Untying the Knot: Does The Wedding Industry Have You Under Its Thumb?
At the end of 2017, Australia celebrated a resounding yes vote for marriage equality. And as many of us were dusting off our hangovers, the commentary was already shifting from love to money. A vote for equality would also “unleash the pink dollar” – a $650 million annual boom to the wedding industry. Almost instantly, we put a price tag on equal love.
Marriage (a long term, humble and loving commitment) and weddings (our “Big Day”, the flashy party, over before you can say, “Where did all that money go?”) have become synonymous. Our idealised view of marriage is that it should begin with the ultimate fairytale wedding, and this ideal is fuelling an excessive, exploitative industry that has every hopeful romantic in its sights.
When I remove my rose-tinted glasses, a traditional wedding looks more like a glorified celebration of the continuity of patriarchal values and reminds me of the blatant over-consumption that’s destroying our planet. Don’t get me wrong. Despite what might sound like a hardy feminist exterior, I’ve had daydreams of stars aligning one day. Despite all logic and odds that would say otherwise, in a world of 7 billion people, and hundreds of thousands of divorces per year, I still sometimes daydream about finding my “soulmate”.
We are all more intelligent than we are capable, and awareness of the insanity of love has never saved anyone from the disease.
– Alain de Botton, Essays in Love.
In his talk On Love, English philosopher Alain de Botton discusses the ways Romanticism has changed marriage. What was once an institution of practicality and convenience for two families has become all about individual choice and the (often irrational) feeling of love.
So many of us yearn to find comfort and peace in another person. By celebrating marriage at our weddings, we publicly declare to our nearest and dearest we have found solace and happiness in another. And what a lovely sentiment that is.
But that lovely sentiment is also a very expensive, wasteful one. That lovely sentiment is fuelling an industry with an estimated global worth over $300 billion USD.
We’re willing to pay more and more to make sure that our “Big Day” is the biggest, and the best. The more stunning my gown, the more posts under my #weddinghashtag, and the closer I can get the height of my wedding cake and its five-inch fondant layer to the roof of the venue, the less likely it becomes that my marriage will be one of the 40-50 thousand Australian marriages that ends up in divorce each year… Right?
Of course for many, money isn’t important when it comes to love.
But what about the mental burden of wedding planning? Google “wedding planning timeline” and you get close to five million hits – complex schedules ranging between three months to two years. I even found data on “Things Brides Would Have Done Differently” – just in case that nagging voice in your ear of, “What if this doesn’t work out perfectly?” wasn’t there already.
In a society where many of us are overworked and struggling to afford housing, the pressure of planning and saving for a modern wedding isn’t something that would get me in the mood for lurve.
And it is all just for one day, after all. The only thing we really use beyond that day will be the ring, the photos and some legal benefits. For the most part, the rest of the wedding, including decorations, flowers and favours are used once, then discarded.
The extravagance of the modern wedding feast means many of us won’t get through the three-course meal if we want to ensure we hit the dance floor before the food coma hits us. Research shows that a tenth of all wedding food ends up in the bin, so the fact that more than a tenth of the world’s population is undernourished should be the real fondant layer on the proverbial wedding cake sitting in the bin.
Wedding attire is expensive too. It requires three years’ supply of drinking water to make a single cotton t-shirt, so a flowing gown, veil, headdress and a dapper suit will use a lot of resources. But heaven forbid we wore a wedding dress designed so that it could be worn more than once!
The wedding industry is gaming us for everything we have while we’re at our most vulnerable: soft, mushy and in love.
And does legal marriage equality really mean progress when a traditional wedding ceremony continues to be one of the most patriarchal events many of us will attend in our lives?
I know many young, intelligent, savvy feminists who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the “choice” of taking on their husband’s name. A tradition that comes from coverture, an old feudal law that dissipated a woman’s legal status as an individual once she was married. Our names are essential to forming our identities, and understanding our place in the world. Every year parents are coming up with new and unique ways of naming their children to make them stand out as individuals. But when it comes to marriage, women are still ready to give up their unique identifier and take on that of their male counterpart.
Many women are still walking down the aisle and being “given away” by their fathers, symbolising the sacrifice of their autonomy from one man to another. This is all while wearing a white gown, which represents innocence and purity. That doesn’t sound like the way to kick off a lifelong commitment based on mutual respect and equality.
I’m not just a bitter cynic. Despite all this, weddings truly can be some of the most enjoyable days of our lives. In a world filled with hate, a day spent with friends and family, dancing in the name of love should be one of most pure things we take part in. I find that just as romantic as the next girl bingeing Outlander on Netflix. But the orgy of excessive spending and consumption that is the modern wedding industry makes my blood boil.
The legalisation of same-sex marriage was a positive step towards a more progressive, inclusive, and sustainable picture of marriage. But it hasn’t untied the knot between the big commercial show and the true value in long-term loving commitment.
Cover by Petr Ovralov