A United Front

I’ve noticed that most of my posts start with “So…”

So, I got married this year. A fact of which I’m sure you’re aware, especially since I’ve now joined Instagram. This would be a fairly momentous occasion in anyone’s life, and it certainly was in mine.

I literally just wrote “we all imagine our weddings”, but then deleted it, because this isn’t true. Just because I had a secret wedding Pinterest board long before I got engaged, just because that board mutated into seven boards once I became engaged, it doesn’t mean I’m the norm, it doesn’t mean that everyone thinks like me. This journey of discovery is helping me realise that there is no ‘norm’. Times are changing, and things that have always been seen as being in the minority are being revealed as more prevalent than previously thought. When my parents married, they married young for the freedom it gave them. It enabled them to live together, to go on holiday together, to really be a couple. That’s not the case anymore, so people are marrying older, or not marrying at all because they don’t fancy it. It doesn’t affect the longevity of relationships, it’s just something that people choose to do or not do.

I imagined my wedding though, not in an obsessive way, just in a “that would be nice” way. Over the years the colour schemes changed, the dress changed, and thankfully the grooms changed, but one thing remained constant, and that was my image of myself as a bride. I was slim, and to me that meant I looked my very best, the most beautiful I could possibly look. In reality, I committed the ultimate sin, I went against the magazines, the TV shows, the advice of relatives and in-laws, and the general feeling of the western world, and I got married fat. This wasn’t entirely by choice to be fair, if I’d had it in me to lose the weight I think I would have made a valiant effort, but I didn’t. I’d like to say that this was a feminist stand, a brave and empowering protest against perceived gender obligations, but in all honesty I didn’t have room in my life to lose weight.

A lot of weddings follow the traditional model of taking place in a hotel or other such venue, with prescribed package deals that can be altered to suit the couple. You choose your meal, your place settings and your drinks package from a list of options, and someone takes it from there. This is a sensible way to plan the most elaborate party of your life. This is a good idea. This is not what we did. We wanted to make the day our own; we aren’t formal people and would have felt uncomfortable in formal surroundings. The thing Tony wanted most was to get married outdoors, and the thing I wanted most was to feel like myself on my wedding day. We chose an outdoor venue in Yorkshire in June. This is not as easy as it sounds. Strangely enough, unlike the rest of the world, and America in particular where you can legally get married anywhere, even up a tree if that’s what floats your goat, in the UK you can only legally be married under a licenced permanent structure. Otherwise, you have your ceremonial ceremony and then go to a registry office, which is not what we wanted – we wanted the ceremony to be real. Our day was to take place at the only place in North Yorkshire you can legally be married outdoors, in the Cruck House at the Yorkshire Arboretum, or the Wedding Shed as we affectionately thought of it. Turns out this was a terrible idea as it rained and we had to get married in the visitor’s centre, but it was a lovely thought.

The main problem of an unconventional wedding is also the main blessing: there are no packages to choose from. You get all the freedom of expression you like, but a huge amount of work and no one to share the load. Our reception took place in a marquee (by the wonderful Will’s Marquees – can’t actually recommend them enough) in the Arboretum grounds, and we had to organise everything ourselves – the loos, the bar, the caterers, the music, the decorations, the drinks, everything. I DO NOT recommend this approach. It was wholeheartedly the most stressful thing I have ever done and I certainly wouldn’t do it again. It was beautiful, awesome and felt just like us though, and we loved every second of the day so, you know, swings and roundabouts**. Realistically though, I had a huge amount of work to do, on top of my full time job and cyclic mental health difficulties. Something had to give, and losing weight was the non-essential item that I didn’t have room for in my schedule. To be fair, I tried at first, but it was just too much pressure at a time when I needed to feel good about myself and my anxiety was already through the roof.

