“On the 28th of May, I married my best friend in front of our friends and family. It was every bit as perfect as I imagined; the sun shone, the day was filled with joy and happiness and I felt beautiful ― as every bride should on her wedding day.
However, I haven’t always felt beautiful. The person wearing the white dress at my wedding was quite a different woman from the one who had had a panic attack thinking about her dress four months earlier.
I will happily confess I am the cliché bride. I have watched enough episodes of Say Yes to the Dress, I Found the Gown and Don’t Tell The Bride to know that the dress is an extremely important part of the wedding day, and a big step in a young woman’s life. I was desperate for that experience.
As soon as the wedding date was confirmed, the wedding dress shopping commenced… a year before the wedding. That was my first mistake.
‘Are you going to lose weight for the wedding?,’ a fair number of consultants in dress shops asked me.
Despite having the ring on my finger, and someone who loves me for who I am and how I look, I felt judged for the shape I was and obliged to say, ‘Yes, I will be losing weight for the wedding.’
As someone who has always struggled with their figure, the wedding dress experience made me feel very vulnerable and exposed and frankly, self-conscious.
Then came the moment where I found the dress.
My mother-in-law had recommended a discounted boutique-wedding store in Gloucestershire. It turned out to be a friend of her sister’s, so I thought, ‘let’s give it a go.’
She came along with me and my sister-in-law and soon-to-be auntie-in-law. We spent hours trying on a variety of different styles and silhouettes and it was a lovely girlie afternoon. Then came the moment where I was handed a stunning lace fit and flare gown. I was initially unsure, but I thought I would try it on out of curiosity. I never thought I would actually like the wedding dress.
But when I looked at myself in the mirror, I instantly burst into tears. I felt incredible. This was a figure-hugging dress, enhancing my breasts, my waist, my hips and thighs in all the right places. For the first time, I was wearing a dress that flattered every part of my body, and I had never experienced that before.
I have always felt ashamed of my curvy figure and yet this dress made me feel empowered and ready to embrace my womanly curves. I thought to myself, ‘I want to feel WOW and this dress makes me feel WOW.’
The next day, I said ‘yes’ to the dress.
I couldn’t wait to feel that amazing again and for people to see me owning my figure ― but I had more than 12 months to wait.
I joined Slimming World. I was losing weight. I was focused.
Then, just before Christmas, my fiancé and I bought our first property. An amazing accomplishment for two people who were also paying for a wedding, but we somehow managed it. Understandably, this was an incredibly stressful time.
Not only was it Christmas, the month of eating and drinking, but we were also in the midst of trying to eat everything in our fridge before our big move.
One thing I should also mention is that I have an unhealthy relationship with scales. Because of my unhealthy obsession, I had agreed with my other half to not take scales to our new property and to try and ‘wean’ myself out of this bad habit.
We moved into our lovely new home, and a new daily routine began…alongside hefty travel costs and multiple bills to pay off. It was stressful.
Then to top it all off, my grandfather passed away on New Year’s Day. A massive blow to the family. On the day my phone was blowing up with ‘You’re getting married this year’ messages, all I could think of was that someone very important was not going to be there. It was heartbreaking.
I was stressed, I was sad, and I was hungry – and I was blind to what was happening with my body because I didn’t have my scales to assess the situation.
I had booked my first wedding dress fitting mid-February and I felt ready to try the dress back on. After such a miserable January, I was keen to feel happy again.
I stepped into the dress, pulled it up… and it wouldn’t go over my bottom. I tried to maneuver my body, suck my stomach in as much I could, but the dress wouldn’t go up. I was too fat.
I stared in the mirror at the dress that once made me feel so incredible and proud, and within an instant, I felt ashamed and humiliated.
I thought to myself, ‘Who the hell do I think I am? I could never have pulled this dress off, why the hell did I think for a second that I could?’ I couldn’t wait to take it off.
I was advised to lose weight and come back in six weeks. It wasn’t the type of dress that could be altered; I was the one who needed to be altered.
In that moment, every single insecurity I had ever felt about my figure came back ten-fold and I was suddenly terrified about getting married. I felt so dreadful, insecure and unbelievably ugly.
I went home and I cried.
That afternoon I bought new scales. Yes, I am obsessed and unhealthy and blah blah blah but at that moment, no one could have stopped me. I needed my scales to take back control. My other half who had been incredibly supportive throughout my body image meltdown had promised to help me lose the weight.
I cut out all carbs, created a meal plan and joined ClassPass. I was completely focused and all I was thinking about was the dress. The first few weeks, I felt okay and just needed to get on with it, but I hadn’t told anyone about my fitting failure.
I had asked my gorgeous flower girls to come with me to my hair and makeup trial, as I was keen to have two best friends who know and understand my style.
We had a lovely girlie night the day before and inevitably began talking about what types of wedding dresses they would like for their big day. I don’t know what happened, but the talk of wedding dresses started to make me feel incredibly anxious, which resulted in my first ever panic attack.
I couldn’t breathe, I was instantly crying, my fingers were tingly and I felt incredibly hot. I just felt out of control and the talk of wedding dresses reminded me of how awful I was currently feeling.
