Monday, August 9, 2010

Insecurities and Wedding Dresses

I've picked a dress, and I know in my core that it's the right dress. When I look at pictures of it, my heart and mind start racing because I can finally picture myself on my wedding day. When I think about my dress, I want to visit etsy right now in my search for perfect handmade accessories. A month after the dress arrived in the mail and a week after I made my final decision, I'm still filled with a calm sense of joy and right-ness about this dress and our wedding. And yet, despite all my clarity, I very nearly sent the dress back to the store in a fit of self-esteem despondency.

This wedding planning process leaves me on a razor's edge of sanity. Most of the time, I'm excited by the love, fun, and sheer wonder of finding this partnership. Some of the time, I'm ready to clock anyone who looks at me wrong or dares to raise a question about the uniqueness of our plans. And all of the time, I'm worried that something will set of a swift descent into self-esteem hell, oftentimes triggered by something as small as a photograph.

When all of my department store dresses started arriving in the mail, it was like Christmas. Just as white, slightly less sparkly, and all sorts of joy that arrived in boxes. If receiving the dresses felt like Christmas, trying them on felt like winning the lottery. Except for one dress, all of them were incredible. All of them were twirl-worthy. I loved each and every one of them and spent a good two hours trying on the options (there were four dresses so I certainly didn't need two hours to try them on), looking at them different mirrors, preening and prancing throughout the apartment. I looked and felt amazing. I felt right in each dress I tried on. I felt utterly conflicted by having to choose between so many incredible options and neither Jason, my mother, or a girlfriend were of any help (everyone had a different opinion about which dress was best, but everyone legitimately loved them all.)

In under a week, I went from zero dress options and budget hatred to four perfect dress options and budget high-fives for my thrifty genius. It created a whole different sort of dress stress. I got greedy. I wanted them all. I didn't want to choose. I knew a ceremony/reception dress change didn't make sense for me (or these particular dresses.) I knew I had to make a decision, and I figured natural light photos would help me see the dresses more objectively than my befuddled mirror joy. And because I know I generally hate myself in photos, I asked a talented girlfriend to take photos with her fancy camera in morning light.

Unfortunately, neither her talent nor her fancy camera were a match for my effed up sense of self esteem. Those photos you all loved of my in the ruffly dress from the Limited? Yeah, I cried about how terrible I looked. I cried about how terrible I looked in all the dresses... but only when I saw the actual photos. While we were taking photos, I was full of mimosa-and-wedding-dress-fueled fun and I felt spectacular. But the moment I saw myself in photos was the moment that I remembered I didn't look like them. You know, the pretty brides who grace the pages of every magazine and blog. In contrast to their beauty, my photos were a stark reminder that a great dress won't suddenly give me amazing bone structure and can't transform my normal-nice features and poor posture into the model-worthy prettiness I've subconsciously started to associate with brides. It was a sad shock to realize that I just looked like me in a really amazing set of dresses.

I wish I could snap my fingers and finally move completely beyond my years of appearance-related insecurities, but my process hasn't worked that way. And weddings have been a really awful trigger for my insecurities. Weddings and the perfect pictures of models and beautiful weddings eat away at my years of therapy and Weight Watchers and hard-earned and constantly relearned self-love. Weddings send me back to teenage and early 20s levels of insecurity. Weddings remind me of every horrid facebook picture I've ever had to untag and all those that I hate but that I kept linked anyhow.

Actually, I should clarify, because weddings aren't the issue. Wedding photos are the issue.  Even when I know better. And even when I work hard every day to focus on feeling healthy instead of chasing impossible media-related ideals of attractiveness. After health problems forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, I feel freaking great. I try to put healthy food into my body and I (sometimes) get in reasonable levels of exercise. And then I see a photo of myself and I panic. Or I see a photo of someone else's "perfect" wedding and I collapse into a puddle of appearance-related self-doubt.

