As I was watching Say Yes to the Dress (a show that I have hugely ambivalent feelings for) I had a bolt of clarity on why the Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC) is fundamentally flawed and dangerous. The problem is that the WIC skews how people negotiate personal identities.
Not an episode of Say Yes to the Dress can go by without someone uttering the phrase “feel like a bride.” In the mainstream wedding media, this is why people plan weddings, so you can have this day where you “feel like a bride.” It is a fleeting moment, just 24 hours long, that will never be replicated. Therein lies the key to the WIC fantasy: you will never get a chance to feel like a bride again so make the most of your wedding day. Since this is a one time thing, if you do it wrong, you never get a chance to do it right. Well, I want to call bullshit on that idea.
Weddings are overwhelming because they ask individuals to fulfill two identities simultaneously: the first identity is a bride and the second is a host.
Weddings are overwhelming because they ask individuals to fulfill two identities simultaneously: one identity is making an emotional and personal relationship transition, and the other identity is someone who is throwing an amazing celebration. To make it simple, the first identity is a bride (anyone who is getting married goes through the exact same thing regardless of what you call yourself, but for the sake of sticking to a theme, I'll just refer to this identity as a bride) and the second is a host. Because these roles are assumed simultaneously in modern weddings, people conflate them. Not just the wedding industry folk, but everyone — although I do blame the WIC for perpetuating this conflation.
The way I see it, the term bride is really a relationship moniker. It denotes a person who is getting married indicating a shift of relationship types from engaged or dating to married. This is a fairly universally acknowledged shift: dating/engaged is different from married. This means that people act differently in the two situations. This means that at the simplest level, being a bride is about your relationship. It refers only to your willingness to negotiate and change your relationship with someone else. So, to feel like a bride, you just have to feel like you are in this transition. There is absolutely nothing material about being a bride — there isn't even a time length. You can take as long as you want to transition. Most people will stop calling you a bride after the wedding, but you don't have to give up that transitional identity yet. In fact, this transitional identity may begin during the engagement as well. It all depends on how a person negotiates this change.
On the other hand, being a good host is about 75% material and 25% attitude. Someone can definitively be a good host or a bad host. There are some behaviors that make you a bad host. Did you promise dinner to all 150 guests but only ordered enough food for 30? That's a bad host. Did you ignore the comfort of your guests? That's a bad host. I don't think there is much disagreement on what makes a really bad host. As for being a good host, I think there is only one real rule and that only applies to attitude: a good host also enjoys the party. If a host is engaged with the party and the guests, the guests will probably feel more engaged. As long as that one aspect is taken care of, the party can take any form imaginable. There is no real template, except bad examples, of what to provide to make a good party. I think this is what all of us face when planning a wedding, having to imagine and produce a party that will make us feel like having fun and that will make a crowd of our friends have fun as well. This is an incredibly difficult and daunting task. No wonder weddings are gigantic balls of stress.
Within the wedding industry there is a confusing morass of egos, capitalism, and genuine desire to help. There are now specialists, i.e. vendors, on various aspects of wedding planning. Unfortunately, the way the majority of vendors advertise and sell their wares is as experts on how to be a bride and feel like a bride on your wedding day. I get why this shift happened: business people need to sell a package that people believe in and romantic weddings are things that people believe in. Unfortunately, too many wedding vendors now believe that they can tell you how to be bride. They fully believe their marketing BS.
I wish that more people paid attention to this bride/host divide. I do think that some wedding stress would be alleviated if vendors just talked about their usefulness in terms of their experience in how to throw a party, NOT on their experience in defining what it feels like to be a bride. This would take the pressure off of all of us to fit into an identity that has vague parameters but apparently still has a clear definition of how to be a bride or not. I think they would still be able to maintain their businesses, and in the end would make their jobs easier. After all, stressed out people are not that fun to work with.
Comments on Bride vs Host: the root of the bridentity crisis
Oh my gosh this chimes so closely to what I feel – though you’ve expressed it better and more succinctly than I ever could. I think that’s what I need, someone just to be practical, down-to-earth, and help me throw a good and well-organised party. Only then will I relax and see if I can start to “feel like a bride”. And another thing, it’s not helpful, when trying to feel bridal, to have someone continuously telling you to “FEEL LIKE A BRIDE! FEEL LIKE A BRIDE!” Nothing’ll make me feel LESS like one than that!
If I am getting married to my love on the day, I can damn well assure you that I will feel like a bride, regardless of whether I am in gorgeous silk duponi ballgown, or shorts, flip-flops and a tube top. I will feel like a bride because I will FEEL happy, elated, overjoyed and full of WIN at being able to start this new journey with the one person I believe is perfect for me. All the rest of the trappings that they try and push on me so I will “feel bridal” can get shoved directly up the WIC’s azz.
