Image: One Love Photo


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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

#111: Plus Size Balls: An honest account of plus size wedding dress shopping

For me, shopping for jeans that fit my vertically petite (but NOT horizontally petite) frame is torture enough. So I imagine that for those who struggle to any degree with body image issues (dare I say most of us?), shopping for a wedding dress -- the one garment in a woman's life that is forced to carry the weight of the world on its beaded straps -- is a complex experience to say the least.  So today I'm honored to present my interview with Steph (she of this wedding and sooo many wonderfully supportive comments throughout this blog), who has bravely offered to share an honest account of her wedding dress shopping experience as a plus size bride. 

PS. Any woman who (1) can put up with my nosy interview questions and (2) can talk candidly about her body image concerns CLEARLY has plus size balls and a plus size heart. And so I think Steph deserves some plus size LOVE in the comments, yes? Leave a comment about YOUR personal experiences with body image & wedding dress shopping down below.  And now, my friend, Steph...

What were your concerns before beginning the wedding dress shopping process?

I had two main concerns. First (and probably most importantly), could I find a dress in my size that would make me feel beautiful, confident and sexy? Second, if such a dress did exist, would it be at a price I could afford ? I think these are concerns that affect most brides, plus size or not. However, I personally felt that this would be a more difficult challenge for me specifically because of my size.

What wedding dress shopping challenges are specific to plus size brides that smaller size brides might not be aware of? 

For me and I’m guessing for many other plus sized women, clothing shopping in general can be a frustrating and emotionally draining experience. When I try on clothes, it is often a painful reminder of the difference between how I want my body to look, how I feel it “should” look vs. how it does look. There are less clothing options available to me in terms of style and shape as a plus size woman, and it is harder to find my size in a store. As a result my general mood when clothes shopping is anxious, frustrated, depressed.

This is troubling enough when shopping for regular clothes, but when finding a wedding dress, there is the added pressure of knowing this particular piece of clothing is what you will be wearing on one of the happiest days of your life. A day when you honor the love between you and your partner and make a commitment in front of all your friends and family to share your lives together. A day when, because of our bride-focused, wedding obsessed culture, 90% of the attention is on YOU. If finding regular clothes is frustrating as a plus sized woman, finding a wedding dress can be downright torture.

What surprised you during your dress hunt?

I was surprised that there were a lot of dress options out there in my size. Despite my initial concerns, I wound up feeling more relaxed and happy while wedding dress shopping than I do shopping for regular clothes.

In what ways did dress shopping affect your attitude toward your weight? (If at all.)

I can’t say that dress shopping itself affected my attitude toward my weight. While I felt relieved that there were dresses in my size that looked great on me, I still had the same issues and feelings toward my body. These issues and feelings were there long before there was a wedding in my future and remain in place now that I’m married. I don’t believe it’s something that can be fixed externally. I long for the day I feel fully comfortable in my own skin, no matter what my size. Some days I’m closer to that goal than others…

How did you feel about your weight on the day of your wedding?

I’m happy to say I felt beautiful, inside and out, on my wedding day. I surprised myself by losing a small amount of weight in the months before my wedding. However, I like to think I still would have felt beautiful on that special day even if I hadn’t lost a single pound. On that day It wasn’t just about how I looked (of course I wanted to, and did, look beautiful) but about how I felt (physically, mentally, emotionally) and who I was -- a happy woman surrounded by her friends and family, making a commitment to share my life with the man I love. Every bride deserves to feel that way on her wedding day!

What are your thoughts on brides trying to lose weight specifically for their wedding?

I always thought it was a silly thing to do. Though looking back I inadvertently wound up doing it.
We got married a little over a year after getting engaged. I remember thinking at the beginning of the wedding planning process “I could start now and a year from now I would be healthy and a heck of a lot thinner, just in time for my wedding.”

Those good intentions fell by the wayside and the next thing I knew it was six months til my wedding. I knew there was no way I could healthily lose all the weight in time for my wedding. At six months out I had to accept the fact that no matter what I would be a plus size bride. I had thoughts like “what happens if I wind up getting down to a healthier weight a year or two after the wedding and look at my wedding pictures and hate myself and how I looked on my wedding day?”

I also had my annual physical about 6 months before my wedding and the number on the scale scared me into action. Wedding or no wedding, I needed to find a way to get healthier. I started the Couch to 5k running program and discovered I’m not too fat to be a runner. My running routine kept me sane while trying to balance an incredibly stressful full time job with planning our wedding. A little bit of the weight started to come off in the months leading up to the wedding. Having the dress taken in during my fittings was fun and tangible proof of my success, and a motivator to keep going.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Phil says, “life is managed, not cured.” My running routine got lax after the wedding and in my first year and a half of marriage I’ve yo-yoed between my weight when I bought my wedding dress and my weight on my wedding day. I’m happy to say though that running still is a part of my life. I ran my first 5k on 4/19/10.

