The average-size woman in the United States is a 14, but you wouldn't know it by today's wafer-thin celebrities. Keira Knightley, Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham flaunt their bony frames, compelling curvy women to second-guess their hourglass shapes. Despite the scrutiny given to stick-figure stars about health concerns, the road to negative body image and anorexia is paved with thin-spirational glamour girls.
Luckily, enough women are grounded in reality and confident in their curves that full-figured brides are cause for celebration -- not starvation.
For most brides-to-be, the pursuit of the dress is the shopping spree of a lifetime. Full-figured women with confidence and self-esteem won't allow Hollywood's skeletal star system of skinny chic to compromise the thrill of finding the perfect gown.
"Not everyone is a size 2," said Lila Mester, a store manager with David's Bridal, where size is not an issue. "We accommodate everyone."
Despite itsy-bitsy star sizes, designers are beginning to take notice that double digits are big business.
Chamein Canton, author of "Down That Aisle in Style! A Wedding Guide for Full-Figured Women," said that designer Vera Wang is a good barometer of full-figured acceptance. "She was a litmus test for me, because for the longest time, she didn't have anything, and then she went to a 14, and the next thing I know, she was going up to a 20," Canton said.
Michael Shettel, head designer for Alfred Angelo, crafts bridal gowns with "real" figures in mind, incorporating flattering, contemporary silhouettes, such as A-lines, corseted styles, empire and dropped waists to enhance the bride's most dazzling features.
"We focus on fit and structure in the gowns to provide support and comfort to brides of all sizes," Shettel said. "No matter what size or shape her body, a bride deserves to wear the most stunning wedding dress she can find."
The bridal business is beginning to acknowledge all body types, and more shops are carrying realistic-sized gowns and in-store samples. Mester of David's Bridal has heard full-figured brides complain about stores with small-size samples, preventing some women from gauging how the style will look on them. One woman said to Mester: "Here I can zip up!"
Regardless of size, be prepared: The numbers lie. "If you're a 10 in pants, you'll be a 12 or 14 in gowns," Mester said. "It goes up about two sizes in bridal shops."
Designer Liz Claiborne has actually changed her sizes. "If it was a size 4, she's changed it to a size 6," Mester said. "We're so hung up on the number. I tell people, don't look at the number, it's cut differently."
Canton knows the numbers game. "It's amazing," she said, "but when you throw the numbers out and dress for your body shape, a new world of stylish fashion opportunities and confidence opens right up. Embrace it."
Today's full-figured bride harks back to the glamour of Hollywood's golden era. In the days of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Elizabeth Taylor, the ideal woman was a shapely siren. But the sexiness of Sophia Loren segued to the Twiggy trend in the late 1960s. At the same time, the big couture movement began and top designers started catering to small sizes. Eventually, people began to idealize tiny 2s and slim 6s.
Now the pendulum is swinging back in bridal designs. "We have a lot of smaller indie companies ... that are really accommodating full-sized people," Mester said. "Look at Michael Kors. He added two sizes to his line two or three years ago, 12 and 14. BCBG did the same thing."
Although women are faced with images of thin brides in magazines, Canton assures full-figured brides, "Relax and enjoy being engaged and planning your wedding. Unless you're going into an arranged marriage and your betrothed has never seen you before, he loves you just the way you are. Revel in it."
Paula Ganzi Licata is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Newsday and national bridal magazines. She lives and writes in New York City.
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