You don't have to lose weight for the wedding
I’m a bridesmaid this summer.
I get to be part of the build up and the excitement and the prep and I get to stand beside my best friend on a very special day in her life. It’s a huge honour.
I cannot wait for the day. It’s the first wedding of my group of girl friends. I am itching to dress fancy and hold flowers and hurry around, sorting out the train and eat canapés and spin my pals around the dance floor, see everybody suited and booted and drink fizzy wine and spend time with my favourite people in the world, all in celebration of our friends and how much they love each other.
I’m glad that this has all come at a time when I feel more or less recovered from disordered eating. A big event used to be the big thing that would prompt me to diet. There’d be a countdown, a schedule of how many pounds I should be losing per week, target times for exercise, painstakingly-documented measurements. I had to look good in the photos. I had to look good in the dress. I had to look good when everyone’s looking at me. And, of course, by ‘good’, I meant thin.
But happily, I’d managed to avoid that mindset until the other day. It was totally unexpected. I was getting dressed and looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘It would’ve been cool if I’d been skinny for the wedding’. Leading up to it, I didn’t feel sad, or self-deprecating, or any semblance of wishing my body looked a different way, but then there it was, the thought that crept in quite casually.
I would be lying if I said that sometimes I don’t miss the way I used to look. Because sometimes, I do. It creeps in when my guard is down, that I would like my flat tummy back or to be able to fit into some of my old jeans. I think it’s important to admit this because if you don’t love your body all day every day, that doesn’t mean that you’re trudging down the road to self-acceptance in the wrong way. I think that’s OK and normal and it’s not even an obligation to love your body anyway. It’s not a sign of failure or weakness or that you aren’t trying hard enough. If you’re making the steps to accept yourself, no matter how small, then you’re heading in the right direction.
But it would be so easy to turn back. I could easily give up on the whole thing, start cutting carbs again, worship at the altar of the bathroom scales again and try to lose weight for my best friend’s wedding. But I’m lucky to have realised, after a couple of years of reflection, that I can’t have my cake and eat it too. I can’t have the body I used to have without giving up a lot of what I hold dear. I have had a thinner body, but the person who had that body lived a very small life. If I submitted to a punishing diet, I probably could have that thinner body again, but it is a question of cost vs. worth, and the things I am no longer willing to trade in for toned arms and a smaller dress size.
Because, In order to have that body, I had to severely manipulate, control and restrict every facet of my life, forfeiting the ability to properly engage in anything.
I could have that body, but I wouldn’t be able to eat when I’m hungry anymore.
I could have that body, but I’d have to get used to my brain being filled with thoughts about food and nothing else.
I could have that body, but part of the deal would be fear of social engagements, dinners out, dinners in (!), Christmas time, Sunday roasts, wedding buffets...
I could have that body, but only if I was willing to get back into a schedule of bingeing every Sunday. I’d have to get used to letting in pain, guilt and regret. Pain, guilt and regret over eating a packet of Quavers.
I could have that body, but I’d have to sacrifice my romantic relationship. I’d have to accept the fact that my under-fuelled body would probably stop sending me signals to have sex, simply because it had to reserve the little energy I was supplying it with to keep everything else running.
I could have that body, but only if I was OK with being a pretty dreadful girlfriend: I'd be irrational, irritable, impatient and not the type of partner I'd want to be to the best dude in the world.
I could have that body, but I'd have to withdraw from my friendships, too. I wouldn't be able to enjoy cheese-laden dinners with my gal pals without trying to guess their weight or their dress size, or agonising over whether we should order pudding, berating myself for being the only one still hungry.
I could have that body, but I'd have to acknowledge that the tone of each day would be set entirely and exclusively by the number on the scale that morning.
I could have that body, but I'd have to give up enjoying exercise. I'd have to push myself harder, run further, go faster and do whatever promised pounds lost rather than what I found pleasure in.
I could have that body, but I'd have to restrict my diet so much that my body would be obliged to start shutting down any biological functions surplus to requirement. I'd lose my period. I'd fuck around with my hormones. I'd endanger my bone health. My hair would fall out.
I could have that body, but I'd have to lose all sense of perspective and reason. I'd have to be so committed to controlled portion sizes, safe foods and calorie counts that I, a 26 year old woman, would cry if I ate something ‘off limits’.
I could have that body, but I wouldn't be allowed to rest anymore. There wouldn't be days off exercise, I'd have to wake up even earlier to get a work out in before my commute, and would have to sacrifice proper sleep at the end of the day, knowing I'd toss and turn through the night, my stomach rumbling.
I could have that body, but I wouldn't be able to convince myself any longer of the completely true (!) and helpful (!) fact that life is not all about how much you weigh. I would never accept my body, I would lose hours to critiquing it in the mirror, I would never feel fully at home in myself.
I could have that body, but I'd have to relinquish the sense of freedom I have worked so hard to gain around food. The excitement of it, the chemistry of cooking, the joy of trying something new, the comfort of old favourites. Marmite toast, espresso martinis, mushroom gnocchi made with proper cream, bananas, Toblerone, salt and vinegar crisps washed down with pints, butter, BUTTER (!), strawberry jam, sourdough, late night bagels, birthday cake. All the things I didn't let myself touch, but that now I eat regularly, happily, with gay abandon, would be saved for binges only, the joy completely removed from them and replaced with a hearty serving of guilt and shame.
I could have that body, but I know I will look back at the photos of my best friend's wedding day and see only how unhappy I was. How I chose to punish myself, rather than enjoy the build up to such an exciting time: how I only thought about the calories in the prosecco at the Hen Do, how I forced myself into that dress, how I stuffed myself uncomfortably full with wedding cake, the reins finally loosened and more concerned with the wedding catering than enjoying the actual day, how I gave up a lot of my life, again, and still didn't feel happy in the way I looked on the day.
And when I measure all that up, there's no way I want to lose weight for the wedding, even if I could.