The wedding industry has some catching up to do.
Do you know what I see when I open up 90% of bridal magazines?
A bunch of weddings or styled shoots featuring similar couples who are surrounded by all the trappings of a traditional wedding. White everywhere. A big ol’ cake. Wildly expensive-looking décor. Flowers all over the place.
Sure, most of them are still pretty… Often breathtakingly so. But who is the target audience? Those advertisements for vendors aren’t there for other vendors. They’re there for all of the freshly-engaged celebrants looking to plan their own weddings. And what do the average spouses-to-be look like today?
Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, it’s not slim, white, conventionally gorgeous, straight, and stuffed to the gills with money to drop on a wedding.
I get it: You want to make your product or service look as appealing as possible. So you pick beautiful models to go with your beautiful setting where you set up your most beautiful and expensive items to create something so damn beautiful that anyone who comes across photos of the finished product can’t help gushing over the whole thing. But here’s the problem: A lot of your potential clients don’t see themselves in that shoot. They might see something to aspire to, but they often won’t see themselves (or their budget) represented. At best, you’re showing those clients something unrealistic and only mildly original. At worst, you’re perpetuating an oppressive cycle of exclusion and elitism that alienates a lot of potential clients.
Let me put it more simply: If you aren’t inclusive with your models, your potential clients won’t see you as inclusive. If your styled shoots don’t feel attainable to your potential clients, they won’t think that your services are accessible for them to use.
Think about it like this: When you’re shopping for new clothes, whether it’s formal dress or a swimsuit, what are you going to feel better about? Buying something you saw on a model with “perfect” proportions? Or buying something you saw on a model that looks like you?
This doesn’t just apply to wedding vendors and planners. If you’re a publisher of wedding media, you have a responsibility to be conscientious of what you’re publishing. If you are not making an effort to be more inclusive, then you are part of the problem.
If you want to be part of the solution, start with your models. How diverse are the models in your shoots? Have you worked with a lot of “unconventional” (ugh) models, or just a few? Are you guilty of tokenizing your models, or of only working with the ones that “fit the mold” better? (Eg. BIPOC models with lighter skin, plus-sized models that are only a little bigger than the average model, etc.)
Be brave. Leverage your privilege. Be a part of the solution and the revolution. Use more of these models to make it clear that weddings (and your services) are for everyone:
Fat models. Fat, plus-sized, bigger bodies… whatever your preferred term is, we need to see more fat models in wedding advertising. And not just models with an “hourglass-plus”-shaped body… we need to see models with ALL types of bodies. The industry is rife with ads for weight loss programs, and jokes about going on a “wedding diet” to fit into your dress. The mindset that people have to lose weight in order to be considered beautiful on their wedding day (or on any day, really) is awful. The idea that having a bigger body makes someone less worthy, for ANY reason, is disgusting.
BIPOC models. Perhaps this is my white privilege talking- scratch that, it almost definitely is. But when I flip through a new wedding magazine, I’m still baffled at how few non-white models I see… Especially Black and Indigenous models. The last magazine I flipped through had maybe… six to eight non-white models, including those featured in the ads? Definitely less than ten. And when you consider how many pages there are in that magazine, and how many models are featured somewhere inside? Six to eight is an incredibly scant number. We need to stop centering whiteness as the ideal for beauty. We need to stop making whiteness the default.
(And here’s a bonus tip for you: Mixed-race couples don’t have to involve white people.)
Queer and Trans models. If you’ve flipped through a wedding magazine lately, or looked at a few styled shoots on social media, chances are you’ve seen at least a couple of same-sex couples. Which is great… but the models you’ve seen have likely fit into a very specific group of demographics (white, cisgender, slim and able-bodied… see how intersectionality starts coming into play?). You can no longer point to one of these shoots as evidence of your business or the industry being progressive or diverse. We need to see more inclusion, even in queer media. This includes trans and non-binary models: sex and gender aren’t binary, and we need to see that reflected in wedding media. (And no, I’m not just referring to trans individuals who “pass” suitably, or non-binary folks who are acceptably androgynous. Trans and NB folks are diverse, magical humans who deserve to be celebrated and represented exactly as they are… Not as we wish them to be.)
Disabled models. When was the last time you saw a styled shoot with a disabled model? For a lot of us, the answer is “never”. Of course, not all disabilities are visible- there are many chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities that we can’t pick up just from looking at someone. With that being said, there’s no excuse for the blatant disregard the wedding industry often treats disabled individuals with. Making weddings more disability-friendly goes far beyond styled shoots. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get to see celebrants with canes, wheelchairs, and other assistive devices in magazines and across social media.
Older models. It’s not just young people getting married. Finding love and getting married after your thirties (whether you’ve been married before or not) is just as valid and beautiful as getting married before you hit forty. The wedding industry needs to stop dropping the ball when it comes to their older and middle-aged clients. Older celebrants deserve to see themselves when they look for venues and vendors and planners. They deserve to have their love romanticized and glamourized. They deserve to feel celebrated, not dismissed because their choice to get married is somehow less exciting or sexy or romantic than a pair of twenty-somethings getting married.
Polyamorous models and depictions of weddings. Not every polyam wedding will be between three or more people- plenty of polyam weddings are, in fact, just two people marrying each other. But monogamy is not the only way to have a relationship, or a marriage. When we don’t see polyamory in media (or when we see it inaccurately represented), it’s easy to think that it’s something wild and libertarian and hedonistic. But that isn’t what it means to be ethically non-monogamous. It’s so important to normalize non-monogamous relationships. Because when we do, we normalize the lived experiences of a lot of people. We normalize things like multi-parent households and open, healthy communication… and we start questioning some really toxic, unhealthy things that can often show up in monogamy, like jealousy and possessiveness.