My parents, for better or for worse, have been married for thirty years. My father thinks about marriage as a life-long commitment to a person you choose to love every day. I have never thought about my wedding, or valued large weddings. I have never thought about what engagement ring I would like. I only ever thought about the man.
So I had a visceral reaction when I found out Kim Kardashian was getting a divorce after 72 days of marriage. Why? Because her wedding/fundraiser makes a mockery of the institution of marriage? Because hundreds of thousands of young women watched a woman get married for money and fame instead of love?
No. I was disgusted because I totally fell for it. I was genuinely happy for her. She seemed like an insecure, misguided, beautiful, imperfect human being. It seemed as though she fell in love with someone she truly appreciated and cherished and that she was confronting some important issues from her childhood in the process of committing to him. Why else would one televise something as private as a romantic courtship?
Looking back, the Kardashian wedding/fundraiser was only a symptom of the problem. She is not destroying marriage. She’s just one person, and she is so highly scrutinized, she must live in terror of any missteps. Hers wasn’t even the shortest celebrity “marriage”, by far.
The metamorphosis of the institution of marriage is just a symptom. So are the excesses of the wedding industry. The disease is the rampant materialism that has come to define America.
More and more, I see celebrities and role models who focus on the wedding instead of on marriage. I fear for our children, and especially our daughters, when I see the messages they will receive from cradle to tomb about what appropriate behavior is for a woman, how she should express her morals and values, and what those morals and values should be.
What kind of message does this wedding obsession (as opposed to a desire for marriage) send about what defines women? It’s not a good one. It reinforces the idea that women are shallow and superficial. It encourages the myth that throwing a lavish party is a reasonable, desired, and necessary act for all committed couples.
It suggests that those who choose to invest their money in a down-payment for a house, a trip around the world, or a child’s education (instead of a one-day celebration) are the unreasonable ones. It suggests that one day (the wedding) is more fun and important than what you will build every day for the rest of your lives together (marriage).
But women are not the only ones to be blamed for their desire for lavish wedding spending.
I trace the idea that materialism and consumption represent love to the creation of the market for engagement rings. In the 1930’s, DeBeers, the famous diamond company, singlehandedly created the market for diamond engagement rings. To combat twenty years in decreased sales, DeBeers launched their “A Diamond is Forever” campaign. They sold women the idea that you are not loved unless your future husband puts a diamond on your finger. The campaign was wildly successful, and most women today cannot imagine becoming engaged or married without a diamond.
The wedding industry has exploded in size similarly: by creating an excess of “need” where there was—and is—no need.
Women have been taught that weddings are the zenith of romance. A wedding should be the best day of one’s life. In a truly bizarre twist, women are now encouraged to plan a wedding before there is even a man in the picture. The popular television show “Say Yes to the Dress” features many single (as in, not even in a relationship) women who shop Kleinfeld’s racks for wedding dresses ranging from $2,000 to $50,000. As with many other things that we consume, weddings have become a booming industry, a 40 billion dollar industry, in fact.
There are tremendous incentives in place for advertisers to do everything possible to get women to spend money. Women spend $5 trillion dollars every year, which represents half of the US GDP. Selling “beauty” is a big part of this (I’ll talk about this later), as is selling the idea that you are only loved if you have a diamond and a wedding. Advertising companies constantly target women with images and slogans; the goal is to make women feel bad about themselves so they will buy things to fill a newly-created void.
What is my point? It doesn’t have to be like this. And being aware that we are being manipulated is the first step in changing our perspective on what we consume. The 2011 documentary Miss Representation ends with the thought that women control the US economy. We are capable of exercising tremendous power as consumers (or non-consumers).
A wedding can be a beautiful affair—a true celebration of the love a couple has found and their excitement in committing to each other for the rest of their lives. But a wedding is not love, happiness, or joy. Marriage is.
What are your thoughts on the wedding industry?
Here are some other people’s thoughts on excessive consumption:
-Slate.com article: Diamonds are Girl’s Worst Friend
-The 2011 documentary Miss Representation is an eye-opening look at how images in the media are used against women.