Thursday, September 18, 2008

I just read an article in the New York Times about 'party peer pressure'. I found this really interesting, because it's about the way we think about 'events' and how we plan them. Coming-of-age events like bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceaƱeras and 16th/18th/21st birthday parties are becoming frighteningly elaborate. The author of the article blames her tension over her son's bar mitzvah over "tension between following custom and putting one’s stamp of individuality on the affair" and her desire, "subtly, of course... to outshine everyone else." But I think there's more to it than that, and it's captured in this quote from a doctoral student:

Patricia Arend, one of Professor Schor’s students, is writing her doctoral dissertation on women’s fantasies about weddings and how consumer desire works. One reason for the high cost (the national average is $28,704, according to the Wedding Report, a research firm Web site), she said, is that “the wedding industry has been extremely successful in inserting shopping into the wedding ritual.”

For example, for some, making an outing of looking for a wedding dress is now as much a part of the tradition as the engagement ring and bridal shower. Women will go to a high-end wedding boutique with their mothers and friends to try on dresses, with the intention of buying a less expensive one somewhere else, Ms. Arend said.

“But then you try on a really nice dress with the fine material and craftsmanship,” she said. “and the salespeople say, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to spend this for the most important day of your life?’ ” And suddenly the bride is paying two or three times more for a dress than she intended to.

“As more and more of these things become normalized, it’s harder to resist them,” she said.

These events, which exist because they mark and celebrate important moments in life, are strange and difficult to plan because they are once-in-a-lifetime events. (Hopefully.) People don't want to 'get it wrong', but unfortunately the people they turn to are the people who make their living feeding off this anxiety. So we hear things like, "It's worth it to make your day perfect!" and "You'll regret it if you don't splash out!"

Of course, I don't think that everyone who makes their money from weddings is awful. People want pretty dresses and shoes and suits and flowers, and it's fine that someone provides that. But there is a whole industry devoted to making you feel utterly inadequate. It amazes me that there is even one wedding magazine, let alone hundreds. Seriously, is the world of weddings so fast-paced? Are we making constant strides in napkin technology? No, those magazines exist to make money but selling advertising space, and so it is in their best interests to expand the influence of the Wedding over every part of your life. Forget ordering a cake and buying cute shoes: you should be getting regular facial scrubs at the skin-care clinic for the six months leading up to the wedding! Experimenting with different kinds of self-tanners! Investigating different make-up looks! Don't talk to your partner about which kind of cake you like best: these are the hottest cakes right now! These are the colours you should use! ARGH!

This post has turned into a rant and I'm not sure where I started. Oh yeah, anxiety!

I have noticed that many women on wedding forums ask questions about tradition. Can we have a chocolate cake instead of a white one, or do we have to have both? How much of our budget should we spend on flowers? Since I don't particularly want to set myself up as yet another authority, I want to stress that this is my opinion. (But seriously, I am right and everyone else is wrong.)

Your wedding consists of two parts: a ceremony, where you marry your partner, and then a reception, which is a party to celebrate this. In neither of these do you have to have any particular traditions, except those required by law. There is no "right" way to have a wedding: there are only things that seem right/fun/meaningful to you, and things that don't.

For example, I am going to ask my dad to walk me up the aisle. Yeah, I know it's a tradition rooted in patriarchy. I don't really care. It means something to me that my dad will have a special part in my wedding. My mum will be a big part of the preparations with me; I want him to be involved, too.

I won't be having my wedding in a church, because that has no meaning for me. I won't be wearing a veil over my face, because that doesn't seem like much fun. We won't fill the house with flowers, because it's not important to us. We won't be doing a first dance, because we can't imagine anything more excruciatingly awkward.

Don't listen to people who tell you that you "need" their product or service for your wedding. And don't think that because this is a momentous, sacred, beautiful occasion that you can't say, "Nah, I don't want to pay that."

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Good morning! I would like to recommend to you--it's full of couples who are, well, offbeat, and full of inspirational ideas for weddings on the cheap, without looking cheap.

I hope you enjoy the site, and send you best wishes for your upcoming wedding.