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.
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?
"Stanley the Manley"
I’m not typically one to like much from Relevant magazine, but Tim Keller has a nice article here about marriage and Christians that includes this infamous – and spot on – paragraph from Stanley Hauerwas.
“Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”