Get The Picture?
In September 2011 I wrote a piece about the increase of eating disorders in men and how the modeling industry’s requirements for male models’ bodies have slimmed down enormously over the years. One of the results has been an increase in boys and men dieting in order to fit into the new and narrower standard, and more males being diagnosed with eating disorders. Well, it seems as if the modeling biz is not the only arena where men are gaining ground when it comes to weight loss obsession and a willingness to engage in what were formerly girlish insta-weight loss solutions.
Here Comes the Groom
In a thought provoking article in The New York Times by Abby Ellin entitled, “Whittling Yourself Down Before the Big Day,” Ms Ellin addresses a new trend in male body image dissatisfaction that may be a surprise to some of you. Penny Glazier, owner of two popular New York City event venues explains,
“The groom is the new bride.”
The article describes how heterosexual men are now walking down a different aisle; an aisle usually reserved for women; an aisle that leads to rapid weight loss before the Big Day. And while there is no mention of men using some of the extreme techniques that have made headlines recently e.g. The Feeding Tube Diet, Ms Ellin does point out that,
“Male weight-loss tactics can be as intense as the female versions.”
To illustrate, the readers are introduced to a 43-year-old Manhattan man, who paid a nutritionist $1,000 a month to help him lose 25 pounds in the 3-4 months before his wedding and a 32-year-old man who chose to undergo weight-loss surgery in April for his wedding in September. The soon to be grooms and event planners involved in the weddings speak frankly and several themes emerge; one of which, in my opinion, is a feeling of competitiveness. A character trait, stereotypically assigned to men, is clearly no longer confined to sports or the size of a paycheck.
“Everybody’s supposed to be looking at the bride, but I feel everybody is looking at me, too.”
“Every man in New York wants to lose weight…But when it comes to standing at the altar next to someone who has spent the last year at bridal boot camp, the pressure’s really on.”
And so the men grab the gaunt-let and willingly walk into the world of body dissatisfaction and the quest for thinness.
What is wrong with this Picture?
I found something glaringly absent from the article, and this is NOT a criticism of Ms Ellin. After all, an article is not required to cover every aspect of an issue; otherwise I would have to spend the next page meticulously explaining why the concept of a “bridal boot camp” is wrong to me in so many ways. But as I read the article I couldn’t help wishing there was some mention of the possible negative side effects that often result from these radical behaviors and/or a challenge to the prevailing public opinion that how we look in our wedding photos is more important than our health. Few nutritionists or dietitians would dispute that yo-yo dieting may have more detrimental health effects than maintaining a consistent weight even if that weight is considered to be in the overweight category. And while there is a paucity of longitudinal studies in long-term dieting outcomes, the research that does exist shows the success rate of maintaining weight loss from dieting is rare. Traci Mann, the author of a 2007 UCLA study reported the following findings:
“You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more.”
The knowledge that diets aren’t working is becoming more widely known, even if, for some, it is on an intuitive level. One of the men interviewed shared this piece of his motivation for losing weight in time for the wedding,
“We all get fat when we get married,” he said. “We have to start our marriages in good shape.”
The implication is the assumption that any weight he loses for the wedding will be gained back during the marriage and he is probably accurate in that prediction. Gaining back weight lost by restrictive diets and quick weight loss programs is quite common as Tara Parker-Pope articulately explains in her article, The Fat Trap. So to embark on a crash diet or have major surgery for one day of photographs may be worth reconsidering, but instead, it’s becoming more popular.
The Wedding is NOT the Marriage
Our groom lovingly adds,
“Part of what comes from getting married is the enhancement of each other. “We just get better together. And part of getting better is getting fit and healthy and looking and feeling your best.”
True True True!!! I couldn’t agree with this more. But if the measurements for being fit, healthy, looking, and feeling ones best are based entirely on the numbers on the scale, what does that say about the relationship and the health of the marriage if and when one or both people regain the weight? Restrictive dieting and other drastic weight loss attempts are often triggers for more serious disordered eating behaviors and health issues for men and women. If the marriage is really about enhancing each other and supporting each others’ health and wellness, perhaps part of the marriage could be embarking on a mutually supportive weight neutral health and wellness style of living.
As difficult as it is in the midst of wedding preparations, it is vital to remember that the wedding is not the marriage. The wedding is a party celebrating the ritual of marriage that two people engage in to honor their unconditional love and acceptance for each other. Read almost any version of marriage vows and it is ALL about loving each other through sickness health, rich poor, and yes…we could add fatness and thinness. If two people are in love and are getting married one can only hope that they love each other in the body they inhabit right now, not the body they will have four months or 8 months from now…post surgery, feeding tube, or Jenny Craig.
For Better or for Worse
I am not saying any of this is easy and my heart goes out to all of the men and women who are at risk of allowing the oppressive societal standards of beauty to eclipse what the real deal is about your wedding day, love. In the meantime, however, while working on your self-acceptance, healthy, weight-neutral lifestyle you find yourself obsessing about how your chin looks, or how big your belly is, may I suggest something a tad less drastic and a bit kinder to your body…