The headlines are everywhere: "5 Easy Ways to Slim Down Before Your Wedding"; "The Buff Bride's Handbook"; "The Wedding Detox Diet"; and as wedding budgets continue to rise, so do extreme pressures to make "the big day" perfect. Everything from prescription pills to hormone injections to, yes, even feeding tubes were detailed in a 2012 New York Times article exploring the mounting pressures on brides to slim down, no matter what the cost.
All that is to say, the bridal industry has been in desperate need of Lindy West. Maybe you know her from her turn as the bitingly funny film critic for Jezebel—just try to make it through her recap of "The Notebook" without snort-laughing—or her recent appearance on "This American Life" where she called up her most vicious internet troll. If you're just hearing her name for the first time today, here's the stuff you should know: Lindy is an award-winning writer and journalist and comedian, hard at work on her first memoir: "Shrill," out spring 2016. Basically, she's smart, she's insightful, and she's hilarious. She's also fat.
She has been using that word to describe herself and her experiences for years, everything from "Hello, I Am Fat" to "What It Feels Like To Be A Fat Person On A Plane," and now, in her latest column for The Guardian, what it feels like to be a fat bride–and a deliriously happy one, at that.
We were so thrilled to catch up with Lindy and get this exclusive look at the process of creating her custom-made, one-of-a-kind bridal gown alongside collaborator and friend Mark Mitchell, and how her style evolved from Barbie's Peaches and Cream to Gaultier to, finally, her own unique and perfect dress, tailor-made to celebrate feeling incredible in your own skin.
MTV: Hi, Lindy! Thank you so much for talking with us. When you were a kid, did you ever try to picture what your hypothetical wedding might look like?
Lindy West: As a big, ungainly, outsider-ish kid, when I thought about marriage it was mostly about the relationship aspect of it, more than the wedding itself. I remember being really excited to find someone who just thought I was the best. And I'd think they were the best, and then we'd be best friends and live in a house together and build a family as fun as my family was. It was very chaste (of course) and idealistic, because the narrative for girls is that you just hang around and wait to be "chosen" and then you belong to somebody and you live happily ever after. There isn't room for more nuanced concerns about the creepy proprietary nature of that relationship model, or the breadth of what fulfillment really means for women. But that's what society fed me, so that's what I thought I wanted. As I got a little older and realized where my body placed me in the social hierarchy (i.e. low), this sickening feeling crept in. I realized that that story might not apply to me—I wasn't the kind of girl that boys chose (honestly, I often didn't feel like I qualified as a girl at all)—and for a while, especially during late high school and early college, I felt really resentful, like I'd been sold a false bill of goods. Not having access to any alternative narratives, I assumed I'd be alone and unwanted forever.
Of course, now, after a decade or two of growing into myself, that's not what I would want even if I was a conventionally attractive, thin woman. And the relationship I have now, which is built on deep mutual respect and admiration rather than externally imposed beauty standards, owes a lot to the perspective I gained from that process of disillusionment. Finding someone who truly complements and enhances your whole self is so much more fulfilling than scrambling to own or be owned by the "hottest" person who will have you. Aham [my husband] and I are a f-----g power couple, and it's so much better than anything I could have imagined, as a kid, under that old paradigm.
Oh, but to answer your original question, my childhood dream wedding dress was Peaches and Cream Barbie's ballgown. In fact, I kind of wish I'd thought of that a year ago when we started planning my dress. Goddamnit.
MTV: Bridal fashion can be overwhelming. There's such a huge culture surrounding "The Dress"—entire reality shows are dedicated to finding the perfect (and often expensive) garment. Was it challenging to navigate that intersection between "plus-size fashion" and "bridal fashion"?
Lindy West: My relationship with brick-and-mortar shopping is, in general, unpleasant. I can't remember a time in my life when I could go to a physical store and find a variety of things in my size that excited me and fit my personal style. As a plus-size shopper at a typical mall, you're limited to at most five stores out of maybe 50 clothing retailers. That leaves us with very few options and, for people on a tight budget, pretty much no chance of comparison shopping. You take what you can get. At the other end of the spectrum, plus-size investment pieces are almost nonexistent. I remember trying to buy something to wear for a last-minute national TV appearance and I literally could not find a high-quality, on-trend dress in my size anywhere in my city. I ended up wearing a dress from JC Penney, which was great (love you, JCP!), but I was ready to spend some money. Fat people are saying to clothing companies, "TAKE OUR MONEY," and most of them are telling us to screw off. It's an extremely insulting message. Online shopping is much better, but it's still a relatively tiny world, and if you need something specific at the last minute, you're out of luck.
