When I was getting ready for my Sweet 16, my makeup artist told me I should start dieting because my marital age was just around the corner and my size would be a hindrance. My late grandmother innocuously called me "healthy" (a common euphemism employed by South Asians to describe non-skinny people) and routinely sent me Ayurvedic weight-loss teas from India. Hell, even mainstream media glamorized thinness and diet culture while I was growing up. As such, body image is something I've struggled with my whole life.
Throughout college and law school, I promised myself to be kinder to my body. I turned to fitness and eating healthy as a lifestyle choice, not as the driving force behind weight loss, and not a short-term solution. It worked: temporarily. However, when the pandemic hit, my weight fluctuated as gyms closed. Eventually, my fiancé and I invested in a Peloton bike for both our physical and mental wellness.
Recently, a well-meaning uncle (read: unfiltered relative) visited us. He took one look at me and advised me to return the bike as he couldn't see a difference in my appearance. "Don't worry, you still have 10 months until the wedding to lose weight," he added. Instantly, all my body insecurities I had worked to fight off reappeared. I was angry, but more so, I was embarrassed and felt guilty that I seemingly wasn't trying hard enough to shrink to the smallest version of myself for my upcoming nuptials. He probably viewed his comment as a joke, but it made me doubt all the progress, hard work, and growth I experienced over the years. It made me revert to a place of self-criticism and convinced me that he was right, I needed to lose weight.
I spent the next few days researching diet plans and exercise regimens and calculating the calorie deficit I would need to fit into a size 2. As an Indian bride-to-be I started obsessing about the different lehengas and sarees I would have to wear and started scheming how I could cover up. Maybe I could find a high-waisted skirt to hide my stomach. Perhaps, I could wear long sleeves to conceal my arms. Surely, I could use a dupatta to hide my back fat. Ironically, for a culture that values modesty, our clothes tend to be revealing and difficult to dress in a flattering manner.
The notion of "shedding for the wedding" is not new. Brides have historically tried all types of diet fads, fitness boot camps, and juice cleanses to slim down quickly in preparation for their wedding day. Friends who have been brides before me have traded dinners for protein shakes, burgers for lettuce wraps, and weekend trips for double gym sessions. Tailors even urge brides to schedule fittings closer to their wedding date, "just in case you lost weight." As if the thought of being your true size for one of the biggest moments of your life was out of the question.
The more I researched, the more I grew sick of this toxic mentality, especially stemming from the South Asian community who often feels entitled to give women unprompted guidance on matters that are irrelevant to them. There is nothing wrong with losing weight (if one wants to) in a healthy and sustainable manner. What troubles me, however, is the assumption that looking beautiful on your wedding day is only possible if you're a certain size.
I transformed my anger into action. It took a conscious effort to re-shift my mindset and realize that my upcoming wedding weekend is about the celebration of our love, not the number on the back of my dresses. The spotlight during my wedding weekend will be on us as a unit, and on what we fundamentally share, not whether I hit a certain milestone on the scale. I reminded myself that I will look back at photos and focus not on the size of my arms, or how pronounced (or not) my collarbone is, but on how fortunate and happy my husband and I are to be amongst our closest friends and families who are there to celebrate our union.
Our engagement prompted a long list of things to do: finalizing our wedding venue, finding the "perfect" dresses for my multi-day Indian events, securing our vendors among many other things. I didn't want to add "achieve thinness" to my to-do list. Moreover, the same "uncles" who offer unsolicited advice regarding losing weight are typically the first to comment when the converse happens: too much weight loss. When a bride loses too much weight, there are comments about her not being healthy. In what seems like a lose-lose scenario, there will always be someone who is not satisfied with my appearance.
Sure, losing weight is an inviting outcome of positive life choices, I just refuse to lose myself in the process.