The industry’s definition of a traditional bride is one who embraces the trappings of Bridezilla culture with enthusiasm, and her less enthusiastic counterpart is, understandably, a problem. When Vows magazine, a trade publication for wedding-dress retailers, featured an article on catering to the ‘non-traditional bride,’ it noted that such customers ‘don’t always make ‘good’ brides because they’re often uncomfortable starring in the role of ‘girl in a big white dress” and warned retailers that the nontraditional bride was dangerously apt to “forget the wedding and prepare for marriage.”
– Rebecca Mead, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding
Let’s be frank: it’s clear that the wedding industry does not have the best interest of society, marriage or the common good in mind: its only good is to persuade engaged couples, their families, and their guests to part with huge sums of money.
What part, then, do bridal magazines play in encouraging the development of this Bridezilla culture, in which wedding obsessions is mandated in all of newly engaged women? The message that the bridal magazines convey to their readers is that a wedding is a consumer rite of passage, in which the taking up of a new role in life is given material substance through the acquisition of products and services for both the wedding itself and for the marriage that is to follow.
– Rebecca Mead, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding
One of the more memorable sermons delivered in our college chapel while I was an undergrad suggested that men ought to get rid of their pornographic magazines and women should get rid of their bridal magazines. The speaker was a professor in the marriage & family therapy program at Bethel Seminary at the time, and she was not shy about equating many women’s use of bridal magazines with men’s use of pornographic material.
It was controversial, and is certainly not the argument that Mead makes here. But can a Christian come anywhere close to viewing a wedding as a “consumer rite of passage”? I suspect not.
Another quotation from Rebecca Mead, One Perfect Day, on the most important sales item for the wedding industry:
“The most significant thing that the wedding industry is selling is fantasy, about the wedding day itself and about the marriage that follows it. The foremost product peddled by the wedding industry is the notion that a wedding, if done right, will provide fulfillment of a hitherto unimagined degree, and will herald a similarly flawless marriage and a subsequent life of domestic contentment. From this perspective, naturally, doing a wedding right means doing it according to the wedding-industry playbook, with no expense spared and no bridal trifle uncoveted. If a bride buys into the wedding industry, she is promised the happily-ever-after that she, in her big white dress and tiara, deserves.
With the prevalence of both high levels of divorce and indebtedness in the United States today, it’s probably high time for someone to call the wedding industry on this massive falsehood. As a theologian, the self-centeredness, to the point of idolatry, of this statement is front and center.
In the first chapter of her book One Perfect Day, Rebecca Mead describes an event called “Wedding March on Madison”, in which Madison Avenue retailers invite brides-to-be to a weekend seminar which Peter K. Hunsinger, the then-president of the Conde Nast Bridal Group, promised would be an opportunity for a bride to “get her MBA in getting married”.
The audience members were certainly eager to learn from the editors of (the bridal magazine) Brides, and were full of questions. How far in advance should a bride start getting facials? As soon as she is engaged, said Denise O’Donoghue, the magazine’s beauty and jewelry director. “Just know that planning a wedding is going to be stressful, so take your fiance for a massage,” Donaghue advised. “You have to involve them in things that are fun for them. The thing to do is to enjoy your engagement period, so you have that glow.” Should a bride register for an engagement party as well as for the wedding? She should register for everything, said Donna Ferrari, the magazine’s tabletop, food and wine director. “Registering for gifts is one of the most indispensable tools in the entire wedding process,” said Ferrari. “It is a convenience and a courtesy to your guests. You can set up an account with a bank for a mortgage; you can register for sports equipment, for luggage, for tablewares. It lets you perpetuate old traditions, and create new ones. Start the registry process months ahead. Twirl those forks; bring swatches; have a clip book. A lot of people are going to say, ‘We don’t need all that stuff.’ You do.”
Aside from the fact that I’m grateful that my fiancee holds exactly none of these attitudes, I cannot help but think that there is very little here worthy of imitation by people who take their Christian spirituality seriously. The admonition of St. Paul, in I Corinthians 11, to avoid gorging oneself at the communion table while other people go hungry, comes to mind.
As for the last line, somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, a man named Wendell Berry writes novels and poems at a writing desk with a pen and paper, begging to differ with the idea that we need all of that stuff. Beyond the fact that it such over-and-above materialism helps us to commit ecological suicide, what does such love for material objects do to our love of this other person? What does it say that such a momentous self-giving as marriage is the occasion for such blatant, self-gratifying materialism?
Recently, Elizabeth and I have announced our engagement to our friends and family. On the advice of our priest’s wife (Thanks, Karen!), we have purchased a book by Rebecca Mead, a staff writer from The New Yorker, called One Perfect Day: The Selling
of the American Wedding. Initially, only Elizabeth was reading this book, but after hearing a number of money quotes early in her reading, I decided to read it as well. As with God is Red, I intend to post a number of passages from the book that are provocative here with brief comments over the next few days.
Mead explains her purpose for writing the book in reflecting on how quickly the term “bridezilla” was adopted by popular culture in the middle part of the last decade:
“But it seemed to me, as I witnessed the urgency with which the Bridezilla term was embraced, that there was more to the phenomenon than the identification of a particularly unpleasant breed of bride…Blaming the bride…wasn’t an adequate explanation for what seemed to be underlying the concept of Bridezilla: that weddings themselves were out of control, and that a sense of proportion had been lost, not just individually but by the culture at large.”