Note: this post may be triggering to those suffering from eating disorders.
I am getting married next year and at least once a week I get the question, “Have you got your dress yet?” I know the question comes from a place of wanting to engage me about my wedding, sharing in excitement or wanting to open up the inevitable drama of wedding planning, but I really hate talking about it. I am 31 years old, have lived abroad, obtained two advanced degrees, am learning a third language, started my own business, and now all of that is going to be forever reduced to how I look in some overpriced white dress.
Like 99.9% of women that I’ve talked to (citation needed), I have body image issues. I look at pictures of myself when I was a teenager and remember how fat I thought I was, and wonder if this is going to be the pattern of my life forever. I have seen clients and friends chasing this ideal of the perfect body and never feeling happy with what they have, and I worry that all the treatment planning and self-care meditations still aren’t going to realistically touch the disease that is our societal fixation with women’s bodies. I wonder how any of us can work with clients that have these issues when we still face our own insecurities, but I also know that as helpers we can’t expect ourselves to be perfect.
About the dress – I don’t even like white. I think I have owned like 5 white outfits, ever. I see other women wearing white and wonder by what strength of will they are able to keep themselves clean and beautiful while I have a stain ten minutes after leaving the house. White is for tan, thin people, and those are two things I have never ever been. I remember I had a boyfriend in high school take me to Les Miserables at the Guthrie and I wanted to look fancy so I wore some white pants. I saw pictures of myself in them later and I could see every wrinkle and dimple on my legs so I promptly cut them up and sewed tie-die fabric into them to make them flares (big at the time) and drew designs all over them to distract from the horror that was my bottom half. I wasn’t even big then.
I feel some sense of impostor syndrome whenever attempting to be fancy, which is funny because many people I grew up around probably find me pretentious. I lived in France, but in what was essentially low-income housing in a sketch neighborhood. I have two advanced degrees, but not from a prestigious university and not the kind of degrees that people ooh and ahh over (aka law, science, or medicine). I love reading classics and seeing theater but I also have watched every episode of 90 Day Fiance. At that date where we saw Les Miserables, even though I was in French class at the time I hadn’t read that story or seen the movie so I remember being confused that Javert just left at the end after he jumped into a bunch of blue swirls. The theater had made the effect of him jumping into the river by using blue swirly lights, and I thought it was some kind of interpretation of him descending into madness, so I was confused for like an hour. Every time I have been invited to someplace fancier than I feel I fit in, I am painfully aware of the space that my body is taking up. Small bodies are at home in fancy places, it seems like. Elegance is refusal, Coco Chanel or someone in fashion said that. So elegance is refusal to take up space, refusal to eat, refusal to give in to your base desires for chili fries and hot Cheetos. That’s what we get told.
I remember in other relationships when marriage came up honestly feeling anxious about getting proposed to because I would have to lose weight. I came to the realization now that there is no weight I could ever be that I’d feel comfortable having that many pictures taken of my entire body and having that many people comment on how I look in a dress. Every single vacation I’ve had this same anxiety. Even if people are all saying you look beautiful, deep down you know it isn’t true, that it’s just the angle or the filter, that you should look better, that you could look better if only you had the discipline and drive that all those other people do.
Despite the fact that I am on paper successful in several areas of my life, I have perpetually felt like a failure because of my size. It seems like the more successful I get, the more I’m surrounded by thin and beautiful women who also occupy this space and that I somehow cheated to get in here. As though a graduate degree or a professional license has a weight requirement. I realize that this is a thought distortion, that there are plenty of people with looks all across the spectrum in my field, but of course I’m focusing my own feelings of inadequacy in this new environment.
For the wedding, I guess I’ll just have to suck it up and make sure my photographer pulls out all the stops with filters and aggressively un-tag myself from all the impromptu photographers in the audience. Maybe in a few years when I look back on the photos and am able to like the way I look, I can reread this and realize that what I feel about myself is always chasing after a phantom.