The Myth of the Radiant Bride: On Being a Grown Ass Woman and Getting Married

Photo by Seralyn Keen via Flickr.
Marriage. That transformative institution that makes a girl into a woman. Or a woman into a woman. Or an independent, self-supporting feminist into a girly-girl obsessed with stationary and veil lengths.

I had the good fortune to read Emotionally Engaged last year which prepared me for the roller coaster that is getting married planning a wedding. Simply put, marriage used to be a rite of passage where the bride left home and her parents to embark on a new life. Now most Western women have already left home, earn their own money and otherwise become grown-ass women when they get engaged and married. So the whole wedding hoopla with its gift registries, colour schemes and expensive gown is a way to maintain the aura of a rite of passage without, you know, it actually happening.

I feel sometimes like the whole white and lacy wedding thing is an exercise in repression so universally accepted (in the Western world) that many of us accept its trappings without examination.

There are so many facets to explore. But other than the rite of passage BS, I'm also fascinated right now by the myth of the "radiant bride." I am currently reading and loving loving loving Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth.

Women are obsessed with radiating light, a nod to divinity where radiance symbols redemption and consecration. Women can "glow" naturally and wonderfully. But unfortunately the beauty industry has co-opted this concept in a very narrow way. A way that must be purchased through highlighters, illuminators, primers, foundations, shadows, lipsticks and God knows what else. We are not allowed our own light. It is bottled and sold back to us.

I love this phrase from The Beauty Myth: "Real men are matte. Their surfaces must not distract attention from what it is they are saying ... But women of every status glint ... What women look like is considered important because what we say is not."

Women emit light in the process of giving themselves to men as brides, aided of course by a barrage of overpriced clothing, accessories, cosmetics and shoes. The package must be assembled properly so that it is soothing to the eye. The woman is a commodity, to be delivered.

She is not herself. She is to be given. She must be radiant, this grown-ass woman. Not matte. And of course she does not need to speak. Just to glow.

I know some of you are thinking, "Stop being so cynical, Bronwyn! This is your time to embrace romance and fantasy. Who cares what it all means?"

Well, I invite you all to enjoy your unscrutinized wedding fantasy in my place. For me, something is ruined when it is not scrutinized. When it is not analyzed for meaning. I want to know exactly what I'm in for. What all of these rituals and trappings really mean. What greater idea do I represent? Do I really want all of this wedding stuff or do I feel expected to want it?

I've come to the conclusion that I do not want it. I thought I did, because it was so engrained in me to. But recently I have felt very, very resistant to the idea of being powdered and polished into some glowing version of me that looks nice and quiet in photos.

The Bronwyn that my future husband is marrying is not nice and quiet. She glows for him, privately, in a way that can never be encapsulated by cosmetics and cultural ideals of "brideliness."

She is not a bride. She is a woman. Who just happens to be getting married.


Unknown said...

Absolutely scrutinize tradition! I don't have an engagement ring because I objected to much of the subtext. Ditto being "given away." I walked my own grown-ass self down the aisle!

B.Kienapple said...

I agree with you. You should only adopt the traditions that gel with you. I wanted an engagement ring because I love shiny things and the signal (especially useful in Mexico): I'm taken! But being walked down the aisle -- don't like the subtext of being delivered from father to husband.

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