A Big White Sham?

ImageWhat is the fascination with the traditional white wedding? As a student currently exploring ideas of gender roles, separations and expectations I find the ideals of the perfect wedding quite an interesting phenomena. Unlike many other traditional ceremonies a marriage has retained key elements and stood the test of time. Why is this? What is our pre-occupation with the big white dress, the large wedding cake and our transformations into princesses? In a society where almost nothing lasts forever and divorce is rife is there still a place for such ideals?

Traditionally a wedding has been seen as a day for women to be transformed, to become princesses and beautiful beacons of virginal innocence. White, veiled beauties graced many an isle demonstrating their virtue by wearing white as symbolism of their virtue and virginity akin to that of the Virgin Mary who is often shown in similar attire. Their veiled faces a hint of their humility; their beauty hidden and kept safe only for their husband’s eyes. Even the sharing of the wedding cake or fruit’s a symbol of their ability to share life’s bounty.

In recent times I sometimes catch myself wondering if the idea of a wedding hasn’t become rather over commercialised. At the base of these ceremonies is the love and care that two people have for each other, however it seems to me that often many couples become overwhelmed with the need to fulfil social conventions and expectations.

Why do we desire to fulfil these criteria, is there a need to portray ourselves in a certain way to our family and friends or is it to ourselves? There seems to be high levels of anxiety over to way a wedding day is perceived by those outside of the union. Recent television shows such as ‘Four Weddings’ and ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’  provoke and encourage scrutiny of the day people put together. Suddenly a wedding doesn’t become a deeply personal ceremony between two people, it invokes a whole new set of complications and expectations. Why do we put ourselves under such scrutiny and I feel the answer to be social pressure.

Arguably one of the most focal elements of a wedding in modern times is the dress. In an age where holding onto one’s virginity and purity is not seen to be as key as previous years and rightly, so is the need to wear white so necessary? Today we do not expect to be disowned and shamed at the loss of virginity before our wedding day, we even have the option to live with our partners before marriage, why therefore is white so key? I attended a renewal of vows recently and although this was undertaken in a foreign country away from British ideals and expectations to have a white, traditional wedding, the dress was the most important factor for that bride. She had never had the chance to wear the “dress of her dreams” at her first ceremony and her deepest desire was to wear her perfect dress, white and billowing on her renewal day. It almost seems ingrained, if we do not wear white, if we do not appear to be that virginal and pristine young lady walking down the isle we have somehow failed. Has our wedding day been somewhat of a sham; not up to standard? On occasion dresses of different colours have appeared on ‘Four Weddings’ often to be met with scorn and a huffy “well I wouldn’t have done it that way” criticism muttered in the corners of the reception hall.

Even if we dare to be different, strike out and go for a different tone the wedding suddenly warps into a ‘quirky’ affair that people believes removes the serious tone it needs. Why do we need to have such stringent affairs? Why is ridicule so necessary? We hold to these old fashioned values and judge couples upon them even though most of us would agree that they have mostly become void in our modern society.

Often I feel a great degree of sympathy for the woman who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight; under everyone’s magnifying glass. There is such emphasis on how a woman and her bridesmaids look. Most are happy to be the centre of attention and very rightly so on their special day, but if a woman were to turn up in a tracksuit and no make up does this make her any less of a princess on her wedding day? She’s a princess to her fiancée and should also be so to those friends and family attending the wedding. What are we trying so very hard to prove?

To me it seems like such utter madness, I’d like to hope that when it comes to my wedding day that I shan’t fall victim to the same social pressures. However can I escape it, can I escape the sense of success and desire to fulfil social expectations? Can I stop myself from spending a small fortune, from dressing myself up to be something I’m not and most importantly can I retain the sense and atmosphere of commitment and love that brought me to my wedding day in the first place?

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