Luckily my girlfriends were amazing and helped me calm down but the cracks in my anxiety were starting to show. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was miserable, and it was all because of a dress.
Five weeks passed and although I had opened up a lot more with my sisters about my body image anxiety, the tightness in my chest was still very prominent. I struggled to breathe most days as the wedding day grew closer and closer.
As an experiment, one of my sisters suggested I try on some more wedding dresses. She was worried I was letting my life be controlled by a wedding dress, which I couldn’t really deny, especially when I was only wearing it for one day.
With a week to go before my next official fitting, we made the decision to go to Wed2B to boost my confidence and potentially find a backup dress.
My two sisters and mum fixed a date and off we went to the bridal store. I felt completely petrified thinking about it. As I looked at the sea of white dresses, I felt uncomfortable. I was terrified I wouldn’t find a dress that would make me feel pretty and wasn’t even sure I wanted to try dresses on.
I let them pick dresses for me and I picked a couple too. My sister picked out an A-Line tulle princess dress. I stepped into this dress and it fit like a glove.
I stared at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘Okay this looks pretty,’ but I still felt unsure. I didn’t look like me and it wasn’t the type of dress I ever imagined wearing on my wedding day. I still felt loyalty to my first dress, despite admitting to myself that I wasn’t sure I even liked it anymore.
My consultant whipped the curtain open and my sisters and mum gasped. All I could see were smiles on their faces.
I began to really look at myself. I was trying to pinpoint the imperfections when wearing this dress. I loved how small my waist looked and I felt somehow taller. Yes, my arms needed work, but I still had eight weeks until the wedding.
But the one feeling I couldn’t deny was how comfortable I felt. I didn’t feel restricted in the dress and best of all, it hid all the imperfections I could see in the first dress, like my tummy.
When I look back at the pictures of me standing in my dress, I zoom in to see the reflection of my sisters’ faces and it says it all. It was their reaction more than anything else.
Despite it being an additional expense that I hadn’t budgeted for, I made the decision to buy the second dress.
I still wasn’t sure which dress I was going to wear at this point, but at least I had options.
I called my mother-in-law that evening and told her I had bought a new dress. I was transparent with her and said I wasn’t even sure if I liked the old dress anymore but that I would travel to Oxfordshire where they live to show her my new dress and try the old dress on again.
As the days grew closer to the weekend, the thought of trying on the old dress was making me feel sick, so much so that I had my second panic attack. I was a mess and was growing more and more concerned for my mental wellbeing.
All I wanted was to enjoy the time leading up to my wedding but I was consumed by the fears about my body image. Feelings that I had clearly suppressed from a young age were fully at the surface and I couldn’t escape them.
Saturday morning came and we made the journey to Oxfordshire. We went upstairs and laid both dresses on the bed. I was asked which dress I wanted to try on first and I simply replied, ‘I guess the sh*t one.’
Instead, they persuaded to put my new dress on. I popped the new dress on and was greeted once again by the beaming smiles I had seen back at the bridal store.
All of a sudden I fell in love with it and imagined myself for the first time in months walking down the aisle.
Then came the moment to try on the first dress.
I stepped out of my new one and stood there semi naked holding my breath as the old dress was placed in front of me to step into. I immediately felt my heart racing, my face getting hot and my anxiety rising.
All I could think of was, ‘Here comes my further humiliation.’
The dress was pulled up over my bottom and zipped up. I even had a little room to spare. My mother-in-law hugged me from the back and whispered, ‘well done.’
Once again, I stared at myself in the mirror in the dress that had once made me feel my most beautiful, and my most ugly. I was quite literally staring my demon in the face.
Happy as I was that the dress zipped up, I didn’t like it. I could still see the little bump where my stomach was and my many other imperfections that I had once missed.
It was a beautiful dress, but it wasn’t my dress anymore.
The new dress was my dress. The relief I felt was a massive weight off my shoulders. I had worked incredibly hard to lose the weight that I needed to lose, and I had a dress that once again made me feel pretty.
I felt ready to get married.
Why am I writing this story? It’s to show there is no quick fix to anxiety.
Despite finding my ‘perfect dress,’ I faced the same fears right up to the wedding day. Even before I stepped into my new dress which fit like a glove, I still had an intense fear of ‘what if it doesn’t zip up, what if it doesn’t fit?’ The irony was, when I did step into my dress, it was actually a teeny bit baggy at the back.
I was incredibly excited to get married as you would expect but still scared to walk down the aisle. The thought of having a hundred pairs of eyes staring at me was incredibly overwhelming and I was still thinking, ‘What if people think I look ugly and fat?’
When we arrived at the venue, I felt extremely emotional. I heard the music play and one by one, my bridal party walked into the room where my guests and soon-to-be husband were waiting. My father took my hand and looked at me with his warm, reassuring smile, and I knew everything was going to be okay.
We walked in and I heard an echo of gasps. That was all the reassurance I needed, and in that moment, all the anxiety I had felt flooded away.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Florence Battersby-Bates. A version of this story originally appeared here. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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