October 15, 2012

{Relics of a Marriage}

Elyse Defoor's current art exhibition in Atlanta, Relics of a Marriage, features a collection of wedding dresses worn by a variety of women through the years. Not shown as delicate "princess gowns" but hanging more like shouds, naturally on their own weight, the gowns become unromantic reminders of what was, what could have been, what never was. Elyse's vision for the display is to act as an invitation to open "a dialogue on the mythology and  beliefs around the concept marriage."
The exhibition ends on October 27; Elyse is having an "artist talk" on Sunday October 21. Click here for more information.

Below is a short excerpt from my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, that speaks to this "white wedding gown" mythology.

Scholar Elizabeth Freeman, in The Wedding Complex: Formsof Belonging in Modern American Culture, points to the industrial “white wedding” phenomenon that exploded after the middle of the twentieth century and the judgmental attitudes that grew out of it. She asks: “Why does the white wedding make the couple, especially the bride, look sacred and untouchable even as it puts them on an often embarrassing regulatory display? Why does it englobe the couple in mystique, and yet also seem to make them run the gauntlet of spectators and pass a series of tests?” In modern cultures marriage is a choice, but a choice of what? For some couples the wedding ceremony seems to have become a robotic procedure to go through while dressed in fancy costumes. Does the heart of the “wedding complex” often reveal, as Freeman says, a woman’s “longings not for marriage necessarily but for public forms of attachment, ceremony, pageantry, and celebration”?   

Darcy Cosper describes young women becoming brides in her novel Wedding Season as a chance to “live out a dream that may very well have haunted them from girlhood.” In parts of the world where the “white wedding” is de rigeur wedding protocol, a particular womanly ritual is repeated over and over. Brides-to-be, usually with an enthusiastic entourage, gather in mirrored salons devoted to ‘princess myth enthralled women’ trying on those fabled white feminine-to-the-core gowns. “The grandest dress of her lifetime,” as Carol McD. Wallace described it in All Dressed in White, and the bride wanted to make the most of the occasion! “This was as glamorous as her life was going to get, as close as Everygirl would come to being royal,” the author added.

The activity of trying on gowns—these potentially deeply connecting, heart opening rites-of-passage with friends and family—have all too often become angst-riddled girly ceremonies driven by too many opinions and much too much “all about the dress”—and cleavage—commercial drama. (And now fathers or male friends or fiancés sometime get in on the once hallowed all-female ritual.) Over-the-top television reality shows dramatically portray various aspects of the “wedding complex”—from courtship to the complications of planning the wedding.
Shows like “The Bachelor” and “Say Yes to the Dress” drive the notion deeper into the culture’s susceptibility that weddings are part of the entertainment industry instead of about intimacy and deepening relationship and connection. But it seemed to always come back to “the dress.” “Even the feminist writer Naomi Wolf, in an essay called ‘Brideland,’ confirms the unreasonable grip on the psyche that this white gown possesses,” Wallace shared. ~

[Excerpt from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Rescued the Damsel in Distress]

[Bridal images from "Say Yes to the Dress"]

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