PCOS acne.
But, none of that has stopped me from finding love – and being loved.
Anorexia – that stopped me from holding onto love.
Bulimia – that halted me from being present in moments that I have now.
Exercise Bulimia – those runs hindered me from walking up mountains.
I have a family that loves me. And a partner that is adamantly wonderful at reminding me to love me for me. Wrinkles and all.
Now, don’t lemme get all holier than thou. Truthfully, I’ll never give up make up completely. It’s the security blanket I don’t want to absolve – and I’m not going to.
But, I can leave it at that. That’s my choice. I can leave it at the Walgreens brand eyeshadow.
The occasional Sephora concealer when my PCOS acne is hindering me from getting out in public.
It’s up to me what I prioritize as important, and that might be different for different folks.
Weddings won’t get easier – but I can accept that this is reality in our culture – and choose to do with it as I please.
I can listen to people talk about Botox and eyebrows – and I can agree, nod – and then go back to the life I’ve fought really hard to create in spite of all the hell I put on myself:
In spite of the insecurity and the doubt.
I can accept it’s all there; that this is all reality – and choose to do with it as I please.
Keep on keepin’ on – as we all do every day. <3