With the pandemic (almost, kind of) on it's way out, many brides-to-be can finally start looking forward to their weddings that were rescheduled due to COVID. But, after spending a year at home, a lot of us have noticed the number on the scales has creeped up, or that our favourite jeans are feeling a little tighter than usual. That, combined with social media's constant fitspo and urges to 'shred before the wed', mean pressure for brides to rapidly lose weight before their big day is at an all-time high.
One person in particular who's noticed that is anti-diet culture activist, body confidence influencer and bride-to-be, Alex Light. Earlier this week, Alex took to Instagram to share her honest opinions on pre-wedding weight loss with her 431k followers. "You do not have to lose weight for your wedding. Not one single pound," she said in her post.
"I’m getting married in November, and, if I’m being totally honest, which I really want to be, the temptation is there," the influencer, who previously battled an eating disorder, added. "Trying on dresses and getting pictures taken and feeling this huge expectation to 'look my best' (which, in this society, means thin) has meant some of my old disordered thoughts [are] creeping back in."
As Alex points out, pressure to lose weight quickly (for any reason, including for a wedding) can be incredibly triggering for those suffering with, or at risk of developing, an eating disorder, as well as those in recovery.
"I’ve had a long, rich history with eating disorders and body image so I knew this could be potentially dangerous territory," she told Cosmopolitan UK, "To try and combat this, I’ve made sure to hold as much compassion for myself as possible - I try to recognise the pressures when they come up, understand why they’re there and work through them. I always come back to the ‘why?’ - why do I need to lose weight? And the answer is always: ‘I don’t’."
But, while Alex has been able to move past the pressure to 'shred before the wed', she's worried that others may not be able to – something that the UK's eating disorder charity, Beat, is concerned about too.
"Social pressure around losing weight for major events can have a negative impact on people with or recovering from eating disorders," said Tom Quinn, Beat's Director of External Affairs. "Increased stress or pressure can trigger eating disorder behaviours, for instance sticking to behaviours that feel safe, or seeking to control food or exercise as a way of coping. Big events can also disrupt 'normal' routines and bring up difficult emotions or worries, heightening anxiety as a result."
Quinn continued: "While pressure to lose weight for an event is unlikely to be the only cause of an eating disorder, it may make eating disorder behaviours worse, or be a contributing factor for someone who is vulnerable to eating disorders or currently unwell."
On top of the potential to trigger an eating disorder, rapid weight loss can have a devastating impact on your health. Speaking about the dangers of rapid weight loss, Dr Jane Leonard told us: "Prolonged fasting, weight loss products and very low calorie diets can all be very tempting ways to drop weight quickly, but they have detrimental effects on physical and mental health in the long and short term."
"Limiting your diet to low calorie foods means you reduce the range of essential vitamins and minerals your body needs," which can lead to hair loss, extreme fatigue, skin conditions, weakened bones, anaemia, thyroid problems and a compromised immune system, Dr Leonard points out.
But why are women ignoring the risks when it comes to 'shredding for the wedding'? Ultimately, Alex says, pressure for women to rapidly lose weight before their wedding is rooted in "diet culture" and "fatphobia."
"There are lots of issues around the idea that you have to lose weight for your wedding," she told us, "Firstly, it’s rooted in diet culture and implies that you look better/are better when you’re thinner, which is not true and only serves to reinforce fatphobia. Secondly, it suggests that how you look right now isn’t good enough - which is crazy, because everyone attending the wedding loves you for you, not for how you look."
Alex also points out that losing weight before a wedding is almost always exclusively directed at the bride. "It's reinforced by the patriarchy," she adds, "grooms, of course, may well want to lose a few pounds for their wedding day, but the emphasis is overwhelmingly on the bride to be thinner on the big day."
With that in mind, Alex emphasises the importance of questioning why you might feel the need to lose weight for your wedding. "Think about your reasons for wanting to do so," she says, "Do you want to do it for you, or do you want to do it because you feel pressure to conform to a certain standard put in place by society? No judgement either way: you have to do what’s right for you, but I think it’s worth exploring the reasons behind your desire to shrink for your wedding day. You need to feel comfortable and confident and I’d advise you to look beyond weight loss for that - it very often isn’t the answer."