New York Times story about wedding workouts is damaging, experts say

It started innocently enough, with a promise to “make sure you look your absolute best on your special day.”

But an article from the New York Times about the best workout for wedding dresses quickly attracted a wave of online vitriol, both from brides-to-be and body positive advocates, for promoting toxic body-shaming culture.

“As someone getting married in 6 weeks who is sick of people talking about my body as an object: do better,” wrote one user on Twitter.

The Times later revamped the article with a new headline (“Getting Married? Get Strong.”) and removed some of the more highly criticized sections, but health professionals say even the current version still body-shames and pressures women to lose weight.

“The idea that a woman would pick a dress and then try to change her body to complement the dress — that she is the thing that needs altering — is so insulting,” Kelly Coffey, a certified personal trainer, told INSIDER.

Here’s what else professionals take issue with, and how they encourage people approach major life events instead.

Read more: 12 things you don’t think are forms of body shaming, but actually are

The New York Times changed its headline.
Gabby Landsverk

The article avoids explicitly telling women to lose weight, but implies it

Although the article doesn’t mention weight loss outright, Coffey said it uses coded language to suggest that women need to make themselves smaller to be beautiful. “Waist reduction” is one example of a disguised reference to weight loss, Coffey said, while “overall energy expenditure” the article refers to “is just a fancy way to say calorie burning,” she said.

Coffey added that the emphasis on “toning” is another implicit message that women should try to make themselves smaller, and it prevents women from embracing their own strength.

The concept of brides “shedding for the wedding” perpetuates double standards

While people of all genders can be pressured by cultural ideas about what the ideal body should look like, women especially are subjected to unsolicited comments and advice on their bodies, exercise, and eating habits.

Women who are getting married face a particularly intense scrutiny, Charlotte Markey, a professor of psychology at Rutger’s University who has studied eating disorders, told INSIDER.

“Men are supposed to be accepted and loved no matter how they look,” Markey said. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best on your wedding day, but to frame it like [the Times’ article did] suggests women are not OK as they are, are not lovable or attractive.”

Brides with bigger bodies can face exceptional difficulty navigating the world of wedding planning. Model Hunter McGrady previously told INSIDER about the challenge of shopping for a wedding dress she liked.

“I would go into stores and ask for certain things, and they would say, ‘Well, we provide that in a smaller size, but not in plus size,’ which was disheartening,” McGrady said.

Wedding-motivated lifestyle changes often aren’t sustainable

Wedding weight-loss plans often use healthy concepts of exercise and nutritious eating, and turn them into a process of meeting an unrealistic goal for a single day, experts say.

“The idea that you need to make yourself smaller in anticipation of this life event is ridiculous and it robs women who are headed into this beautiful life moment of so much of the pleasure and excitement,” Coffey said.

Working out should be a process that goes beyond just one important day, she added, and for goals beyond just looking your best. “There’s never a bad moment to start strength training,” Coffey said, but it’s important to consider your reasons for doing so first.

The article encourages exercise, but cautioned women against gaining too much muscle

Readers particularly objected to a quote in the original article that swimming can be a great workout, “but should be done in moderation, so that your back does not get too wide.”

This framing suggests women need to work out enough to lose weight, but not so much that they become unfeminine or undesirable, Jodi Rubin, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in eating disorders, told INSIDER. Her work also focuses on cultivating healthy exercise goals instead of habits that can be excessive and destructive.

“To be able to walk that fine line between weight loss and muscle mass and to sculpt your body in a very specific way — anyone who studies the human body would tell you that’s virtually impossible. It’s unrealistic and damaging,” she said.

Coffey said the idea of exercising “in moderation” to prevent muscle gain is also misleading and unhelpful.

“Any muscle-building exercise is going to increase the size of a woman’s muscle,” she said. “In reality, that’s delightful, because it means she’s going to be stronger, less prone to injury, more energized, have better sex, which is what should be important when it comes to marriage.”

An ideal wedding dress should make you feel good in your body.
nikuyen/ iStock

An ideal wedding dress makes a woman feel good in her body the way it is

Emphasizing the bride’s appearance can take the focus away from parts of the wedding that really influence how joyful the day is.

“There’s an idea that your wedding will be perfect if you look perfect, but your wedding is more likely to be perfect if you’re marrying someone you love, and surrounded by people you love,” Rubin said.

As for attire, an ideal wedding outfit should make brides feel good, comfortable, and free to move. If you pick a dress your body needs to be altered for rather than a dress your body feels good in, “you’re just setting yourself up for anxiety,” Rubin said.

Take it from someone who’s been there: Grady. “Go in knowing that you are worthy, and you are beautiful, and you are incredible, and you’re gonna look your best on this day,” she previously told INSIDER. “You’re gonna feel your best because you have everybody around you who loves you and is there for you, rooting for you and supporting you.”

Read more:

How to talk to your partner about their weight and body image

15 fitness ‘tips’ that are doing more harm than good

Pippa Middleton’s pre-wedding diet illustrates the problem with ‘shedding before the wedding’


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