I’d thought that, as a result, dress shopping would be a nightmare, a hideous, embarrassing, humiliating nightmare of body shaming and low self-esteem. It was, in my own head, but actually not so much in the shops. The first dress I tried on was a size 14 (hahahahahahahahahaaaaa) at the wedding exhibition in London. It was utterly, utterly beautiful, and utterly over-budget, from a gorgeous shop in Brighton called Leonie Claire, and the owner deserves a special mention for The Thing She Said to Me. She encouraged me to try on the dress in question, stating that I’d be surprised what sizes I could fit into, just to get an idea of what they’d look like. I felt embarrassed and as though I had to justify my existence, so I said something along the lines of “well, the diet and exercise start here!” in a hearty, over-compensating way. She turned to me, and quietly said, “No. Don’t change yourself, not for this, not just for the sake of one day”. And I was floored. This person who makes a living selling wedding dresses, who didn’t stock a single thing in my size and therefore was unlikely to make a sale, went out of her way and actively advocated for me not to feel I had to change myself. I’m so thankful to her, I’m sure she thought it was just a small gesture, but to a plus size/curvy/fat/whatever bride starting on a journey through an industry that is inherently against her, it was everything. Thank you Leonie Claire, so much. I’m sorry I couldn’t afford the dress!

The dress I did choose was by Truvelle, an American designer, and I bought it from Heart Aflutter, a small studio in Hackney. If you’re looking for something beautiful and unconventional I strongly suggest you give them a try. They have the most amazing selection of floaty, glitzy, vintage-y, modern-y, and ethereal things, most of which can be ordered in plus sizes, and their seamstress is frankly incredible. I loved my dress. I loved the way it looked, the way it made me feel and, most of all, the way the entire bottom third was covered in matte rose gold sequins. It was perfect. It’s not remotely what I expected to wear, I’d pictured a lot of lace, but I’m so pleased I chose this dress instead.

Anyway, the fact is that I got married fat. I was a fat bride. I went against every promise I’d ever made myself to not be a fat bride, and instead was a fat bride. In my panicky moments pre-wedding I worried about people looking at me and thinking “bloody hell, she’s fat!”, I worried about Tony looking at me and thinking “aaarrghhh!!!”. In the wise words of my incredible bridesmaid though, who looked me steadily in the eyes and spoke slowly as if teaching a child – “I think they know”. No one spontaneously combusted of shock as I appeared at the end of the aisle in my dress. My groom didn’t pass out from sheer disgust at my inability to materialise as a size 12 on our wedding day. There were no Biblical plagues, no rains of frogs, and, most disappointingly, neither Buffy nor the Winchester brothers appeared to foil the inevitable apocalypse. I was fat, I was tall, taller than Tony, as I usually am, and we had a wonderful day that we’ll never forget, for all the right reasons.

Looking back, the day is basically a blur. The week before was the most stressful of my life, I slept for two hours each afternoon as I was thoroughly drained and exhausted, and I felt indescribably tense and anxious at all times. I’d made the mistake of being in charge – I was the person who knew what was going on, I had all the information, all the supplier details and all the timings, so I was the person everyone asked, and that was too much for me. When it came to the day itself though, it was easier. That was the day where the member of venue staff, our bridesmaids and our groomsmen took over, and we could just enjoy the ride.

I don’t actually remember what the ceremony space looked like. I don’t think I ever really looked at it. I walked in, nervous, excited, with my dad, and kept my eyes fixed ahead to where I was going, to Tony. At all times I looked at him, or at the person speaking – the registrar, or the reader – I tried not to look at everyone else and be overwhelmed by how many people were looking at us. What I do remember is the way Tony looked at me. In that moment it seemed ridiculous to have ever thought he might be disappointed when he saw me. The way he looked at me is exactly the way I always wanted to be looked at on my wedding day. He looked wonderful, standing there, waiting for me, I probably looked at him in exactly the same way.

