8 Ways To Be A Body Positive, No-BS Bride

Google “bride” and you’ll get approximately eleventeenmillion photos of what appears to be the exact same woman. The shade of her dress may vary a bit; she may opt for ivory, pearl, or if she really goes rogue, a hint of blush. But basically, we have one official image of The Bride: a lithe, probably blonde, usually white woman, in a long white dress. She’s not too sexy, not too prim, a veil atop her head, a bouquet in her discreetly manicured hands.

Just so we’re clear, there are a lot more women getting married than the ones who look like this woman. But I think the obvious is worth stating here, because, having spent a few months in the bridal bubble myself, I get the idea that we’re all supposed to be cramming ourselves into this very specific mold. In a way, it makes sense. We’re reminded all the time that fashion models and movie stars don’t typically represent the average person, physically. Their entire job is hewing to cultural beauty standards, and even if we can’t help but emulate them, we know in the back of our minds that we will never wake up looking like Naomi Campbell, no matter how much Pilates we do.

But we don’t talk about The Bride as much. She exists within a specific context. While weddings are an incredibly common life event, you as an individual (presumably) don't get married every day. So, if and when you find yourself in the bridal bubble, it’s not immediately obvious that there is more than one way to look, dress, and even behave as a bride. Plus, you’re caught up in a whirlwind of appointments, traditions, expenses, and other people’s expectations. Sometimes it just seems easier to go with the flow, suck in your gut, and wedge yourself into that bridal mold, promising yourself you’ll be able to breathe again once the big day is over.

Call me crazy, but I’d kinda like to breathe on my wedding day. I’d kinda like to, dare I say, feel like myself, at least a little. It’s not easy to sidestep the old compare-and-despair trap when Google and 90% of the internet (not to mention wedding-dress shops) are telling me in no uncertain terms that myself is unacceptable — no, it’s more than that. Myself is simply incompatible, it does not translate to bride-dom.

Scratch the surface, though, and that 10% of sanity emerges. Underneath the heaps of Bridal Barbie images, there is a growing faction of “alternative bridal” resources, guides, and women leading by example. And now that I’ve gotten my own reality check, I’d like to pass it on to you. What bride-to-be (or bridesmaid-to-be, or even guest-to-be, frankly) couldn’t use a healthy dose of no-nonsense in the utterly nonsensical world of weddings?

Consider this your guide to being a truly body-positive, no-BS, bride. It’s supposed to be your day, right? So, shouldn’t you be yourself?

The Anti-Diet Project is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, sustainable fitness, and body positivity. You can follow Kelsey's journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller, or right here on Facebook. Curious about how it all got started? Check out the whole column, right here.

1. Fuck shapewear.

Fuck shapewear, forever and always, but especially fuck it today. I suppose I should be diplomatic and say fuck mandatory shapewear, because the truly insidious part of this wedding rule is that it’s a rule at all.

Brides are both implicitly pressured and directly instructed to wear shapewear under their gowns. Some gown shops suggest you bring your “preferred shapewear” to your dress appointment, while others simply tell you which to buy. David’s Bridal — arguably the country’s largest bridal retailer — has a guide to the best shapewear for every dress shape, and at no point do they suggest that this is anything but compulsory.

So, let’s agree that, at the very least, shapewear is optional. If you’re into it, go for it. If you’re not looking to manipulate your shape but still want to avoid things panty lines or thigh chafing, there are other options: Hanky Panky, Wacoal, and Thigh Society (which look like Spanx but feel like heaven) all carry a variety of underwear styles in a broad range of sizes.

But in my heart of hearts, I want shapewear to fuck off, period.
2. Roll your eyes at the size labels.

Wedding dresses run much smaller than regular clothes. There are a lot of theories behind this — some say it’s due to vanity sizing in retail, others argue it’s because bridal follows the European sizing system. If I were a conspiratorially minded person, I would say it’s all part of the plot to keep the wedding diet industry well-fueled, but I won’t. For now.

The point is, even if you’re body-confident through and through, you’re already juggling a number of stressors when you shop for a wedding dress. There’s cost, the comfort-vs-style factor, the fact that this will likely be the most photographed item of clothing you’ll ever wear. Then, surprise, the label shows a number that’s 2-3 sizes up from what you usually wear.

So, don’t let it be a surprise. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself in this experience: Don’t let yourself be caught off guard by these tiny surprise stressors, because there will be plenty more where that came from. If you can go in ready to roll your eyes at the size label, you’ve got a leg up.
3. They’re your tattoos (or scars, birthmarks, or piercings). Covering or showing them is your call.

There is no rule about tattoos and weddings, despite what the message boards (and/or your mom) may tell you. The same is true for scars, birthmarks, piercings, or anything else on your body. If you’re uncertain about covering them or not, you might read some of the myriad essays and blog posts from brides who have struggled with the same choices. You can check out the Pinterest boards filled with images of brides who’ve chosen to expose these things or incorporate them into their wedding looks, which might help you make a decision (or provide some lovely examples to show your mom).

That’s one of the nicest things about getting married in the Internet Age. No matter what your concern, there are probably 25 blog posts (and 25,000 Pins) addressing it. Whatever you choose to do, you will absolutely not be alone.
4. Brides with disabilities get first dances too.