Yeah, I said it!
i think your my hero lol
Completely agree! I could not be more sick of the WIC selling me things to that are supposed to make me “feel like a bride.” And I hate the way it feeds into itself, well you spent this much on the dress so now you have to buy these shoes, and since you spent this much on the venue you have to by these centre pieces. And telling you things like “its only happens once” – lots of things only happen once, how does this necessitate dropping 30g’s?
And somehow if I don’t have those damn expensive centrepieces and flowers the day won’t be perfect and I won’t “feel like a bride.” That parts all me, my love/commitment is not contingent on elegant chair covers.
I can tell you as a woman who has a large amount of anxiety over just having more than 3 people visiting her house at once, the whole idea of hosting a huge party for EVERYONE WE KNOW actually makes me want to vomit a little with nerves. We havent even set a date yet, because I’m so worried that after all that planning and worrying and money spending, I wont be able to relax and enjoy myself anyways. I’ll be so consumed with worrying if my guests have had enough to eat/drink, if the DJ is entertaining enough, if everything is going to be cleaned up and returned on time, etc etc etc that I will forget what the party was for in the first place.
At this point, I am curled up in the corner with my hands over my ears screaming ‘I dont wanna, I dont wanna!! Leave me alone!!’ So damn you WIC…. you got to me. Well I’m not coming out and you can’t make me!
You sound like the perfect candidate for having someone ELSE plan your wedding! It can be done! It might just be amazing because you can totally relax and giggle to yourself as someone else does all the work, and still have a wonderful day where you get married and have an awesome party! Not sure who exactly is out there that could do it (I know my cousin told her mom to just plan the whole thing, and her mom was thrilled and it turned out great, but I feel like in general it’s too much work for someone who is just wanting to help out). Anyway, something to consider.
Personally, I’d kind of like to see an OBB post about having someone else throw a wedding/party than the bride/groom. I think this is a thing that should start happening.
Elopement is always an option. So is heading to the courthouse with the parents and dinner afterward at a nice restaurant 🙂
Seriously, no party is worth curling up in a corner having an anxiety attack.
Thank you for this, it’s such a struggle to overcome those feelings of measuring up to people’s expectations, while still remaining true to yourself. The whole wedding industry takes that and twists it so we feel we must do all these unnecessary things and if you aren’t strong enough, you can get swept away in it and ultimately it ruins your day because it will never live up to your expectations. Great advice to remind us to enjoy our day and not buy into all that wedding hype.
I totally agree! when did the rehearsal dinner become a small reception dinner in and of itself?
I kinda understand where they’re coming from with the whole “feel like a bride” thing, even though I usually chuckle at them. When I was having dress woes, nothing fit right, and I didn’t feel confident (or pretty, but confident is a better term because as I’ve heard before, “every bride is beautiful”). Even if it’s for that brief moment during the ceremony (when it comes to the reception, I’ll be in full-on host mode), I think I will “feel like a bride”, or whatever that means to me. When I went to DB’s, the consultant did that whole schtick (cause that’s what they’re trained to do) and I just smiled and said “honey, I’ve been with him 10 years and we’ve known we’d get married, the question was when”. I don’t think I’d feel like a bride as the WIC defines it, but I think I do feel like a bride, because to me, feeling like a bride doesn’t mean you feel like a princess (unless someone else is paying for, planning, and executing your perfect wedding…and that doesn’t happen very often), it means stressing about the little things that won’t really matter in the end, getting excited about the day, gushing to your friends about the silly details you’re doing, making decisions with your soon-to-be spouse, that kind of stuff. This is stuff I’ve felt and I honestly never thought I would if you had asked me a few years ago, or at the beginning of the engagement.
Is the whole “feel like a bride” thing silly? Hell yes. But yeah, for about 15 minutes, the world will stand still for me and him and and I’ll feel like a pretty sparkling bride and it’ll be great. And then when the reception starts, I’ll be regular t-shirt wearing me again, and that’ll be great, too.
Thanks for this post! I it touches upon a really practical issue as well: I just realised that’s a major reason for picking our vendor/venue. A good vendor knows how to be a host and helps you host your day, but will not butt in on how to fill it in or how it feels to be a bride.
Although I do watch “Say Yes to the Dress” (why is it so addicting for even non-girly women??), I do not base any of my wedding attitude off of that show. None of this, “OMG! This is my dress! I’m going to cry…” or “I don’t FEEL like a bride yet.” I’m getting married, dammit, that makes me a bride. I bought my dress on Etsy, tried it on and said, “Good enough! Now I need to reserve a bouncy house…”
…I now have new criteria for a venue: enough space for a bouncy house.
