This Dress Will Not Destroy Me:
Navigating Wedding Dress Shopping in ED Recovery
Tiffany Haug, MS, RDN, EDOC
Picture a scene where your closest fashion-inclined family and friends surround you.
You step on the platform time-after-time in front of the 3-fold mirror.
Dress after dress after dress.
Everyone in the room feels it’s their god-given right–
That it’s their responsibility and exactly why they were invited in the first place–
to share their observations regarding how your body looks in each dress.
“Ummm, maybe a bit too tight there.”
“We need to make this look a bit more filled out.”
“Well this isn’t your best feature now is it!? So the next dress you try on should be a style where maybe there’s a bit more COVERAGE.”
Meanwhile you’ve never been so analyzed about every square inch of your body in your life.
And how can you possibly even process which dress you actually prefer–
when unsolicited opinions have been voiced for every dress you’ve tried on so far.
Not to mention this boutique only carries sample sizes.
Are you legit kidding me?
I actually cannot handle this right now.
To be fully transparent with you, reader, I am not a married woman.
I have never experienced wedding dress shopping for myself.
Since the above scenario is not pulled from personal experience, it lies only in my imagination.
Yet, I have no trouble picturing the above scenario, since many of my friends–who don’t have an eating disorder history–have experienced wedding dress shopping and had the above scenarios.
I can only imagine how markedly more tough it would be for an individual in eating disorder recovery.
To put my empathy cap on, I can picture that finding a dress that one really likes, but that perhaps doesn’t fit them, could be super challenging, and may even seem like a waste.
I can also imagine that the eating disorder may find this to be an opportune foothold to poke its little head into your thoughts and offer itself up as an accessible “solution” to your dress woes.
I can imagine--
depending on the intensity of this situation–
that this may seem like a viable option.
If you’re in eating disorder recovery and are approaching dress shopping for your wedding, we need to chat. We also need to have a game plan.
Here are 5 ideas for coping with, and lessening the triggers that can surface with the wedding dress shopping experience.
1). Online shopping ain’t never looked so good.
Online wedding dress shopping may not seem as romantic or ceremonial as setting up a boutique appointment with your closest gal pals and complimentary glasses of champagne. But online shopping is still an absolutely legit option. Online dress shopping often lets you order a range of sizes that you think might fit you (just return what doesn’t fit/you don’t like), while many boutiques only offer sample sizes in-store and don’t offer the opportunity to try on dresses in your actual size, until you’ve full on committed to a dress and ordered it. This can bring up a lot of undue pressure. One of my best friends Emily purchased her wedding dress on Etsy. She did have some mild tailoring done after it came in the mail, but ultimately she was able to order a dress in her size from the start, and saved a butt-load of $$$ in the process. This also allowed her to choose a dress based on just her personal style and budget, and the only external feedback she received from was after the dress arrived in the mail.
2). You don’t have to bring a party of 25.
Consider bringing only your most trusted and empathetic confidants to the dress shopping appointment. The most important role that they will play is your support people. You actually don’t need the fashion input of anyone other than yourself. This is your dress, and you need to like what you choose, not them. Tell them beforehand that their role is to support you, and not to be the fashion or body police. You can even show them this article. Let them know that you will ultimately choose what dress fits your fashion preference best, and to please not volunteer their personal fashion critiques. If you want their opinion on something specifically related to a style, you will ask them.
3). You don’t have to invite *potentially* toxic and/or clueless people.
You know those people that you’ve shared your vulnerable struggles with–maybe even against your better judgement–in effort to help them understand you better? But they literally just DO NOT get it? Yeah, cross them off the list of people to invite to your wedding dress shopping experience. Maybe you can bring them shopping for your wedding decor or something else, but they are not worthy of being part of the dress shopping appointment. If you fear coming off as abrasive with your choice to not invite them, you can let them know matter-of-factly that you thrive in smaller groups of people so only want to take a few people to each wedding-related shopping experience. You can even tell them that based on their spot-on interior decor taste, they would be a perfect person for your reception table-top decor shopping outing next Thursday.
4) Schedule an appointment with your eating disorder therapist and or eating disorder dietitian before and after the dress shopping experience(s).
Even if you are in a legit solid place in your recovery, this experience of wedding dress shopping, and being bombarded by a high volume of brides magazines/facebook ads/email spam featuring a plethora of redonkulous diet tips warrants support. Your therapist and/or dietitian will be able to support you through the mental and nutritional triggers that can surface from preparing for a wedding. They will also be a great resource to preemptively brainstorm some coping strategies and safety nets to have in place as you walk through these experiences.
5) Call ahead.
Now this is one of the toughest pieces of advice I have to give you. Not because it’s the hardest thing to do, but because I don’t believe in sharing intimate things about yourself to people who haven't earned the right to hear them. But this is the exception because it will potentially help to mitigate many of the triggers that can come up with the wedding dress shopping experience. I recommend calling ahead to the boutiques you are going to be visiting, and asking if you can speak to the stylist that will be helping you try on dresses. Let them know that you are in eating disorder recovery, and that any comment made about your body can be hard for you. Ask them to please not make any comments regarding diets, weight loss, or any other type of body changes that may be common topics to bring up in regards to “fitting into a wedding dress.” Let them know that you will not be dieting before your wedding.
I also encourage you to call those trusted individuals that you will be inviting to your dress shopping experience(s). Or maybe you prefer to write out your thoughts and send an email. Let them know that you have invited them because you trust them. Also ask them not to make comments about how your body looks in a dress, but to more so participate as a support in your process of trying to find a style or type of dress that fits your personal taste.
When all is said and done, you have the absolute potential to emerge from this wedding dress shopping experience with not only a fabulous dress, but your recovery fully intact. And guess what–if you end up purchasing a wedding dress and it no longer fits a few months down the road, or the style that you wanted originally changes, that's okay too. There are plenty of dresses out there, but not one dress is as as valuable as your recovery. Ain’t nobody got time for an eating disorder relapse. We’ve got a wedding to plan!
Tiffany Haug, MS, RDN, EDOC is a Master's level Dietitian in San Diego who specializes in helping individuals with Eating Disorders make peace with food and their bodies. Tiffany knows that working through recovery can be incredibly hard. Being herself recovered for almost a decade, she is incredibly honored to now be able to give back by supporting her clients along this challenging, but so-very-worth-it journey. In addition to being an Eating Disorder Dietitian, Tiffany serves as the Education Chair for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) San Diego Chapter and works as a Pediatric Dietitian at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. Learn more about Tiffany here.