I've already committed to Lyn's pledge to stop trying to look great and start trying to feel great (and forgiving ourselves for the occasional chocolate). But if I'm going to survive the next few months with my self-esteem intact, I need more. I need a plan. I'm scheduling in time for workout classes at the gym because, even if they're a pain in the bum, I feel better afterwards. I'm putting them in outlook because I already know that my health schedule tends to take lower priority than work, volunteering, writing, or friends. I'm going to start treating myself nicely, the way I expect other people to treat me but that I don't expect from myself. I'm going to practice finding things I like about my reflection every morning, even if I don't believe it (yet.) I'm going to find $45 to treat myself to a massage and get rid of the horrid stressed-out knots in my shoulders. I'm going to find a bit of play money to keep buying the organic L'uvalla skincare products that I won in a giveaway from Your Daily Thread and that have cleared up my skin. I am going to treat myself well and seek out healthy foods, activities, and environments that help keep me even keeled and healthy feeling. Even if they feel like splurges of my time or money. And maybe especially if they feel like splurges, so long as I can properly savor them.

And pretty blogs are out. As of today, I'm refusing to look at any photo recaps from non-friends' weddings or non-idolized photographers.*  Because comparing myself to these photos nearly cost me feeling good in my wedding dress and I'm tired of letting other peoples' wedding photos eff with my self-esteem. I'm better than that. I'm freaking awesome and I have a freaking awesome dress to match. Really, it makes me feel more elegant and pretty and special than I've ever felt in any dress I've ever owned. It's my dress. It makes me feel, and therefore look amazing. (And no, it doesn't work the other way around.) And now I'm going to treat myself the way that freaking amazing people deserve to be treated: with respect, self-respect, and forgiveness for the occasional chocolate.


*my favorite photographers don't limit their blogs to traditionally attractive couples (like some of the most popular photographers do). Instead, they find transformative beauty in everyday couples' wedding joy.

32 comments:

  1. I did exactly the same thing. I really love my wedding dress (even though it's not really what I went in looking for), but as soon as I saw the pictures later, I was like, "why can't I stand up straight?," "what's wrong with this?," "ugh, I really need to work on that." Good for you for being proactive about feeling great. You're right - joy, health, and happiness always shine through.

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  2. I said this in my APW wedding graduate post (Morgan + David) and I stand by it, "I forgot to bleach my teeth, lose weight, shape up my arms, find a substitute for my canceled fitness classes, do a makeup trial, and so on. I looked beautiful." We also hired a photographer good enough to hide double chins and concrete block walls, and that's money I'm glad we spent.

    I've been to a bunch of weddings - I used to work them, and the only brides I've ever seen who weren't beautiful were the ones that weren't happy. When that's the case? There's nothing you can do to mask it. You looked lovely in the pictures you posted, and that's nothing compared to what you will look like on your wedding day. Joy shines through.

    Also, massages are like the best thing ever. :)

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  3. Your plan sounds great and I'm sure it will help. Plans generally do. I feel a little sad that you do compare yourself to other's wedding photos and find flaws in your shape, because I think you are flipping gorgeous (and thin and tall) and I'm kind of jealous of *you*. Do whatever you need to reclaim your self-esteem. I'm right with you that this is a very high tension time and understand that little things are prone to setting us off. I'm sending positive thoughts your way.

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  4. @Morgan - I know it, from recaps like yours, from the photos I've poured through, and from the weddings I've attended. But I'm still finding I need to keep re-reminding myself of it every single day. Weddings are a major self-esteem trigger for me, even when logic and experience have shown me that my issues won't matter one whit in the real beauty of the day (and photos.)

    And yes, more massages will always help.

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  5. I totally understand the insecurities. I definitely get them too.

    But I want you to know that from the outside, even if those photos don't show your face, you look beautiful from the chin down! :)

    I was honestly surprised when I was reading this post, nodding about insecurities and then I clicked back to the ruffly dress photos and went "Wait, WHAT!?" and then immediately got sad that you could feel insecure when, from what I see, you look amazingly beautiful.

    Really, try to remember that you ARE beautiful. And that I'm better a lot of those pretty pictures you see of gorgeous brides have insecurities in their past, too. Even the models with the dresses on nit pick themselves.

