I’m getting married, and I want to share with you just some of the ways that wedding planning has highlighted pesky gender expectations and body image pressures.

We always said we’d never do it. “What would it add to our relationship?” we thought. Then one night, on a romantic whim (he was gone to Italy and I missed him terribly), I was suddenly convinced: I’m going to ask him to marry me. And then I promised myself: But we’re going to do it our way.

The proposal:

Me proposing to him definitely caused some awkward moments.

Probably because this is what happens when you search the internet for photos of women proposing to men.

Probably because this is what happens when you search the internet for photos of women proposing to men.

When we’d announce our engagement, the first question was inevitably, “And – how did he propose?!!” That’s when I’d say, “Actually, I proposed to him.” This was followed by silence, an uncomfortable laugh, or an “Oh… Okay…”

People even asked, “Don’t you find it a pity that he didn’t propose to you?” Or, they’d imply that I only proposed because he was “taking too long.”

The name:

Similarly, I was often asked, “Are you taking his name?” When I’d say, “I’m not changing my name. But maybe he’ll take my name,” we received the same awkward reactions.

The wedding body:

Why must wedding planning be so focused on a woman’s body?

I was chatting with a friend who got married a few years ago. She described the diet she endured to achieve her “wedding body.” Then she asked, “And, what are you going to do to prepare for the wedding?” – expecting that, naturally, I must be planning to change my body somehow.

 

The most important commitment of marriage?

The most important commitment of marriage?

I told her, “I want to look like myself – exactly as I look today. Yep, that’s my plan.”

I stopped looking at wedding magazines because I was tired of being advised how to “look my best” (i.e., lose weight) for my “big day.” On Pinterest, I unsubscribed from wedding boards due to the overflow of pins about every exhausting detail of the bride’s appearance.

The wedding dress:

We’ve tried to take an equal share of the wedding planning, including each other’s outfits. Yet while browsing dress shops with my partner, he was often ignored, or told that he should not be involved in choosing my dress. In contrast, while visiting suit shops he was told, “Usually the groom just wears whatever the bride wants him to wear.”

Thankfully, these experiences haven’t been horrible. But wedding planning has presented subtle reminders of the so-called “woman’s role” and “man’s role.” They’ve been reminders of how the act of challenging these roles doesn’t go unnoticed. Through the reactions of the social environment, you’re made to feel uncomfortable for going against the grain.

They’ve also been reminders of the importance society places on women’s appearance. We’re pressured to meet the “ideal,” and that’s no different if we’re getting married (it might even be worse, as the wedding is the day you’re expected to look “your best”).

I encourage everyone to challenge social norms telling them to look and behave a certain way – while planning for a wedding, and, as a matter of fact, on every single day of the year.

Jessica Alleva is a PhD student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on interventions for improving body image. She is also passionate about research on the impact of media and sexual objectification on body image.