The expectations built up around weddings seem to get more intense with every passing year. Most brides-to-be are under enormous pressure to make the day as perfect as humanly possible, and when they crack under the unbearable weight, we laugh and call them “bridezillas,” a special kind of gendered insult that both dismisses the real stress such women are under and mocks their overwhelming need for the flowers to be the precise correct shade of aubergine, or whatever.
It’s always struck me that planning a large traditional wedding is sort of like filming a movie -- it doesn’t matter what goes on behind the scenes, any sacrifice is worth it so long as the resulting pageant appears superficially perfect, such that newly married wives can look back on it for the rest of their lives with only the best moments documented. And, of course, to remember the one day they felt the most perfectly beautiful ever.
This is what is supposed to happen, anyway -- how often it all works out that way is a mystery to me.
I don’t remember when I got engaged. I know that’s a strange thing to admit, but I don’t. The idea of marriage just sort of evolved in my relationship with my eventual husband, growing like a persistent weed, albeit a pleasant sort of weed, like a dandelion. I don’t even remember announcing it to our families. I would have called my folks -- individually -- and said, “Hey, so I’m probably gonna get married, I guess,” and that would have been that.
We were engaged for what seemed like a long time; a couple of years, I think. Every time I began planning a small family wedding, my would-be husband had strong opinions about venue, cuisine, and so forth. Whereas I just wanted to find a vaguely interesting place to get it done.
Eventually I realized I simply didn’t care enough to come to a consensus about these issues. I realized, with enormous relief, that I did not give even a fraction of a fuck about having a wedding, and that I could just accept that about myself and not feel guilty about it.
So, on August 1, 2003, my husband and I got married on a rainy, warm and impossibly humid day at our local city hall, where we climbed the stairs with the JP to the old city council chamber. The vast room was furnished with rows of dark wood benches, and had vaguely art-nouveau-ish stained glass windows along the wall facing over the main street of the town.
The space was strangely silent without anyone else in it. I recall thinking it felt churchlike, not that I had any desire to be married in a church. Old buildings feel like that sometimes, and this building was constructed at the very end of the 19th century, with seemingly little done to improve it since. For example, it lacked air conditioning, and in the closed-up chamber it was so muggy and oppressive that the air itself felt heavy on my skin.
The JP handed us papers with the vows on them, photocopies of what was evidently a very old and spotty typewritten original. We had a really hard time getting through the vows without crying, my husband and I. Given my blasé feelings about marriage up until that point, this reaction surprised me. Who knew this would be so emotional, dang!
One picture exists from that day, taken on a crap digital camera I happened to have in my bag. In it, my husband and I are smiling happily, but we’re also both obviously drenched in sweat from the overbearing heat. It’s not a great picture, of either of us, and the only known copy is currently in my father’s possession. If it were lost forever tomorrow, I wouldn’t really mourn. My own memories of the experience are sharper and more vivid than any photograph could have been.
That picture really only serves to remind me of what I wore, which was nothing special. It doesn’t capture the feelings I felt, or the experience as I remember it. It just shows me what I was wearing. Which, in the end, is all wedding photos really do -- they capture the visual moment, often at the expense of the experience of that moment as it actually happens.
My adventure in city hall marriage is the extreme opposite from what the majority of women expect -- or are expected to expect -- on their wedding day. For many women, the photos are everything. Indeed, to listen to some brides talk, the success of the photos is as important as the day itself being a good time, if not more so.
Over at the Daily Mail, there’s a bit of manufactured handwringing going on over the increased practice of something called “bridalplasty,” which sounds like it should be a procedure in which women are having their inner brides removed, but in truth is just a clever media term for when women use impending weddings as an excuse to get plastic surgery. And it’s not just quick-fix procedures like Botox, either.
One recent survey revealed that 10 per cent of brides now undergo surgery or injections of Botox and fillers before their weddings.[...] ‘We have seen a 13 per cent rise year-on-year in bookings for pre-wedding surgical treatments,’ says Riccardo Frati, consultant plastic surgeon at the Harley Medical Group, adding that the most popular techniques are liposuction and breast augmentation.
For Alice, feeling confident that her wedding photos would be faultless meant her nose job — or rhinoplasty — was worth every penny. ‘As I posed for photo after photo, feeling relaxed and happy, I knew the surgery had been vital to my confidence,’ she says. [...] ‘The problem with a less than perfect nose is there’s nothing you can do to conceal it,’ she says. ‘You can pad out small breasts. You can dress to conceal excess weight, but you just have to live with your nose — or have it fixed. I couldn’t face spending my big day stressing about how the pictures would turn out.’
Really, this seems like an inevitable extension of all the bridal weight-loss pressure that’s been around for decades. It's not that big a deal, and articles like this just further pathologize the obsessive-to-the-point-of-madness bridezilla caricature. Lots of people will use a big event as an excuse to buy a new dress or pair of shoes, and this just seems like a slightly more invasive alternative.
What fascinates me most about the individual brides’ stories in this Daily Mail piece, as well as other such narratives I’ve been noticing for awhile now, is the overwhelming fear of bad wedding photos. Most of the women quoted cite the inevitable wedding photography as their primary motivator -- the fear that they will be forced to look upon unflattering renditions of themselves for the rest of their married lives, as though those pictures represent some kind of objective truth.
The other big keyword in these narratives is “confidence” -- altered brides are all about feeling confident on their wedding day. A bit of surgery now can evidently save some women a lot of camera-related stress at the main event, or at least that's what the doctors selling these procedures would like them to believe.
One surgeon in the Daily Mail article suggests that most of his bridal patients are coming in to address physical “problems” they’ve had their whole lives, and that the wedding -- with all of its emphasis on achieving perfection in every detail, from the reception-dinner centerpieces to the bride’s bust line -- is giving them a justifiable impetus to address them. More than one bride talks about finding the “perfect dress” first and then having the surgery to do the clothing justice.
I’m not into plastic surgery for myself -- and I prefer more therapeutic means of dealing with a camera phobia -- but I am also not about to tell anyone what they ought to do with their body. To the brides of the world pondering this sort of thing, if you want plastic surgery, that’s your deal and I respect your right to do it.
Because I’m sort of annoying, though, I would also warn against the inclination to adjust a body to fit a dress and not the other way around. The dress doesn’t rule you, and the dress is not a magical garment that will render you temporarily amazing. Odds are good you are already amazing, and the person you’re marrying knows that. A gorgeous dress can amplify your amazingness, but it can’t create it out of whole cloth. Neither can a surgeon. Neither, really, can a diet.