"I like to remind myself periodically that, just like every bride on the show, I am beautiful, and I am enough."Rachel Imrie for Varsity

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of mental health in relation body image and briefly mentions suicide and self-harm.

It’s not often that a TV show can have a significant impact on your life, especially when it’s reality TV. Nevertheless, one did – the show Say Yes to the Dress where brides-to-be try on different wedding dresses in front of their family and friends and squabble over tulle and train, lace and length, beading and embroidery. It sounds ridiculous, but after one episode I was hooked. I could hardly have imagined the impact it would have on my self-perception.

I began to watch it religiously, never missing an episode. It was the closest thing I’ve ever had to an addiction. I’ve always found it difficult to relax, so my mum was pleased and relieved that I’d found something where I could switch off.

“I began to compare myself to the brides and thought: if they’re considered ugly, I’m disgusting.”

Yet, the dramatic appeal of the show – watching women bitch about dresses – came at a cost. Intermingled with shots of glittering bridal gowns and veils are appalling remarks made by the bride’s entourage about her body, her choice of dresses, and her general appearance. The sight of a bride crying miserably in the changing room, her confidence shattered, is both frequent and hard to forget.

In reality, it turns out that I never really switched off at all. My analytical, overactive brain was soaking up the show’s negativity, and I started to look at myself more critically. I began to compare myself to the brides and thought: if they’re considered ugly, I’m disgusting. This reopened old wounds and an avalanche of painful memories came flooding back. How I’d needed something to “suck me in” so that I could wear my prom dress (a comment made by a family member), and “fat bitch” shouted by a man as he’d driven past me, his friends laughing.

I became deeply unhappy and I would cry myself to sleep each night, wrapped up in self-loathing, but never understanding why I felt so low. It became a vicious cycle – if I felt sad I’d watch Say Yes to cheer myself up, only to find that soon enough I felt down again.

This unhappiness lasted for two years. I tried cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling sessions, neither of which worked. At several points I was suicidal. On Christmas Day, I had a breakdown and was taken to A&E. I spent the holiday period moping, unable to bring myself to do anything. It was only when my mum asked me if I wanted to watch Say Yes that something clicked, and I replied: “No, I don’t want to. It’s not good for my mental health at the moment.”

“Now, I say yes – not to the dress, but to loving myself.”

Her question triggered a monumental shift. Before that point, I had never been able to pinpoint that it was Say Yes that was negatively affecting my body image and mental health. From then on, my engagement with media became a choice. I became aware of the comparison trap, and worked to avoid it as much as possible by limiting my time on social media and spending more time in the real world.


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I made decisions by asking myself if it would make me happy, and I talked to my friends and family about how I was feeling. I learned to evaluate daily the state of my mental health and recognise when it was good for me to consume certain types of content. I still use these practices today and I would recommend them to anyone.

It was a hard-fought struggle, but I am now able to enjoy Say Yes again. I love to see the moment on a bride’s face when she finds her dream dress, and I adore the consultants – my favourite of course being the inimitable Monte Durham from the Atlanta cast (if you’ve watched it, you’ll know why!)

What’s different this time is that I know not to watch Say Yes if I’m not in the right mental space that day. I also like to remind myself periodically that, just like every bride on the show, I am beautiful, and I am enough.

Now, I say yes – not to the dress, but to loving myself.

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