Trying to “feel like a bride” was TERRIBLE when doing dress shopping. Trying to feel like a very-pretty-Becky-in-a-little-white-dress was much better. Trying to “feel like a bride” when looking at catering menus and signature drinks and themes was terrible. Deciding on which self-catered dishes come from us and which come from dedicated friends is making me much happier. Most of our friends already consider us married, so planning a party is turning out to be WAAYYYYYY more fun. For me the day’s turning out to be about 80% party coordinator and 20% bride.
I can’t STAND that show. It perpetuates this Disney themed Happily Ever After in the perfect dress (starting at a mere $2,500) that the bride wears for half an hour before changing into her PARTY dress! Now I love Disney but I realized I was a grown woman and if I subscribe to this FEEL LIKE A BRIDE nonsense it encourages you to throw your budget to the wind and let your friends cater to your ever whim! It’s nothing but a sales pitch! Do you want the party or do you want a MARRIAGE! That is the real question. When you want a marriage then you realize it’s about managing a HUGE party not the unicorn fluffy cloud day of your dreams. BTW I really do love Disney and am going there for our honeymoon!
I couldn’t agree more with the hostess/bride dilemma, that’s why I have my sister in law be the unofficial hostess of the day, who controls that everything runs smoothly without me having to worry!
I’m a wedding photographer and was recently asked by a bride if she ‘had to’ have bridal preparation shots. I was quite shocked by the question. It is completely up to the bride what she wants to include in her day. I totally agree that people shouldn’t feel pressure to conform!
I too am incredibly ambivalent about “Say Yes to the Dress” although I feel like I keep watching it because it makes me remember what I DON’T want to be like. FANTASTIC blog! I have been planning my wedding (6 months to go!) and have totally been approaching it as a huge party that I am the host of. I’m not even sure what it means to be a bride but I know what it means to be a good host. I figure if I can create an environment where everyone is comfortable and has a wonderful time there will be nothing for me to worry about and I can experience whatever “bride-like” thing will happen to me that day. To be honest, I’m not expecting much. I love the man I’m marrying but I never thought we would get married. When we bought our house I went through all the emotions of being committed forever because we now own property. I know I’m going to be with him forever, now we’re just having a mondo party to celebrate that. Everyone tells me I’ll feel different, even my partner says he will, so we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m planning one bad-ass party and I’ll be the best damn host you ever saw. 🙂
This is a picture of me. How surreal.
Great article, too.
With all the comments about Say Yes to the Dress being very WIC / Disney princess-ie, I’d like to hear what people have to say about Bridezillas.
This post covered a lot of that discussion.
Hahaha-another show I watch in horror to remind me of what not to do. 🙂
This was a nice little article to read right now. My fiance and I have been really struggling with planning lately because we’re doing a no-alcohol, not-much-dancing affair with lunch instead of dinner and I in particular have been getting really stressed over “being a good host” and wanting people to enjoy the day. My mantra for the past six months or so has definitely been: “it’s just a party”. I don’t know if that’s been helpful or hindering, looking back …
One of our planning mantras has been “It’s just one day but it’s an important day. It’s an important day but it’s just one day.” It helps.
I did enjoy feeling like a princess on my wedding day (I looked SMASHING and it helped me be confident enough to get through everything.) I’m a shy, introvert, so feeling confident in how I looked/ what awesome wedding decisions I had made, made it all more bearable.
I think making enough of the right decisions beforehand (picking awesome music, selecting what appetizers and meals would be served, etc.) allowed me to just relax and be a bride (not a host) on the big day. I engaged with my guest but I wasn’t stressing about whether or not they liked everything. >>>I<<< liked it all (and so did my husband), and that was what mattered most anyway. Oh, and my shoes were fabulous, and that matters second-most. 😉
Bride and Host really do mean very different things. Fiance and I both had Jewish upbringings, but his was far more religious. Where I’m from, the bride & groom & families are hosts – they invite and provide food/entertainment/alcohol. Where he’s from, the guests have a religious imperative to celebrate with the bride & groom and as a guest, he does everything he can to give them the best party possible, whether it’s dancing like crazy, getting the groom water when he gets thirsty from all that dancing, moving chairs and tables after the ceremony to set up the room for the reception, even going to a late night wedding on a weeknight when he has work the next day etc. My parents’ concept of a wedding was just so different from my fiance’s, and I think it was largely due to the confusion of the bride/groom and host roles.
I think we’ll find ourselves in some hybrid of both mindsets. Provide enough for our guests so they feel welcomed, fed, and entertained, but allow enough room for them to provide the celebration for us as bride & groom.
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