Physical disability is one of the least discussed and least recognized issues even within the body positive movement (and, of course, it’s far worse for invisible disabilities). So you can imagine how little play it gets in the not-so-body-positive world of weddings. But the world is full of brides and grooms with disabilities, who — perhaps more than anyone — prove that weddings can and should adapt to the people getting married. Not the other way around.

A first dance done on wheels, with a walker, or while using a cane is still a first dance. Even writing that down seems patronizing, because it should go without saying. But looking at a lot of mainstream media stories about brides who have disabilities (“Paralyzed Bride Walks Down The Aisle…” “Miracle Bride Ditches Wheelchair At Her Wedding”), you’d get the idea that the best thing a disabled bride can do is, well, magically not be disabled for the day.

Do your first dance any way you want — or don’t do it at all, if you need to save your energy or simply don’t feel comfortable. No wedding tradition is mandatory (except the paperwork). So, just try and make this day as enjoyable as it can be for you. Keep the fun stuff and forget the rest — that’s good advice for any bride, though disability can make it seem like an exceptionally tall order. As one woman wrote in an anonymous post for Offbeat Bride: “I'm going to decorate up my wheelchair, roll down the aisle, and enjoy every last minute of the day.”
5. Not a dress person? Suit up.

I’m not going to waste much space telling you your wedding dress doesn’t have to be white. Go pearl, blush, red, or rainbow; if you’re wearing it on your wedding day, guess what? It’s a wedding dress.

But some brides just aren’t into the dress thing, period. Maybe it’s related to your gender identity. (I’m speaking primarily to brides in this piece, and using female pronouns, but clearly, being a bride does not necessitate being a cis woman or identifying as female. Just ask The Cotton Bride. Hell, wearing a wedding dress doesn’t necessitate being the bride, either.) Maybe it’s political, and you’d rather not cave to a tradition which, let’s face it, is rooted in super antiquated ideas of femininity, purity, and all that patriarchal baloney. Or, maybe you’re just not a dress person!

Whatever your reason for opting out of the gown, know that there are alternatives a’plenty. Buy yourself your dream jumpsuit. Get some mix-and-match inspo and rock a skirt and top. And, FYI, bridal shorts are a thing. If you’re hung up on this decision, remember that it doesn’t have to be anyone’s idea of perfect — not even yours. Just choose something you really dig, and move forward.
6. Find your people.

The Knot is not for everyone. Just because it claims to hold the monopoly on all things wedding, that does not make it true. (Though if you love it, that’s great.) I say this because, looking around the internet, it’s sometimes hard to believe that’s true.

But there are numerous blogs, websites, guides, and publications ardently devoted to making the bridal world a more diverse and feminist place. If you’re feeling insecure about skipping certain traditions, if friends or family are giving you a hard time about it, these are the places to go. If you’re panicking about looking different from The Bride or making different choices, these are the resources that will remind you you’re not as different as you thought. A few places to start:

Offbeat Bride: If one website could claim the monopoly on “alternative weddings” then Offbeat Bride would be it. But it’s so cool, it would never do that. Here, you’ll find advice, personal stories, and photos from other so-called “different” weddings. You’ll find everything from tips on dealing with complex family issues to making your wedding disability-friendly.

A Practical Wedding: APW is a website “focused on creating a culture that supports laid-back, feminist weddings.” That’s really all you need to know. This is a great resource not only for advice and etiquette, but for finding vendors that align with your life/wedding style.

Catalyst Wedding Co: This print and online publication is targeted toward the LGBTQ community, feminists, and “woke folk.” They have inspiration for engaged couples, as well as resources for wedding-industry professionals who are looking to make change in this old-school business.
7. Let your bridesmaids feel as welcome and comfortable as you.

Okay, yes, this is your day. But if you choose to have bridesmaids (or bridesmen or a non-binary friend of honor), then try and consider their comfort as well. Of course there are certain expectations that come with accepting this role, and you shouldn’t feel bad about, say, asking them to buy a dress that goes with the look of your wedding. But don’t put them in a compromising or terribly uncomfortable situation. Don’t, for example, tell a plus size woman to go buy a specific dress at a specific retailer, before checking to make sure they carry plus sizes. Ouch.

Presumably, you chose these people because they mean a lot to you, and you wish to honor them. So, just bear that in mind when you’re making demands, particularly when it comes to their appearance. And if they do come to you with a complaint or an issue, remember that you’re under a lot of stress right now, and give yourself a nice deep breath before responding.
8. Take what you need and leave the rest.

When it comes to your wedding, keep everything you like and leave the (antiquated, patriarchal, no-good, very-bad) rest. And, on the other hand, if you like “the rest” then have it all!

Don’t let anyone, myself included, talk you out of your dream wedding. If you want to wear shapewear under your princess gown, woman, do it. If you want to take your husband’s name, you’re not a traitor to any cause. If you want to have your dad walk you down the aisle, and your kill-joy friend starts railing about how you’re not your father’s property, just remind her that you’re not an idiot, and also, shut up.

The entire point with all this is that you have a choice. You shouldn’t feel cowed into doing something you don’t want to do, nor should you feel shamed out of something you actually want. In a perfect world, you should feel like yourself on your wedding day, and not someone else’s version. But that’s hard enough to pull off on a day that’s so fraught with tradition and expectation. You’re more than likely going to have to accommodate some of that already. Being a body-positive, no-BS bride simply means not putting any additional, pointless expectations on yourself.

When in doubt, remember: The only thing you really have to do on your wedding day is sign the paperwork. The rest is all for fun — so have some.
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