I Felt Like I Triumphed Over My Body Dysmorphia—Until I Got Engaged

By Gwen Farrell··  6 min read
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I Felt Like I Triumphed Over My Body Dysmorphia—Until I Got Engaged

Getting married is supposed to be the happiest time of your life, right? When I got engaged earlier this year, I was over the moon at the thought of spending my life with the man of my dreams. Then, panic quickly but surely set in.

From the moment I tried on that first wedding dress, with my friends and family eagerly waiting outside, crushing feelings of anxiety at the thought of hundreds of people looking at my “imperfect” body set in. As a woman who’s struggled with dysmorphia and body image issues her whole life — and even an eating disorder — I thought I had triumphed over those issues, until I got engaged.

Body image is a tricky thing. It’s a journey, with peaks and valleys, and there’s not really ever a conclusion to that journey, as I’ve since learned. I got married less than a month ago, and even as I stood at my wedding alongside my husband who I love more than anything in the world, that panic and anxiety was still there. 

Recovery Never Ends 

If you ever try therapy, for any reason, one of the things you’ll learn soon enough is that oftentimes “getting better” doesn’t have a deadline or a due date. 

I first started to feel that I was inadequate when I began ballet around age 9. I noticed that many of the girls in my class were much slimmer and more delicate looking than I was, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, things got progressively worse. Each dancer in my class was assessed for which advanced class they’d go into the following year — one was for a competitive group of elite dancers, and the other was for girls who didn’t fit the typical ballerina mold, but enjoyed dancing as an after-school pastime or a hobby. Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen for the competitive class, and I quit soon after. I loved dancing more than anything, and I was beyond crushed.

Wanting to look good isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s how we go about it that can get us into trouble.

High school wasn’t much better. I was bulimic on and off. I skipped lunch periods and sat in the library doing homework. I credit one of my English teachers for picking up on it and inviting me to sit in her classroom during lunch, where she brought me snacks and gently encouraged me to eat. I couldn’t stand the way clothes fit on my body so I began to buy clothes that were two sizes too big, a habit I ditched only recently.

College, and therapy, changed a lot. I began to exercise and eat right, and I finally felt like I was getting to a good place. I was still hesitant to look in mirrors or try things on in dressing rooms, but I felt better than I had in years. 

Then I got engaged, and feelings that I hadn’t felt in years came up to the surface like they’d never left.

I had a counselor tell me once that progress wouldn’t happen overnight, that working on yourself and your attitude and making genuine changes in your life isn’t like flipping a switch. It’s only now I realize what she meant. 

It’s Not Wrong To Want To Look Good

If I had to guess, most of my dysmorphia dates back to that ballet class. Although I was never outright told that I was inadequate or not good enough, I took their decision to mean exactly that. I definitely didn’t look like a typical ballerina and that was my fault, or so I thought.

Through the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve experienced over the years, many of them disgust, shame, and self-loathing, I’ve come to accept that while wanting to look good isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s how we go about it that can get us into trouble. One of the biggest steps I’ve made is also realizing that there’s a huge distinction between being healthy and being skinny.

I dabbled in self-love and body positivity but came out feeling more alone than ever.

During my journey, I dabbled in the self-love and body positivity movements but came out feeling more alone than ever — there was never any encouragement to work on health and wellness, just sit with the way that I looked and like it, and I even felt ashamed for wanting to work on myself when theoretically I was “perfect” the way I was. While the body positivity movement probably began in earnest, wanting to help people like me feel better about themselves and change their mindsets, it’s since evolved into something that only left me feeling more isolated than before.

There’s No Secret To Looking Good on Your Wedding Day

Believe it or not, there’s actually a lot of discourse already out there on how wedding dress shopping and the pressure of getting married is affecting people with body dysmorphia or former disordered eaters. Unsurprisingly, there’s even more content about “looking good on your wedding day,” “wedding diet tips and tricks,” and “do this to look good in your wedding dress.”

The past few months leading up to my wedding, as you’ve probably guessed, were not a great time for my self-esteem. While I did purchase and wear the dress I felt the most beautiful in (and received tons of sweet comments and compliments on my wedding day), as any former bulimic knows, it’s hard to have all the eyes in the room on you, and even harder to receive those compliments and not believe any of them.

When I tried on that first wedding dress, crushing anxiety at the thought of people looking at my “imperfect” body set in. 

I exercised regularly and tried to maintain my diet leading up to my wedding. But I was so terrified at the thought of not fitting into my dress that I panicked the week before and was too scared to put it on. Many friends innocently asked if I was trying it on every night — and I wasn’t. (I actually lost weight, and when it was time to get ready for the big day, I had to pad parts of the neckline to make the bodice look more cohesive.)

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this, and finding that out has been a considerable help. In the end, I wasn’t satisfied with the way I looked on the big day, but then again I never would have been. I’m not satisfied with it even now, and that’s what living with dysmorphia feels like. The inner struggle is constant and the battle is ongoing, and that doesn’t stop just because you’re getting married.

Closing Thoughts 

If you’re a former disordered eater or a bride with body image issues, there’s a way to look good on your wedding day, one that I highly recommend. Put on a dress that you love. Maybe a veil if you’re feeling it. And there, you’re a bride.

I say this because, as many of us know, no amount of exercise, crash dieting, or crazy wedding prep will ever get us to a size we’re satisfied with or the size we think we need to be. All you can do is surrender to that knowledge, and try to see yourself the way the person waiting for you at the altar does.

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  Mental Health  Body Positivity
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