Staying body positive when weddings scream diet culture is really damn hard

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but on Saturday night I cried.

Although I have spent the majority of my career championing body positivity and pushing for plus size inclusivity both in fashion and within larger cultural settings, on Saturday night, all I could muster was a sob at not having a different body. 

Let me rewind a bit for you and shed a little bit of context. Like many reading this post 2020 meant my fitness routine became a bit of a write off. While over the last three years I have trained pretty much three to four days a week, engaging the services of a PT and becoming a bit of a gym fanatic (honestly I gave up countless nights out, swapping drinks for dumbbells quite happily) but 2020 literally bulldozed through my gym schedule. 

When lockdown first happened I remember joking with Antonia, the other half of TSL that I would emerge after this brief 12 week lockdown (oh how naive we were) with some serious muscle. I truly believed I would use my new, non-commuting time to workout. Hell, I even bought a punchbag for the garden, some resistance bands and new hand weights, I was all set. And then… nothing. I worked longer hours, got up earlier – to work and collapsed on the couch at the end of each day.

Sound familiar? 

While I know I am not alone and in some respects and that is a comforting thought, this solidarity at failed home workouts doesn’t change where my headspace is now. And although I can repeatedly mutter to myself… ‘we’re in a pandemic, all we need to do right now is survive’, I can’t help but feel a little deflated with what I see in the mirror. 

Despite having been a regular gym goer, I maintained my size 16 frame quite happily, the gym was never about diet culture. I always rooted my attendance in having fun, feeling healthier and recognising that it was a workout for my mind, body and soul.

One year on and although my clothes all still fit (I have tried on at least one pair of jeans in the last six months) and I probably don’t look vastly different, I certainly feel it. 

So why the tears now?

As 12 weeks has rolled into 12 months (wild right?!) I’ve heard many people refer to 2020 as the year where nothing happened. We went no where, saw no one and made zero memories. Well for the most part that’s true, but for me, 2020 was the year everything happened. I changed jobs, I learnt new skills and took a class or two; I cooked, I cared and I entertained in my garden shed at a social distance more than I ever thought I would. Oh, yes, and I got engaged.

However much we applaud fashion’s more size inclusive approach; greater number of plus size brands and curvy models on magazine covers etc, there’s no denying that wedding fashion is still inherently anti plus size. 

As someone that has spent over a decade in fashion, the dress is pretty high up on my list of important wedding day things and while of course there are some specialist retailers and specific plus size wedding dress brands / extended size collections available, in my opinion, the wedding industry has a lot of catching up to do.

With an 11 month engagement we are now 4.5 months away from the big day. 

I’ve still not been able to go back to the gym and I’m yet to try on a single wedding dress. Literally, not how I ever envisioned an engagement period. 

Engagements and weddings have the ability to turn even the most sane and body positive of us into a bit of a wreck and while I genuinely don’t believe in the wedding diet culture of slimming down for the big day, I haven’t exactly managed to kick back into gear either.

While the lack of dress try-ons has been down to the closure of non essential retailers, I have of course diligently made enquiries. But it feels like every bridal boutiques door has been closed in my face. Any enquiry about a larger size feels like it’s been met with shrugs. Samples are available in size 8s/10’s or at a push a 12 and this it seems is just how the industry operates. You either hold up and breath in and guess if you want to order one made in your size or you go and get your dress made from scratch? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been around long enough to have the conversation about the cost of sampling but the wedding industry already has a pretty bad wrap when it comes to diet culture and this is doing it no favours. 

Crying about not fitting into a wedding dress felt like a peculiar failure. On the one hand I was angry with the industry and on the other I was cross at myself. But I’m taking away a couple of valuable lessons from this wobble that you should too. 

Firstly you don’t have to feel body positive all the time and you can feel crappy about yourself without projecting it on to others. Having a day when you wish things were different just means that, that day was particularly messy but you’ll work it out and straighten things up again. 

I’ll find a dress, somehow – I have to, if someone doesn’t want my money, I’m very happy taking it elsewhere, that’s part of valuing ourselves and the greatest way to show a brand they’re wrong, is to spend elsewhere. So if you’re in my boat right now, keep looking, maybe if you have the budget head to an independent or a dress maker who will be more accommodating, let’s start spending with people who value our business. 

But most of all it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to workout if you want to and it’s still ok, one year on to just sit down and watch a bit of TV.