I remember what he said to me, I’ll never forget that, and I remember the part where he stopped to loudly blow his nose before starting his vows *cue laughter*. I remember referring to Philip and Tiger Lounge in my vows *cue cheering*. I remember calling him weird, and having not anticipated the laugh it would get, and the subsequent fact that I would have to wait for it to subside before I could add “…and I’m weird”, so for a few moments it just looked as though I’d called him weird, with no explanation, on our wedding day. After that I remember interminable posing for the camera, feeling consistently buoyant and happy, barely eating anything, and, inexplicably, not needing a wee all day. Which was weird, but convenient. I remember the immense stroke of luck that was the double rainbow, and our guests running and shouting at us from too far away so that we’d turn around and see it. I remember spinning around like a fool with my new husband to Bellowhead. I remember the task force involved in bustling my dress, and those who attempted to shield the spectacle with skirts and umbrellas. I remember one guest going into raptures because she was “finally ON Sean Bean” (table name), and another requesting to take home the “Patrick Stewart” table flag. I remember feeling loved, absolutely, positively loved, and feeling immense love in return for every one of our friends and family members who were there. I remember how happy Tony looked, how much fun he seemed to be having. I remember the Jagger-off between my husband and the resident dance-enthusiast, how the guests parted to let it happen, and how one participant decisively removed his jacket when the song started.  I remember driving us to the B&B at the end of the night, just the two of us at last, and eating week old pretzels (courtesy of my glove compartment) and hand-dipped chocolate strawberries (courtesy of the B&B owner) in bed when the dust finally settled and we realised how damned hungry we were. In that moment, it was like the wedding hadn’t happened yet. We were snuggled up in bed, the same as always, feeling happy and content to be there with each other. It may sound like a complete come down, but it wasn’t, at all, in fact it was the exact opposite. After all, you get married because you like the way things are and you want them to stay that way all the time. We felt exhausted, dazed, unsure of what had happened, but content to be snuggled up at last, and very, very happy.

We missed Philip though, obvs.

On 10th June I married the love of my life. It was a frankly glorious day, but I couldn’t tell you all the details. Almost two months on I’m still not used to referring to him as my husband, and am surprised to see him wearing a wedding ring. I have officially (well, at work and on social media, I’m yet to fill in all the forms) transitioned to my married name, but I’m still surprised every time I hear it. Tony opened a letter addressed to me the other day because he glanced at the envelope and saw his surname! Life hasn’t really changed though, not really, we just had a really wonderful day with almost everyone we love, to celebrate the fact that we chose to spend our lives together.

Here are some pictures taken by Henry Lowther, our very, very talented photographer.

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**What does this even mean?! Yes, swings and roundabouts, these are standard playground equipment, and you’re stating their names. If you’re trying to depict a scenario in which occurrences balance each other out, this is not it!

Breathless

It’s been a while since I posted. In all honesty this is because I haven’t had anything to say. Things have been going well. I’m nervous about saying that out loud, but they have. Therapy’s really helping. It’s forcing a lot of things to the surface that I don’t really want to face, but that’s part of the process I guess. Whatever it is, it’s helping. There are days when I don’t do so well, but there are more days than there used to be when I’m feeling good, and I definitely count that in the win column.

I haven’t had a drink now for almost two years. That habit appears to have stuck. Healthy eating though is a harder habit that continues to beat me into submission. My personal best is 3 months, which isn’t bad, but I’ve been at it now for over a year and I should be better at it than this.

What else has changed? Well, in December, on my birthday, Tony asked me to marry him. And I, obviously, said yes. I would love to spend this whole post talking about this, because he absolutely blew me away with his proposal, I’m not ashamed to say it was perfect, because it literally couldn’t have been better. I’m writing this post for a different reason though, so I’ll save that for another time. You see, the only part of being engaged that I’m not enjoying is the obligation to lose weight before the Big Day.

I would be the first person to tell any other overweight person not to let anyone tell them how to look on their wedding day, or on any other day of their life. I would remind them of the fact that the person who wants to marry them, wants to marry them specifically because of who they are and how they look. I would remind them that they don’t owe weight loss to anyone, that any person who tries to make them feel bad about themselves isn’t worth their time. I would wholeheartedly believe what I was saying too. Unfortunately though, I don’t extend the same courtesy to myself. I am a slim person who’s gone wrong along the way. I have made myself look terrible and I need to rectify it. The thought of looking back at my wedding photos and seeing a fat bride makes me literally want to cry. I’m not good at being kind to myself. I’m getting better, but I’m not there yet.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, I took out a class-only membership at the local gym. I’ve even been. Although only three times. I think I’ve been a member for about 5 weeks now though, so that’s better than I’ve ever done in the past.