    And I'm guilty of it, too. I think we all are. And I truly, sincerely, with all my heart wish we could stop.

    :(

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  6. "Insecurities and Wedding Dresses" could be a 400 level course taught at a university, it's so deep.

    When I look at pictures of myself I constantly compare and fixate on my few flaws that I'm hypersensitive of. It's extremely hard to get out of that mindset once you've gone there. But I think your plan sounds fabulous and it's definitely time for some splurges!

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  7. @Ms Bunny and Jen - I'm sad and furious about it. There's really no reason to be feeling this insecure and I know it... 90% of the time. And before the wedding, I was doing a lot better with just focusing on health/feeling good instead of aiming for impossible beauty/tearing myself down. I'm just finding that wedding photos - or at least the photos celebrated on most blogs - are particularly triggering for me and a lot of long-term issues. Hench this plan and promise to get myself in a healthy headspace again. And it really is a healthy *headspace* issue and not a healthy *body* issue.

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  8. Thank you! I loved this post. I've been struggling with my own "I'm never going to look like one of those brides" horrible feelings. I'm focusing on the idea that I know my fiance thinks I look beautiful all the time, and he'll love me in the beautiful dress I've chosen to wear!

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  9. I have a post, tentatively titled, "Curse you, White Dress," that has been sitting in draft form for several weeks. I think many of us are where you are. I know I am. Even though I stopped looking at the pretty blogs months ago, I still feel their effects. Here I am, with a dress that looks lovely on me and feels soft and pretty and comfortable, but I still manage to feel like it's not good enough because it's not white and because I don't look like a lithesome 24-year-old size 4 beauty in it. It's not easy for me to accept that I am not a 24-year-old size 4 beauty. I still remember quite vividly a time when I could walk into any store, pull almost anything off the rack, try it on and look good. Not model perfect, but at least pretty enough to turn a head or two. It bothers me every day that I don't have that body anymore. It bothers me that I have largely given up on exercise, letting it go in favor of work, kids, writing, spending time with Tony and friends, and sleep. But I have found a nice, deep rut and I don't know how to work my way out of it. More accurately, I know how. I just don't really want to do it. I just want to complain.

    I think it is incredibly difficult to see in our own reflection what others see. I have told Tony that he is never allowed to draw me. His style is realism, and I don't want to see myself through his eyes because I know that where he sees beauty in crows' feet and scars of various sorts, I see flaws and age.

    It's a constant, uphill battle to feel good about ourselves. Your plan sounds like a good one.

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  10. i had to do-away fancy wedding blogs because
    1) everyone's a twig in it (no ma'am, i cannot lose 30 pounds during my 4 month engagement)
    2) a lot of these 'blogworthy' weddings featured 'traditionally beautiful' people (i don't think i'm going to reincarnate as a blonde-blue eyed girl anytime soon)
    3) awkward poses to minimize flab manifestation!!!

    "they find transformative beauty in everyday couples' wedding joy." << ditto to that. in my humble opinion, a good photographer can make beautiful shots out of any moment.

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  11. @Sarah: "More accurately, I know how. I just don't really want to do it. I just want to complain."

    Man, so true. This sums up my feelings on numerous issues.

    @Becca: I think you know how much I feel ya on this (though if it helps, I can report that now that the wedding's over, I'm back to my usual, fewer-and-farther-between flare-ups of image insecurity; the wedding made it 100x worse, now I'm back to a much healthier place, mentally).

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  12. Oh this is the bit I'm afraid of... it's amazing how things like photos can ruin how we feel about ourselves! (As someone who decided to get braces this year... partly because I saw one too many digital/facebook pics of my wonky teeth, I really do know how bad they can make you feel.) Yes I think avoiding 'perfect' model-like pics is a good idea... avoid anything that makes you feel less than fab I say!

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  13. "my favorite photographers don't limit their blogs to traditionally attractive couples (like some of the most popular photographers do). Instead, they find transformative beauty in everyday couples' wedding joy."