So anyway, when it came to my wedding dress, honestly, it never even crossed my mind to look for one at a traditional bridal shop. I think my mom was a little disappointed that we didn't get to go through that ritual, but even the idea of it gave me flashbacks of crying in dressing rooms as a teen. I would have made an exception for Randy from "Say Yes to the Dress," though, OBVIOUSLY, as he is a human sunbeam who really really does always know best.
MTV: Did you ever consider purchasing your dress in a store versus having it custom-designed?
Lindy West: I didn't really get the chance—Mark was badgering me about making my wedding dress before I was even engaged! Seriously, I think he was badgering Aham to propose at least a year before we'd even considered it.
MTV: Tell us about your friendship with Mark Mitchell—is this the project where you met, or had you known him before? How did you know that he was the right artist for the job?
Lindy West: I can't remember when I first met Mark, but it was at least 5 years ago, maybe 7 or 8? We ran in some of the same artsy/literary circles in Seattle, which is a pretty small town anyway. It's easy to feel like you know everyone. Mark made my maid-of-honor dress for my best friend's wedding in 2010, which was the first time I'd ever had a garment custom made for me, and if I remember correctly, the first time he'd ever made something for my body type. It was this crazy metallic brocade party dress, and I loved it. Mark also made wedding gowns for a couple of my close friends, so I knew he could deliver something original and exquisite. To get an idea of the scope of Mark's vision and talent, you should look up his "Burial" project—for the past few years he's been making hand-sewn clothing for the dead. It's stunning.
MTV: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the dress?
Lindy West: I've been obsessed with this 2006 Gaultier gown for years, and when I got engaged it just clicked—that's what I want my wedding dress to be like. Not a replica, but in the same spirit: loud, vibrant, aggressive, almost too much. I'm a big person with a big presence, and it just didn't make sense to wear something conservative and quiet. I also don't give a s--t about traditional weddings, so I had no incentive to wear a standard white gown. When I showed Mark a picture of the Gaultier dress, he said, "That is f-----g gorgeous and insane. I will make the hell out of that for you."
The dress went through a ton of changes over the course of the past year: Originally, the body of the dress—the tulle—was going to be a super pale seafoam green instead of that beige, and all the flowers were going to be vintage and collected from antique shops and eBay. I also briefly considered changing it to a knee-length '50s circle-skirt thing, because, fat women are supposed to hide our stomachs at all cost, but that only lasted about 12 seconds. I think I mentioned it to Mark and he swatted me down instantly. When it came time to buy the green tulle, though, the color was underwhelming, so we went with this beautiful champagne color instead. Mark ended up making all the silk flowers by hand—the wisteria is the best—and he had them cascade in a gorgeous curve from shoulder to hip to knee, rather than in a single column down the center. I think the final product, though clearly inspired by the Gaultier gown, is a little brighter, a little more light-hearted than the original. It's perfect, especially for an outdoor summer wedding.
[Ed. note: We asked Mark to comment on his side of the story of the dress, and on the subject of the fake flowers, he had only this to say: "They are made of real silk, and shaped with old-fashioned flower irons, which are deadly-hot but really glamorous, in an 1890s arsenic poisoning kind of way." YAAASSS.]
MTV: How did it feel, the first time that you put your dress on?
Lindy West: F-----g fantastic. Flawless. Powerful.
MTV: Any last-minute dress emergencies, or did the day go off as planned?
Lindy West: To make sure my bra wouldn't show, Mark actually sewed the gown to the bra. So my main concern was not being able to go to the bathroom without getting completely nude. Luckily, it turns out I am the American Ninja Warrior of not peeing, so I managed to hold it for ten entire hours, and at that point it was time to change into my late-night party caftan anyway. That's probably not good for you, by the way. Don't do it, but I do deserve praise. Thank you.
MTV: You make the point in your Guardian piece that there is almost never a narrative of a fat bride, allowed to be publicly happy. Thanks for shooting that stereotype down! Any words of wisdom for plus-size women who look to you as inspiration?
Lindy West: Just live! Live now! Don't wait, and don't let anyone tell you that you're a work in progress.