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.