The wedding industry isn’t targeting you… it’s targeting your parents

Guest post by Sarah Thomas

So: during the Plague Years I was a telemarketer.

Now, I am aware that telemarketers are the lowest form of life. I am aware that, in a joke about lifeboats, lawyers, and Josef Mengele, telemarketers are not only thrown off the boat, but ground into a fine paste and rubbed into the boat ropes to reduce friction or something. I feel an appropriate (read as: burning) level of shame that I did this. But I call them Plague Years for a reason. I wasn't making my best choices, but I needed money. That's a pretty good summation of where I was mentally at the time.

Now, not only was I a telemarketer, but I was a telemarketer while living with my grandfather. It was right about the time his mental acuity started to take a turn for the worse; he was still basically together but it made the whole family feel better that there was someone there with him full-time, and my life was clearly going nowhere (see: telemarketing). I reminded him to take his medicine, we went out to the Old People Lasagna and Spinning Pie Restaurant for lunch, and he asked me every day if I had A Fella Yet. But he could still drive, he could still go dancing with his girlfriend and hold a conversation on whatever Fox News had told him to be scared of most recently. In short, he was his old self.

With one exception. Like a lot of elderly people, my grandfather was prone to falling for scams. He never used a computer, so we didn't have to worry about Nigerian princes, but he'd answer the phone every time it rang and end up with subscriptions to magazines he'd never heard of and couldn't cancel. Packages from the Home Shopping Network would arrive, sometimes every day, with jewelry for me and my mom that we didn't need and never wore. When he died and we were cleaning out his house, we found dozens more that he'd never gotten around to giving us.

And I couldn't protect him. Because for the eight hours of the day when he'd get taken in by these scams, I would be out. At work. Perpetrating the exact same scams on other people's grandparents. Like I said… Plague Years.

One thing that my time seeing both sides of the telemarketing system gave me — other than a very black conscience — is understanding about how different generations process and interpret media. For my grandfather, those voices on the phone and on the television were authoritative and legit, because there is a certain way men my grandfather's age expect shady people to sound, and if you sound that way you don't get a job telemarketing. If clean-cut sounding Justin on the phone said these Time Life books were a once-in-a-lifetime offer that his grandchildren would cherish, then it was true. If it wasn't true, how could Justin say it?

I'm not convinced that my parent's generation, as they become the new old people, process authority in media a whole lot differently than my grandfather did.

It's strange to me to contemplate, but had I taken a different fork in the road before the Plague Years then my mom would now be someone's grandma. My fiance's mom and dad are already grandparents. I don't see them that way — as old — but marketers sure do. And I'm not convinced that my parent's generation, as they become the new old people, process authority in media a whole lot differently than my grandfather did.

We spend a lot of time here laughing about the Wedding Industrial Complex, and we should, because it's fucking hilarious. Someone the other day alerted me to the existence of Cake Knife Corsages. Which I assume is flowers you tie onto your cake knife, so if your wedding guests experience temporary amnesia while you're cutting the cake, they can quickly reassure themselves that they aren't at one of your regular cake-cutting formalwear ballroom parties but in fact at your wedding. This is transparently hysterical, and should be laughed at, but we should also understand that it's not really directed at us.

It's directed at our mothers.

Mother of the bride buttoning dress (Andrew & Lauren)

I'm not saying this is because we, as a generation, are so cool and savvy. I'm saying it's because we, as a generation, are so fucking BROKE. More and more people are paying for their own weddings, and that's great. But the most recent statistic I was able to find was from 2010, when it was still about a three-way split between all couple, all parent, and half and half. That means that in 2/3 of the weddings in the country parents are making some purchasing decisions.

If you're a young person, you haven't hit your peak earning potential yet anyway, and paying for your wedding has to slot itself around a lot of other life changes that, statistically, you're likely to be making at around the same time — like children and houses. Also, if you're a young person, chances are you will have some immediate familiarity with weddings as you're planning your own, because your peers are planning theirs too and inviting you to them.

For all your parents know, when the ladies on TLC say that $3,000 is utterly as cheap as wedding dresses get, it's true.

It's different for an aging parent. In many cases, their major life choices are already set, and they've already peaked or plateaued at the top of their earning potential. They have, proportionally, more disposable income now than they ever have before. And they may not have been to weddings for years before you come along and say you're having one. For all they know, when the ladies on TLC say that $3,000 is utterly as cheap as wedding dresses get, it's true.

The older you are, the more money you're likely to have, and the less basis of comparison for how much of that money is really necessary to spend you're likely to have. That combination is a telemarketer's wet dream, and probably a wedding marketer's, too.