I didn’t set out to lose weight specifically for my wedding, but because I gained the weight back after the wedding it feels like I did.

I guess to summarize, my feelings on Wedding Dieting are it should be less about how you look and more about how you feel. If losing weight gives you more energy and makes you feel better about yourself, go for it. But if that really is the reason you’re doing it, then do your best to stick with it after the wedding too (trust me, I’m speaking to myself here too!)

What advice would you give to plus size brides currently shopping for a gown?
  • Buy your gown for the size you are right now! It’s great to believe that you will lose weight before your wedding day. There’s a very good chance that you may, but there’s also a chance you might not, and then you’re stuck with a wedding gown that’s too small. It’s always easier to take fabric in than it is to let it out.
  • Know your specific body “problem areas,” and target ways to work with them. I have a large chest and stomach and narrower legs. I wanted to wear something strapless or halter top and I wanted the illusion of a smaller waist, so I chose to purchase a corset specifically for my wedding.
  • The right foundation garment is key! For me it was the corset, which gave my “girls” a lift and nipped in my stomach. Maybe for you it’s a comfy pair of Spanks and a strapless push up bra. Find the foundation pieces that work for you, and be sure to wear them in the fitting room when you try on your dress.
  • Choose a dress shop that has lots of dresses in your size in stock. Few things are more depressing than walking into a store and having almost nothing in your size. This is the absolute last thing you need for your self-esteem and overall ambiance when shopping for your wedding gown. I went with David’s Bridal because I loved their selection and price, and because when I bought a bridesmaids dress there the size was the same as the actual clothing size I wore. (One of the few things that IS even more depressing is having to order a gown that is 2-3 sizes bigger than your clothing size because the dress runs small). I knew I wanted a David’s Bridal gown, so went there right away and skipped the boutique type stores. So unfortunately I don’t have any specific advice to offer plus sized women shopping in a smaller boutique.
  • Bring your team of “go-to gals” with you. I brought my mom, my best friend (MOH) and my Aunt Debbie, whose body shape I inherited and whose sense of style I wish I’d inherited. She actually picked out my wedding dress in the store. I hated it on the rack but as soon as I tried it on I was in love. You want to surround yourself with people who are supportive and can offer good advice without being pushy and who will keep in mind what YOU want, need and are looking for. Having these people with you allows you a shoulder to lean on when you’re frustrated, and arms to hug you with joy when you’ve found THE DRESS!! 

     The day after I first emailed this interview to Kim at brave bride, I discovered that the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress now has a specific show for plus size brides called Say Yes to the Dress, Big Bliss. I was skeptical at first but as I watched I found the show to be very tastefully done. I teared up watching other women who look similar to me go through the ups and downs of finding their dream dress. At that magic moment when they found their IT dress, so many of the brides said the same thing 'I don't feel like a "plus size bride" in this dress, I feel like a BRIDE in this dress!' Though I hadn't said it quite like that, I realized I felt the same way when I found my wedding gown. 
     Every woman, from size 2 to 22 (and up), wants to look and feel like the best version herself on her wedding day. The good news is, you can be! There are plenty of gowns out there in every size that can help you look and feel your best on your wedding day. However, a pretty dress alone isn't enough. You have to decide to declare a truce with your body image. Woudln't it be great to be able to say on your wedding day (even if you are not the exact size or exact weight you want to be) "I am the best version of myself that I can possibly be at this moment in time." Figure out what you need to do to make that statement true and live it on your wedding day!


  1. Excellent, excellent post.

  2. I also want to add:

    "I remember thinking at the beginning of the wedding planning process 'I could start now and a year from now I would be healthy and a heck of a lot thinner, just in time for my wedding.'

    I had thoughts like 'what happens if I wind up getting down to a healthier weight a year or two after the wedding and look at my wedding pictures and hate myself and how I looked on my wedding day?'

    At that magic moment when they found their IT dress, so many of the brides said the same thing 'I don't feel like a "plus size bride" in this dress, I feel like a BRIDE in this dress!'"

    Those are very specific moments I also experienced.

  3. I love Erika's comment "I feel like a BRIDE in this dress..." You got some balls, indeed, girl! And the dress looks beautiful!

  4. love that you bring real people into the spotlight here, especially when it addresses tough issues like body image.

