I'm getting married in two weeks, and reading Rebecca Mead's new book One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding was a necessary act of penance.
Mead, a writer for The New Yorker describes the evolution of simple family nuptials into the $161 billion consumer bonanza that birthed Bridezilla. Brides reading Mead's book may laugh at their own folly, cry at how bamboozled they allowed themselves to be, or unfortunately and most likely, not read the book at all because they are too concerned about matching the dessert almonds' candy coating with the color of the menu cards.
Mead argues that planning an elaborate wedding has become part of the modern quest for happiness, and an ever-growing battalion of wedding professionals is to blame for our misguided approach to marital satisfaction.
The burgeoning industry is "not driven by a mindless consumerism," she writes, "but by the fervent hope that by . . . getting monthly facials and registering for fine china . . . a new self will emerge. This self will be one whose skin always glows with happiness; whose life is one of such grace that fine china will always be in use, and whose progress will never be backward but always forward and upward, to ever-greater heights of joy and satisfaction."
Sound a bit far-fetched? It's not. Just as the self-help industry ballooned in the '70s and '80s, as advice books took over bookstore aisles, so, too, has the wedding industry crept into the celebration of American marriage, with ever-more-ornate dresses, flowers and knick-knacks crowding the marital aisle. And like self-help, the wedding industry is selling a promise of happiness.
These promises are alluring, and many brides might prefer not to know that the rush they feel when they find their perfect dress has been calculated in a sweatshop in China. But they certainly have a choice.
After reading Mead's book -- and reading sections out loud to my ever-patient fiancé -- we decided to go with bags of popcorn instead of elaborate gift baskets for our out-of-town family and friends, and forgo the end-of-the-evening party favors. OK, we're still having north of 250 guests, and it's still an enormous production. But... but... at least I showed some sense of restraint.