Of Love, Insanity, and Large Amounts of Money

I love looking through bridal magazines with my teenage daughters, but not for the reasons the editors suppose. We have two of these magazines in the house and go through them every few months for a gut-busting, endorphin-inducing laugh fest. These magazines are fun the way a Brendan Fraser mummy movie is fun, only the makers of the mummy movie don’t expect you to take it seriously.

Since our kids were small, Greg and I have worked to make them aware of marketing ploys. They have a healthy cynicism toward advertising in general, and most magazines are more ads than articles. Magazine editors know which side their proverbial bread is buttered on, and they don’t print articles that will hurt their advertisers. Ads and articles work together to create a construct of an artificial universe, as detailed and bizarre as you’d find in a fantasy novel.

Judging from the pages of bridal magazines, marketing professionals operate under the assumption that most American women are criminally insane.

Witness the postures and facial expressions of models in bridal gown ads—hips outthrust, heads tilted at defiant angles, elbows pushed forward to articulate the toned deltoids , eyes narrowed in hostility, upper lips curled in Billy Idol sneers.

The brides aren’t the only ones with thinly veiled violent impulses. In one ad, a bride is flanked by two bridesmaids in red who look past her at each other, clearly plotting to kill her. (Judging by the look on her face, she deserves it.) And watch out for the mother of the bride! She is typically thirty years of age, with the body of a dedicated athlete and risqué taste in clothing. If I’m reading her face right, she’s planning to poison the bridal party and snag the groom.

Each magazine has a couple of ads devoted to the tuxedo-wearing members of the wedding party. The groom might as well have a dialogue bubble coming out of his mouth, proclaiming, “I’m whupped.” You have only to look at his vapid countenance to know he’s handed over his manhood on a doily-lined platter.

In ads that aren’t pushing tuxedos, men are used as props. One memorable ad featured an individual my girls now refer to as the Nude Dude. A bride in an elaborate gown stands high on a metal staircase, while a naked man, presumably the groom, ascends the steps. Most of him is in shadow, but one side of bare rear is plainly visible. She looks down on him from her superior elevation with a look of…I don’t know what. Hostility, maybe, or aggressive narcissism. Just what chain of events is supposed to have led to this scenario? And just what are the advertisers trying to sell? I don’t remember what product was being pitched, and there’s no way to find out, because Emilie long ago removed this shocking image from her magazine and put it in the trash can where it belonged.

Anna likes to make up captions for the photos. “Who needs the groom? I have my reflection to look at!” “Still not recovered from the bachelorette party…” “I guess we had to have a brunette in here somewhere!” “You want me to walk down that aisle? Over my dead body.” “Can we get a chiropractor over here?” “Forget the wedding…I’m on a Quest for Self.” “If that photo goes on Facebook, you’re dead. Then I’m defriending you.”

The photo features are softer and gentler than the ads; the women shown here are not so much criminally insane as just plain insane. One of our favorites is a montage set outdoors. A waiflike, ethereal blonde bride and two blonde flower girls traipse through pastoral settings in a series of frothy, dainty gowns, accompanied by a retinue of farm animals. Anyone at all familiar with livestock and pasture grass knows how crazy this is, but since when has reality gotten in the way of a photo feature? In one shot, the bride, who appears to have popped too many Valiums, holds a little lamb in the lap of a $3,990 ecru floral lace dress. The fluffy-haired flower girl, obviously a vampire child, casts a sardonic sidelong glance as if she knows what the lamb is about to do to the dress. In another, the bride reclines in a meadow, wearing an ivory strapless gown with flocked tulle skirt ($1,650), an ivory waist cincher ($385), and a headpiece that appears to be made of meringue ($345); she carries an ivory fan ($235). I cringe at the thought of what the grass seed heads will do to the transparent netted lace of the skirt.

The Q and A columns are fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way. The questions betray an appalling lack of empathy and sense. “I want to go to Las Vegas for my bachelorette party, but my bridesmaids say they can’t afford it,” says one questioner. “How do I get them to change their minds?” Another says, “My mom is a recovering alcoholic. Since she and my dad are paying for the wedding, they are insisting that the reception be alcohol-free. I think that would be unfair to our guests. How can I get around this?” Could the writers be making up the questions? One can only hope.