  5. Thanks for this post, Steph. Such an honest piece of writing that really needs to be out there to help others :)

  6. Great post!! When Steph and I recently went looking at Bridesmaids dresses we had a discussion about all this and I was looking forward to this post. As someone who is stuck between the "regular" and "plus" size clothing I can definitly relate. I cant wait to have Steph with me when I try on dresses for my big day <3

  7. Steph, I begged Kim to get you to write some more and I am so glad you wrote about this particular issue.

    I know how painful being a plus size bridesmaid was so I am sympathetic to the dilemma you faced.

    Most importantly, you look so beautiful in your pics, mostly because you look happy. If that's bridey then so be it!

    Thank you so much xx

  8. You guys are awesome!!! I feel so loved :) :) It's so neat to see my thoughts posted as an article on my friend's blog. And even neater to get such positive feedback. Thanks so much!!! :)

  9. Lovely post. Thank you for the honesty. You looked amazing! Congratulations.

  10. First off, Steph, you look gorgeous. That dress is really flattering - especially the sweetheart neckline, and it brings out all your best features. (One thing I hate about magazines and fashion shots and even fashion advice in some cases is that there's this underlying assumption that "plus size" means "can't possibly have good features" - this is BS. Whether it be an hourglass shape, awesome tatas, a rockin' booty, killer calves, sculpted shoulders etc., plus size women can and do have good features as well as average or want-to-hide features, just as non-plus-size women do).

    As someone who also (like a commenter above) straddles the line between regular and plus size, I can really relate to this article. My dress (like Kim's) was designed by me, top to bottom (you'll see it this week!) and made by a tailor to my very exacting specifications. I am not particularly happy with my body though I do like my good features.

    It was really tough because I don't like most of the dresses advised as "good for my body shape" (A-lines, corset waists etc) - and I loved the ones that I could never pull off (sheaths, slip dresses, flowy Art Nouveau, 1920s slippery satin, drop waist, super-tight mermaid). I did a lot of research into what would look good that I could be happy with. I lamented how white is the color of choice when white is so unflattering on many women, esp. plus size women (in the end I did not choose white, which was apparently a "bold" move - I disagree.)

    I ended up with a bright purpley-fuchsia dress with a deep V neck, waist-defining sash and mermaid skirt that made the best of what I've got...looking back at the photos, I don't think I even look plus size. That took effort!

    So I'd second the idea of really looking for something you feel great in, even if it means going through non-traditional means, so you can feel like a gorgeous woman, not "I look great, except..."!

  11. @Jenna, thanks so much. I definiltey relate to not liking the stuff that is "supposed" to look good for my shape (though I must say I"ve fallen in love with the wrap dress/wrap top and anything with an empire waist). Even strapless is something that most people wouldn't consider "appropriate" for my figure because of my chest but i wanted it and I got it and dang it I rocked it ;)
    I LOVE the idea of getting something custom made to your own measurements. If I had known about the Dolly dresses before my wedding I def would have looked into it. I was just worried about how much it would cost to design my own custom made plus size gown.
    I also LOVE the idea of a purple gown (it's my favorite color!!) and can't wait to see the pics. I knew I wanted traditional white for me, but I think brides that rock non-traditional colors are great. Sooo true that the point is wearing something you feel goregous in. "I look good, BUT..." is the WORST feeling and does NOT belong in your wedding!! :)

  12. Steph - you totally rock the strapless dress (but you know this). It's also BS that plus size women can't wear strapless - they can, they just need to find a neckline and waist that flatters what they've got (like every other woman), and you did that. Wrapped or ruched styles also tend to look good. I love ruching but my dress didn't have any: I was going for a very specific aesthetic of "Japanese-kimono-meets-sexy-mermaid" and that required simple, non-ruffled lines.

    I should also point out that it was ten times easier and cheaper to get my dress custom-made than it would be for most Brave Bride readers. I live in Taiwan. We have an entire market in the old part of town that sells textiles and houses tailoring shops! So don't beat yourself up about not going that route.

    A quick comment about "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss" - the idea is great and I am happy it's out there (and apparently tastefully done). I can't watch it, as I'm not in the US and have no (legal) access to things like Hulu...but I do wish instead of a separate special show, they just had a more representative plus size sample on the regular show...I'm not sure I'd like any reasoning they could give for cordoning off one segment of the female population.

    But...optimism glasses on! The show is out there and real and that's a start!

  13. Thanx for sharing this nice post about plus size wedding dresses. Women's always have a dream to look beautiful at the the day of her wedding.


Babbling about weddings is so much more fun when people babble back. :)

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