I went to step class tonight. It’s the first time I’ve done a step class for about 15 years, but I thought I knew what to expect. The walk there was colder than I’d expected – I worked from home today so I wasn’t really aware of the temperature outside. I have asthma and the cold made it a little difficult to breathe, but I started to feel better when I got inside. The instructor was late, and all the usual class-goers were chatting and catching up with each other. I was very much the outsider. No one spoke to me, no one knew me, I wasn’t one of their group.

I took my ticket to the instructor and told her it was my first class. She looked at me doubtfully, sizing me up in all my plus-sized glory, and told me the class was not for beginners, that it was very fast. I said I’d be willing to give it a go, and she said I was very welcome. I followed everyone else, picked up my step and my mat, and my hand weights – for some reason – and went and got a place right at the back of the class, as far away from the mirror as I could possibly get.

She was right. It was FAST. I had no idea what the steps were, but I kept up as best I could. Very quickly though, too quickly, I was running out of breath. It wasn’t the exercise, it was the asthma. My chest was tight, I couldn’t take in enough breath but luckily I knew exactly where my inhalers were – one was at home in my handbag, and one was on my bedside table. I usually go to classes straight from work and so have my handbag with me, but not today. I had two options. I could stick it out until I passed out, or I could pick up my things, admit defeat and leave. Instead I chose to take a breather. Only 10 minutes into the class I went to sit in the foyer to see if I could get my breath back, and to call Tony to bring my inhaler, but he didn’t answer. I called 4 times but he didn’t answer. He’d said he might go for a swim, and that was probably where he was. With no other option I went back into the studio. I checked my gym bag in vain for the inhaler that I should have put in there, but of course it wasn’t there.

I made a half-arsed attempt to join back in. It didn’t help that they were now doing something so complicated that I couldn’t even tell there was a pattern. I hopped about a bit, eventually got into a rhythm, and quickly realised that my time was up. It was with an overwhelming sense of shame and defeat that I picked up my bag and my coat and left the studio. You see, I wasn’t an asthmatic woman leaving a class because she’d foolishly forgotten to bring her inhaler. I was a fat woman, easily the biggest one in the room, who couldn’t keep up with the class and was now so out of breath that she had to go home, only 20 minutes in.

Now, in truth, I don’t actually know what anyone else was thinking. They may have managed to read my mind and realise I was having breathing trouble, they may not have even noticed me. Unfortunately though, I’m not stupid. It is impossible not to notice me in a fitness studio. I am 6ft, very overweight and the only one wearing a dress because leggings and t-shirts aren’t built for my shape. I’m also the only one with bingo wings prolific enough to launch their own online gambling franchise. I feel as welcome as a hipster in a Yorkshire village pub. I know damned well what everyone thought – the looks were enough.

It took me half an hour to do the 10 minute walk home. By the time I got in I was wheezing so hard I felt faint. I was trying very hard not to panic and cry, and the humiliation was overshadowed only by my anger at myself.

Any normal person would have been able to look in the mirror, or at the scales, or at the fit of their clothes and see that they were not losing weight. They would see this lack of progress and recognise that this meant that they were not, in fact, making any progress. Not me though, oh no, not me. I see the fact that I’ve stopped climbing stairs and cycling to work, that I’ve once again started to let unhealthy food edge its way into my diet, and I think “Oh, look at me, I’m doing great!” Reality is not my strong suit. Nor is it my friend. In fact, I’m pretty sure it hates me.

Looking in that mirror at the over-sized, out of breath person that used to be me, I finally realised that I was not doing as well as I’d hoped. At the rate I was going I would not be the slim, toned bride I dreamed of being. No, I would forever look back on my wedding photos and curse myself for not trying harder. I have a chance to lose this weight, to improve my health and to make the actual me look like the past me that I still see in my head, the one I know is still in there, in time for the most important day of my life. If I don’t take it I’m going to resent myself for longer than I care to guess.

So, how is this a win? Well, it’s not. Not really. What it could be, however, is the kick up the arse I need to help me see the reality of my situation and start taking responsibility for changing it. I’m damned well going back to that class next week, WITH my inhaler, and I’m going to do the whole bloody thing. If only to find out what the hand weights were for.

Wish me luck, because I really, really need it.