I've been to a half-dozen weddings in the last three years, and every one of the brides told me the first thing their mothers did when they said they were getting married was buy a stack of the fattest, glossiest bridal magazines in the local Barnes and Noble. When I went home for Christmas, they were all over my parents' house too. I don't know if there were cake knife corsages in any of them, but it wouldn't surprise me.

It would never occur to me to buy a bridal magazine; for planning I'd go straight to the Internet. Not my mom. From a glossy magazine, it's more authoritative. It's the WIC equivalent of Justin's soothing voice, reassuring them that this book set is the one that's going to be an heirloom that their families will cherish after they are gone. And of course, on a diet of glossy magazine weddings, every road leads to Martha Stewart Debtor's Prison.

When I argue with my mom over the things she wants to spend money on, I hear the same tone I used to hear in my grandfather when I'd tell him to stop buying me things. Why won't you let me love you?

Over Christmas, my family watched the Steve Martin remake of Father of the Bride, as we have a million times, but I appreciated it anew from my engaged perspective. That backyard barbecue wedding George imagines Annie having? TOTALLY LEGIT, and would probably end up featured on Offbeat Bride if it had happened. And his change of heart, when he fully embraces the WIC, doesn't come when he sees the pretty cake pictures, or argues with his wife, or even goes to jail. It comes when he sees his daughter reading a budget bridal magazine, and fears that, because of his actions, his daughter might remember her wedding day as a day on which her dreams were compromised. And he can't have that. He loves her too much.

When I argue with my mom over the (to me) foolish, frivolous things she wants to spend money on, I hear in her voice the same tone that I used to hear in my grandfather's when I'd tell him to stop buying me pearls from HSN. Why won't you let me love you?

I wish I had an awesome answer of how we're supposed to help our mothers (and fathers, let's not be gender essentialist — my dad was the one whose bottom lip started quivering when I ragged on cake toppers) avoid these scams, and feel like they're loving us. Like they're doing this wedding thing “right,” without letting Martha's marketing director determine their conception of what “right” is. We — the people actually getting married — have blogs, we have a healthy disrespect for tradition, we have recently married friends, we have a whole giant trampoline of awesomeness cushioning our wildest experimental leaps. Our parents have nothing but the fear that they're going to let their children down, and a bunch of Franck Eggelhoffers whispering that that fear can be assuaged with this lovely cake knife corsage.

Comments on The wedding industry isn’t targeting you… it’s targeting your parents

    • Since I can’t “This” the whole article, I’ll just have to agree with your comment.

  1. I totally had to deal with this. My mom, in fact, used the word “Bridezilla” a few times when I tried to scale BACK the wedding! I wanted desperately to keep it simple, and fought hard for it, but apparently you can’t win either way.

    • Ugh that word. I am so sick of it being thrown around anytime the ‘bride’ has an opinion of her (or his) own! It’s like women with power in the workplace being called bitches. Worst invented word ever. I feel you lady! It’s been hurled at me too for similar convictions!

      • I’ve been battling with this word alot lately. Except I’ve been throwing it at myself. Ever since we started planning the wedding in earnest (about a year ago) I was so afraid of being perceived as a bridezilla that I became petrified of saying no when loved ones started throwing out ideas, or explaining to me why the ideas I had for my own wedding weren’t good ones.

        I finally had a “come to Jesus” moment this past weekend, and realized that ya know what? It’s okay if someone thinks you’re a Bridezilla. That’s absolutely fine, cause a) other than being pregnant this is the one time in your life you have a culturally acceptable excuse to be one and b)Who cares? as long as YOU know you’re not being rude or hurtful to people, and that you’re actions are motivated by the desire to be true to yourself and your fiance then go ahead. Be a bridezilla.

        • Every time I was called a Bridezilla (usually half jokingly) I’d stomp around as if I were Godzilla or a zombie making “rawr!” noises. It got a point across that I couldn’t find with words.

  2. The best part of my mom’s “you oughta” sentiments is that SHE hadn’t done ANY of them in EITHER of her TWO WEDDINGS.

    Veil? I didn’t want it, but she insisted. Did she wear a veil? Nope! (I won that one in the end.)

    Dress? I wanted fancy-but-not-too-much. She wore a white cotton sundress when she married my dad, and a pants suit when she married her first husband. She wanted me in a dress with a ginormous train. I compromised at a sweep train.

    DJ? She insisted. We were thinkingiPod. In the end we went with DJ and I’m OK with it — we kind of suck at making playlists.

    Other things that we had at our wedding that my mother didn’t have at hers: An actual venue (she went backyard/courthouse). Attendants. A catered meal (she went potluck).

