My anxiety started with dress shopping. I secretly hoped for a fantasy moment of bridal beauty, to pull on something slinky and white and glow. Instead, the saleslady shook her head at the sample size dress and my, well, non-sample-size body. “I think we might be able to get this on you,” she said, which sounded like a threat. It took her all her might to wrestle the dress around me, and the result wasn’t pretty. The fabric strained around my stomach and my hips, and the dress didn’t make it even halfway around my torso. I fought back tears (not the happy kind) in the fancy dressing room.
It feels like the wedding industry is created specially to foster, or at least trigger, eating disorders. There are boot camps and cleanses and endless Pinterest boards of really skinny bride after really skinny bride. At the next store (it took me about a dozen shops to find the dress), the designer told me tales of her customers that shrunk their bodies so much in the months leading up to their weddings that they needed completely new dresses.
For a minute, something about dieting for my wedding still sounded appealing and shiny, until I remembered that I lost that luxury. It was a diet, more than a dozen years ago at the age of eighteen, that launched my eating disorder into overdrive. The diet became obsession, the obsession became an anorexia diagnosis, and the anorexia morphed into an excruciating binge and restrict cycle that left me exhausted, miserable, and full of self-loathing until I found myself in recovery in 2011. Every day since then, I count myself enormously lucky.
Slowly but surely, nearly everything in my life has changed: sure, the way I eat and think about food and my body, but also the way I experience my days, my relationships, and even my dreams. Things have gotten bigger and better, and perhaps the very best thing is getting to marry the most kind, gorgeous, brilliant and wonderful man I know in September. I’m so excited I’m nearly giddy, and yet still the old eating disordered thoughts pop up—those pesky ones that tell me I’m not thin enough to have a dream wedding, or that I don’t deserve my own happily ever after.
Here are some self-care actions I’m taking as I plan my wedding. I need them always, but especially now:
I’m saying no to diets. For me, “diet” is a dirty word. I’m going to show up to my own wedding as I am: imperfect, healthy, and in recovery. Instead of dieting, I’m nourishing myself with delicious food that makes me happy, cooking healthy meals, and trying new restaurants with friends and my fiancé. I’m making food decisions from love, not fear, as much as possible.
I’m thoughtful about the media I consume. When we got engaged last year, I bought a bunch of wedding magazines for inspiration. Instead, I found their images narrow and a little depressing. This is where I feel grateful to be a writer—I can tell a different story. I’m trying to fill my social media feeds, television lineup, and reading life with stories that celebrate diversity, inclusivity, and body positivity.
I’m getting enough rest. Sleep makes everything better!
I’m working on setting boundaries. This has been a whirlwind year for me—publishing my first book, graduating from graduate school, and last but not least… getting married. Not to mention my usual freelance hustle, nurturing my recovery, and trying to have a social life. I’ve been practicing saying “no,” which is hard for me but usually feels really good.
I’m fighting against my perfectionism. The same part of my brain that used to spend hours plotting out the perfect meal now wants to write the perfect vows. Hint: neither exist. Reminder to myself: heartfelt and good enough is, well, totally good enough.
I’m working on compassion. I’m going to mess up, because I’m human. Treating myself with gentleness and kindness doesn’t come naturally for me, so it’s something I am consciously working on.
I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it. I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it, to the best of my ability! This is such a magical moment in life. I want to soak it all in.
Hannah Howard is the author of Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen. She lives in New York City and loves stinky cheese. Follow her on Instagram (@hannahmhoward) or Twitter (@hannahhoward).
SAVE THE DATE: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness) takes place Monday, February 25 – Sunday, March 3, 2019. Learn more at nedawareness.org!