    I wish I had done that. My photographer told me to my FACE that he only blogs publicity-worthy couples. I'm a size 16. Yeah, we definitely didn't get blogged. Not only that, but during the shoot, he kept telling us how excited he was to come back to that place months later so he can do a "shoot". I'm guessing he'll be going back with beautiful people since those of us who were actually getting married weren't thin enough. And yeah, he's definitely one of those photogs on Green Wedding Shoes, SMP, etc.

    I kept trying to tell myself afterwards that it didn't matter, that I shouldn't allow my feelings to be hurt by this stranger, but I bought into the bullshit hype that a 'great' photographer can make everything look magical. It just simply isn't true. It sucks because the wedding was seriously so much fun and ended up being better than I hoped for, but looking at the photos now just bums me out.

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  14. @Rachel E - @#$^&)!#$#$*^&()!!! is how I feel about that. Ooh and I ran into it too and it makes my blood boil. Don't let that @#$%^*&*) steal your joy. I know you were beautiful. I KNOW it, the same way I know it for me (90% of the time) because happy couples genuinely glow. We won't look like models, but a good photographer makes you look like the best version of yourself.

    Also, if you could please email me privately, I'll make sure NOT to recommend that photog when people ask.

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  15. i know this isn't what you're shooting for, but it must be said. you looked enviably fantastic in the ruffles.

    this was my one point of wedding insecurity, too. and it was the worst of cyclical misery. because i hated myself for not looking awesome. and then i hated myself for hating the way i looked. how backwards. how anti-feminist. how un-self-aware. i rail on my blog about not letting other weddings make you think less of your own. i give diatribes in my women's studies' classroom on not caving to the prescribed concepts of beauty.

    and yet, when i got my wedding photos back, i sobbed. it was about 2 weeks before i could look at them without feeling a knot in my stomach. i even posted on my blog about the insanity of it all, and was met with a bit of controversy.

    so, in the end, i can't tell you, "becca, don't feel that way! you're beautiful!" (even though it's true, from what i've seen) because what i say won't change your little mind. but i fully encourage abandoning the pretti-fied blogs and focusing on the "real" ones. not the "real weddings" where everyone looks like a model. the real weddings where girls look normal, and yet gorgeous.

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  16. I really feel this post. I didn't really worry about my dress/how I looked before the wedding. I'm a pretty simple girl and I knew I wanted a simple, short dress. I found one I liked and stopped looking (I'm not much of a shopper). I felt beautiful on my wedding day and oh so happy and I didn't even think about how I looked. But when I got the pictures back about a month after the wedding, I did this exact same thing nitpicking myself "i hate how my stomach isn't flat", "oh look at my double chin", "i have so many wrinkles". I pulled all the "good" photos (which to be fair, was many more than the photos I didn't like) and posted them online, and i feel much happier now that i'm only looking at them. but i get how insidious those nagging thoughts are!

    i decided a week before my wedding that i was going to get my hair done (I have chin length hair, so no fancy updos, I just wanted my regular stylist to blow it out like she usually does), and i have to say that was probably the $40 (with tip!) that I spent on wedding stuff. i just felt so good about my hair and it was this little calming, pampering thing that I did on the day of the wedding. So I definitely encourage doing some "take care of yourself" things that feel like an indulgence. they will really help.

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  17. Oh, hon. Thank you for writing this post, I'm sure it was tough. I keep debating whether I want to do a weight post and then chickening out, even though I know I have things that I should probably say out loud. Looking at all those pictures can definitely mess with your head.

    I keep trying to be realistic about what weight loss means. Being at xx weight means I might look better in pictures and fit into clothes better and be a bit healthier (goals worth acknowledging). It does not magically make me more patient, happier, more loved or loving, better at returning phone calls, etc.

    I repeat this to myself all the time. I will be the same person whether I am 20 pounds lighter or heavier. So I try to be kind to myself and just keep working. I have to find some kind of medium between focusing on it so much that I feel terrible about myself all the time, and feeling so dejected that I just give up and stop taking care of myself altogether.

