Being in my late 20s, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years going to weddings, including the weddings of a lot of my closest friends. I’ve watched as they stressed out about their extended families and worried about what music to play; I’ve talked with them as they picked dresses and wrestled with sexist traditions.
One thing I hadn’t considered, though, was how wedding culture interacts with beauty norms—until one soon-to-be-married friend sent me this wonderful article about being a fat bride. The author, Lindy West, does an amazing job of teasing out how beauty norms, and especially the overemphasis on being thin, gets amped up for brides. I’m going to share my favorite quote—it’s long, but it’s worth it:
“There’s an awkward three-way tension between wedding culture and feminism and fat acceptance—because of what ‘acceptance’ demands of women in our culture, a lot of fat activism takes the form of fat women trying to ‘prove’ that they can wear the trappings of male fantasy and traditional gender roles just as well as thin women. Fat women can be pretty. Fat women can get married. Fat women can ‘get’ conventionally attractive husbands. But how is that constructive? Male approval isn’t where my self-worth comes from.”
If you’re going to be a fat bride, West says, there is a lot of pressure to participate in “patriarchal standards” of attractiveness, to prove that you can be just as “hot”—in the most mainstream of ways—as thin women. And especially if you’re marrying a man, you’re supposed to be grateful that he loves you in spite of how you look—as if your future spouse wouldn’t love and value you as a whole person, inside and out.
I feel like a lot of American wedding culture already asks women to jump through ridiculous hoops, regardless of whether or not they want to: buy an expensive dress! host a huge party! placate opinionated relatives, even though this event is not about them! Worrying that you don’t look like you deserve to be a bride – on a day that is all about celebrating how devoted another person is to you—is insane.
As Lindy West puts it, “remember that you absolutely do not have to ‘fix’ your body…or beg for permission to be happy.”
Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and works in public health research in the Boston area.