    So all of this is to say, yes, it IS directed towards our mothers! Thankfully, my mother is a feminist (and also wasn’t helping to pay for our actual wedding beyond the welcome reception the day before — another thing she insisted on but didn’t have at her weddings), so I did a quick crash course in WIC-avoidance and APW/OffBB values and we were pretty smooth sailing after that.

    (That said, when your mom insists you wear a veil and you don’t want to… showing her a picture of the store’s model wearing the dress with no veil goes a long, long way.)

    • Good idea on showing mom pics of models without veils. I’m currently in my own Battle of the Veil, since my mom doesn’t think a bride actually looks like a bride without one.

      • Real life example: My sister didn’t wear a veil when she had her wedding and she is otherwise a veeeeery traditional and conservative person. I don’t plan on doing so either. I would definitely show pictures of real brides sans veils as well just to show that the idea is not a totally new one.

  3. Very well-written and well-reasoned and well-said!

    In all my inspirational planning I have found one important truth to keep in mind: no matter who pays for what or how modern (or rather, postmodern) we are, no matter how personal every expression gets, the wedding is kind of for my parents too. Because weddings are still locuses of family get-togethers, parents can indeed feel like weddings reflect on *them*, too. They feel like the wedding will be a measure of how they love and express that love for their daughter (or son) — and maybe for “tradition,” too, but I think you’re more right on with that first “cuz … love” idea. How much they spend, how much they have in common with previous family weddings, is all too often read as an expression of their hospitality. This is totally unfair, as we all know, but so many parents don’t have this concept nailed down quite yet. And it’s not really their fault: thanks WIC!

    Thing is, I’m not sure how to combat it, except to be sweetly understanding of that weird hidden parental pressure and keep communication open. I’ve been lucky enough to share my fun and silly ideas with my mum, and becase she loves me, she pretty much loves them. I want to include family remembrances because they are likewise important to all of us. I try to think of this thing as being for all of us, because it kind of is. Even though it’s really for two at heart.

    Great idea: wedding blogs for parents of engaged-offspring, with the refreshing perspective of OBB. Make it so, bloggosphere? 😉

    • I know for a fact that we have a chunk of mother-of-bride readers! 🙂

      • if someone could write an article for traditional moms of offbeat brides, i would just be so in love. my mom is not understanding any part of what i want out of my wedding and i can’t seem to get through to her.

      • I’m a mother-of-the-bride, and love OBB! I come from a long line of obb’s, and if anything, I tend to push my daughter in the less traditional direction, and she tends to push back. but in the end it’s hers and her fiance’s wedding, and it will be just perfect for them, which is the ultimate obb value anyway.

    • This is so true. For my mom, it was also about how my wedding reflected on her as a hostess. As much as I felt like my wedding only reflected on me and my husband, she felt like it was unavoidable that many of our guests would think of my mom as the host, and that their comfort would reflect on her. … And from there she made the leap that they would somehow be more comfortable with china rather than compostable plates, which is total WIC brainwashing, but anyway. The point is, weddings are definitely about parents too.

      • Absolutely. My father was much more stressed about our wedding than I was, because the “Father of the Bride” is still a position of honor and the ultimate host. If our guests were unhappy with the wedding, it wouldn’t just reflect badly on us, but on him as well. So he had an investment in this party that was beyond just knowing where his money went.

  4. Awesome article!!! I’m totally emailing this to my mother! Love love your website!!

  5. Excellent and truth-heavy post! I found it to be exactly the case when I was planning my wedding.

  6. This is great! I will save it to show to my mother at the opportune moment.

    I’ve found it helpful to distinguish between tradition that’s actually meaningful and tradition that’s there to sell something. I love the tradition of making things for your wedding distinct, i.e. your dress is not something you would wear everyday. That being said, that does not mean you must spend thousands of dollars to get the proper dress! I feel that the importance shouldn’t be obscured by the pomp & circumstance. I’ve gone back and forth with my mother about this, & I’ve watched a friend get pulled into a very traditional wedding despite her inclinations otherwise, as the ceremony obscured the meaning of tradition.

    Talking about it seems to be the best solution, but if it’s not an option, sometimes it just has to come down to money. My mother and I don’t agree on some things, so they don’t happen! When I lack the means for something she feels is necessary, but she does not supply the funding, then I do my best to let her comments fall by the wayside. My honesty can get in the way, but at least I know where I stand, I suppose.

  7. This is very well written with so many great points! It helped me to understand why my future mother in law becomes furious with me because of my short wedding dress, or when I tell I tell her we will not be wasting our money on favors and personalized matchbooks.

    I’m really lucky that my parents had a simple, DIY wedding back in the day and really do get it. My future in-laws are just the opposite and quite a bit older.

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