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  18. Becca, I've been drafting in my head a blog post on this topic, but dealing with this AFTER the wedding when the pro shots come back. Many of my brides email/call me in tears after their weddings b/c they're not as pretty in photos as they felt that day. It's heart-wrenching, because they WERE beautiful! I feel for them, I really do. As women, we are SO hard on ourselves and when we see ourselves in photos it's enough to tear down one month of "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it: people like me!"

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  19. Please don't forget those models in the bridal dresses have professional makeup, lighting and PHOTOSHOP!

    And the dress never looks as amazing as it does when you have ALL the pieces together, including your husband.

    If you want to see great photos of real people looking beautiful and happy on their wedding day, go to offbeatbride.com. They're great!

    And I know this sounds ridiculous, but standing in front of the mirror and saying "I'm so pretty!" every time you look at yourself does work. :)

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  20. and also.

    i want to know who rachel's photographer was, too.

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  21. I hated all the photos of me trying on dresses. During the first round, it was sort of OK since I also hated the dresses, but then I ended up hating the photos of me in MY dress too. I loved it on our wedding day (so much so I no longer have the heart to sell it).

    On self-esteem, there's a little project here that I've been following that I think is a good reminder to us all to love ourselves and each other, just the way we are.

    http://operationbeautiful.com/

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  22. I'm from a previous generation. Here are some additional data points.

    1. Although we were more oppressed in many ways 25 years ago brides in photos didn't look like models then. Actually they looked like models in a Sears Catalogue. Easy to surpass. So if we colonized being could feel beautiful, you owe it to us to feel at least as good as we did.

    2. Almost nobody who comes to your wedding will have seen those 18,000 photos of brides on Style Me Pretty. They won't know what you are "supposed" to look like.

    3. Men being visual creatures, odds are your finance thinks you are hot.

    4. You are 3-dimensional. You are in the real world. Real trees are shading your real face. Everyone at your wedding will experience the 3D you. If all you want is to make the most beautiful photos possible, do a photo session afterwards with the light just right and the makeup and hair and so on. No need to make the actual event comport with the photos you have seen.

    5. Well, I'm 53, and heavier, and more wrinkled, and saggier, by leaps and bounds, than I was at 25. And I still like myself naked in the mirror now more than I did was when I was more perfect. Because it's all about, "compared to what."

    6. God I feel for you.

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  23. @Rachel E that makes me so mad. Any photographer that makes you feel lousy on your wedding day is a lousy photographer. PERIOD.

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  24. Hmm. I think my last comment got eaten?

    There is so much good stuff here Becca, but the one that stands out to me is the part about treating yourself with respect and kindess. We women are so hard on ourselves and each other. I know you know this, but you don't need to look like those models or even those model-like brides on your wedding day. You need to look like you. Jason is marrying YOU. And you are amazing and inspirational and kick-ass.

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  25. damn the man! save the empire!

    i don't know, i felt the need to "shout" something rad and that's all i could come up with.

    smiles are contagious and when you feel great, you look great. it shouldn't be the other way around. you're never fully dressed without a smile.... ok. i'm going to stop quoting Empire Records and Annie.

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  26. As a photographer, I often find the blog word toxic for self-confidence. It basically features white heterosexual size-2 hipsters under 27 who spent $200,000 on their wedding to give it a "budget indie" look. I just feel like the lack of diversity out there is a HUGE problem. @Rachel, I would have probably personally strangled that photographer if I had heard that come out of his mouth. On a professional wedding photog forum, there was a huge controversy about blogging heavier brides and basically, everyone was like "Ewww, why would you blog that? Why would you want a heavy client because they're low-class and cheap."

    Seriously, I sometimes feel like I'm surrounded by assholes.

    But, what I really wanted to say was that I've always been really really insecure about my teeth. I've had braces 3 times and at this point they would have to break my jaw and charge me $24,000 to correct my teeth. I have buck teeth. I used to consciously tell myself to not smile in photographs so people couldn't see my teeth, and the week before my wedding, I kept trying to remind myself "Remember, Kelly, don't show your teeth."

