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Tue, Oct 29, 2013
The Straits Times
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Wedded to stereotypes
by Corrie Tan

The bridal boutique's sales representative barked at me to stand up. Narrowing her eyes, she gave me a quick once-over.

"Hmmm. Your arms are big. But that's okay, because you're tall."

I showed her a picture of myself in a simple, elegant gown that I would have bought if it hadn't cost $5,500, 10 times my budget.

"Honestly?" she looked at me, "this makes you look old. And it makes your butt look big. I always tell the fatter girls to wear an A-line dress."

She showed me, a little too eagerly, the range for plus-size women.

Now, I don't have the perfect figure, but my Body Mass Index is right down the middle of the scale. Next to me, one of my best friends, D. - also one of my bridesmaids - was wearing an expression so stormy it could have shattered someone's soul.

When I told another sales representative at the bridal fair that I didn't want more than one gown because I didn't see the point, her eyes nearly fell out of her skull.

After encountering a series of pushy and overly affectionate saleswomen who demanded that we sign up with them on the spot for ridiculous deposits and no assurances and for items I didn't need, we staggered out of the bridal fair, gasping for air. Note: Touching my arm repeatedly and calling me "dear" do not make me your friend.

D. shook her head: "They're banking on your insecurity and panic. Everyone down there is a first-time bride, and they're feeding them ideas about what a perfect wedding should be like."

I called my partner and told him: "I am never going to another bridal fair. It's a meat market that preys on your anxiety."

In planning our wedding, my partner and I have been shocked to find out how much of a "typical" wedding here is wedded to stereotypes, rather than sincere symbolism.

It seemed to us that every bride has been conditioned to want some sort of ridiculous ideal wedding that must involve being awake for 20 hours, several changes of clothes, melodramatic floral arrangements, bland hotel ballrooms, and the most hideous, heavy wedding dresses that no one can walk or eat in.

I've seen exhausted friends barely able to stand when saying goodbye after a wedding dinner - after contorting their feet into that "perfect" high heel for hours and hours.

Is this really what a wedding is all about?

I went for one bridal fair - just one - and the terrifying hyper-commercialism of what the wedding industry had become was enough to make me not want to have a wedding at all.

One sales representative insisted that I would no longer get a deal if I left the wedding fair without putting down a deposit.

The next day, she sent me a text message reeking of desperation, saying that she could offer me a bridal package for a few hundred dollars less. I felt more like a KPI (key performance indicator) for her sales commission than a bride planning for my special day.

We were told that we "should" have a wedding cake, that it was "a must" to get a special gown for my solemnisation, and that my make-up "had to" include fake eyelashes and ampoules (I still have no idea what that means, because an ampoule is essentially a glass vial - why would I need a glass vial?).

While browsing wedding blogs online, I found that an overwhelming number of Singapore brides feel compelled to go for slimming sessions and crash diets just to look ideally svelte on their big day, even if they weren't exactly plus-size to begin with.

It begs the question - what's wrong with simply being yourself?

Instead of thoughtful, lighthearted experiences meant to embrace your family and loved ones, and to celebrate a new chapter of life, weddings seem to have mutated into many-legged monsters feeding on unspoken expectations and secret envy.

Earlier on in our relationship, before he popped the question, my partner and I had a long talk about the significance of marriage and whether we believed in marriage as an institution.

Other couples may have come to different conclusions, and I believe that everyone has the right to believe what they want to about the idea of marriage - but it was important to us that we were on the same page.

And we were. A marriage, we agreed, was not about life-long romance but about life-long partnership. It was about taking a leap of faith and affirming our commitment to each other, and the sacrifices we would make for each other, and making all of that concrete, because we knew we were and are better when we're working as a team.

I think what I love most about weddings is that the couple get to acknowledge their commitment in public, and voicing a big commitment out loud takes courage.

It's one thing to say "I love you and I want to be with you forever" in private, and another thing to declare it in front of dozens of expectant faces.

Planning a fun dinner for friends and family is also a team effort, and a great first project to tackle (before the other "projects" come along - buying a house, having children, and so on).

I'd argue that yes, tradition is important for a day worth remembering. But when it becomes an obsession and a wedding becomes an opportunity to show off, the meaning of that occasion is lost.

It was a relief, when speaking to some of my friends about my wedding planning woes, to find out that many of them felt exactly the same way. One of them suggested that a good barbecue might actually be the way to go. And why not?

While a wedding can be a wonderful, heartfelt occasion brimming with memorable moments, it lasts for a day, and a marriage goes on for a lifetime.

As of this coming Tuesday , my parents will have been married for 30 years. Their wedding was a simple affair, but till this day, they still behave like teenagers in love - and I'd rather have that than the most lavish wedding in the world.

For the record, I bought my wedding gown from a local seamstress who makes the most beautiful, comfortable dresses from scratch. I'll probably even be able to wear it again, for a different occasion.

Oh, and it cost just $399.

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