During a recent run-through of bride magazines, Emilie was particularly aghast at an article on how to make your fiancé give up his tacky décor and furnishings. The substance of Emilie’s impassioned response: How about if we assume men have something like “feelings” and respect them as fellow human beings rather than treating them as pawns in our little game? How about if you remember it’s his home too?

This is a radical concept for most modern brides, who’ve had it drilled into them lifelong that men are there for nagging and remaking. Most relationship advice found in print media boils down to instructions for how to disguise your nagging and make it more effective. It really chaps my hide…but that’s a subject for another blog post.

A typical American wedding costs more than my Suburban did when it was new. Marketers know that weddings are hotbeds of performance anxiety, unarticulated expectations, primal impulses, unresolved family conflict, and body image malaise; they prey on our insecurities as parents, providers, lovers. My own girls are feisty and smart; they see men as rational creatures, not fashion accessories, and show admirable resistance to blind consumerism. A few of the saner magazine images have found their way to Emilie’s bedroom wall—and that’s fine. I’m confident in my daughters’ ability to keep their wits about them and choose wisely when their time comes.

4 comments on “Of Love, Insanity, and Large Amounts of Money

  1. tc says:

    Have you not heard of the “Trash the Dress” trend? Google it.

    Speaking of one whose toe was recently dipped in the expansive, expensive pool that is Wedding Planning, you’ll be shocked – when your girls are betrothed – at the cost of everything involved in a wedding. Unless you get married at your home, with a reception of just Oreos and punch, the bottom line can quickly exceed $5000. I personally know one mom who works full-time not because their regular family expenses require it, but because she feels the need to save at least $30,000 per daughter (they have 3) for their future weddings. It’s incredible, and sad, how the wedding industry and our culture have affected the thinking of normally sane people.

    The thing that cracks me up about wedding gown magazine photos is the hair. Some of those girls look like they combed their hair with a tree branch.

    And if your girls really want a laugh, I’ll show them the wedding magazines from 1986, when I got married. I’m not sure what was bigger, the dresses or the hair.

  2. tc says:

    I meant, “Speaking AS one….”

  3. mountainlaurel says:

    I’ve seen some of the tree-branch hair, usually accompanying the more avant-garde dresses. The pics look like cover art for some bizarre angsty urban fantasy novel. How cool that you’ve saved some mags from the eighties! Those would definitely be worth a look.

    Just think what $30,000 could mean in the life of a frugal young couple! They could make a down payment on a house right away and be well fixed for a debt-free life of genuine prosperity. I noticed one of Emilie’s mags referred to $10,000 as a “modest” budget. Good grief!

    There is a nice place in Luling, the Zedler Mill, that you can rent for weddings. It has old restored historical buildings plus a modern building that’s harmonious with the old stuff. There’s an amphitheater in front of the water with enough seating for what I would consider a reasonable guest list. I like the idea of having the wedding and reception in the same location. The whole beautiful facility rents for $1000 a day. I hope the price stays that low for the next several years! http://www.zedlermill.com/

    My friend Judy had a gorgeous small wedding. She made her own dress of white polished cotton and made the groom’s vest (the scraps later ended up in a quilt). Bridesmaids’ dresses were off-the-rack cotton chintz from Laura Ashley (back when Laura Ashley did cotton chintz). The whole thing was lovelier by far than many an overblown, ostentatious affair I’d attended before or since.

  4. tc says:

    Yes, the $10,000 figure is frequently quoted as a starting point figure. $5000 is mentioned only by people who have DIY weddings – those who make their own wedding attire, buy dishes from Goodwill to use at the reception, and serve cocktail weenie platters from Sam’s club. If we didn’t live in hotter-than-Hell, tornado-alley Texas, I’d tell my girls to get married in a field. (Well, not one of ours, for obvious bovine reasons…)

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