    Well, I was so damn happy on my wedding day, I totally forgot. I was grinning up a storm. My facial muscles actually hurt at the end of the day. When I got back my photos, yes, you could see my buck teeth in all of them. But for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful, because the 100% pure happiness radiating out of me obliterated all that. I now think it's so stupid I spent so much time trying to contain my joy so I wouldn't show my teeth.

    And you know those photogs who are like "It's the skinniest you'll ever be!" That's crap. Natalie and I were both thinner before and after the wedding. Natalie is a size 14, and used to be really really nervous about pictures. But I'm a photographer and I like to photograph my hot wife. So she's had to get used to it and realize it's more about the happiness that you're projecting and that's in the moment...it makes anyone look beautiful. On my wedding day, I thought my wife was the hottest woman alive. I still think so.

    I look through our wedding album at least once a month...because we look pretty hot. And happy. Any photographer worth her salt should make you feel that way.

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  27. I had a whole post worked up about this...but I trashed it. This is such a REAL issue...I can't even tell you the freak out that I had as my wedding approached (well...it sounds like your situation except I'm a few inches shorter than you and I'm a few sizes larger than you too!)

    A month or two (or three?) before the wedding I completely cut myself off from mainstream wedding blogs...and only followed REAL brides in blogland. The big wig sites are great for idea accumulation in the beginning...but it got too overwhelming for me! The flowers were always a little too overflowing, the brides a lil too plastic perfection with their flowing bohemian dresses...I couldn't take it. Best move.

    You've hired the best of the best for your wedding - it's going to be a riot!!!

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  28. And I know you're avoiding looking at perfect pictures (which I think is the smartest thing to do), but you might want to take a quick look at Once Wed today this wedding is killing me. So, granted, the bride and groom are crazy good looking and adorable and they executed an amazing DIY wedding, but they are definitely not cookie cutter and everyone in the wedding party (bride included) has a different shape and size and rocks it. And they are so happy.

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  29. Hot damn, you look smashing in that ruffly dress! If the other dresses look even better, you are gonna be one HOT MAMA on your wedding day (and ever other day, for that matter! 5'9" and < size 8 is a pretty sweet physique.)

    I'm sorry that the wedding is bringing up all these image insecurities for you. It is incredibly hard to be a modern, "successful" woman, with the cultural demands that we be perfect at our careers, relationships, families, all while maintaining a svelte, sexy body and making it look effortless.

    The friends and family coming to cheer you on at the wedding are going to think you look gorgeous, basically regardless of what you wear, because you are going to be grinning from ear-to-ear!

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  30. I am so insecure about how I'll look and the weight I've gained since surgery that I have, literally, considered cancelling the wedding.

    Usually after looking at wedding blogs of stick thin women.

    Sigh.

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  31. you're not factoring in what i call the "bride glow"! it sounds cliche and trite, but i promise you there is nothing that compares to how beautiful every. single. bride looks when she's in her dress & makeup, about to celebrate her love with all of her family and friends. when i meet with brides-to-be at their consultations i try to imagine what they'll look like as a bride- and then inevitably i show up at the wedding and they surpass all of my wildest expectations with the glow. unexplainable beauty that just radiates. if i could bottle it and sell it i'd be richer than p diddy. so keep that in mind!

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  32. Wow!!! This blog has been very inspirational for me. I just recently got married and I too have had major depression and insecurities about my self image on the "big day." I got super sick to my stomach the day before the wedding and felt it showed on my face on the wedding day. I also felt my hair and make-up did'nt look all that glamorous. I opted to have my friend do it to save on money. I felt like people did'nt compliment me on how pretty I looked that day as a bride! I know that sounds so superficial and I hate feeling that way. I am super sensitive and insecure. Does anyone else ever feel this way?? I cannot believe how much stress I have endured over the planning of this wedding. I am glad it's over but wish I could go back and change a few things. But, that's obviously impossible so life must go on......Thank you so much everyone for sharing your innermost thoughts. It has helped me alot with my coping. I hope this helps other people as well......

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