The wedding invites came like a flight of swallows. This summer has brought with it a glut of nuptials — some which had been postponed by the virus, others which were the fruit of much shorter engagements. Many have found their own good reasons over the last few years not to risk waiting for rescheduled flights to famous skylines or watercolour horizons to ask their lover an important question. Plenty of humble kitchen floors have hosted bended knees. And plenty of newly betrothed couples have rightly interrogated the sense in waiting a long time to wed.
So each fine Saturday morning, maybe just like today’s, you’ll find women with wagon-wheel-style rollers in their hair milling around motorway service stations looking for emergency safety pins. The forecourt is full of men gingerly trying to charm the petrol-pump hose and its dripping mouth away from their pristine white shirts. My permanent plus-one and I are in the middle of a marathon run of half a dozen weddings, in almost as many weeks. So, I’ve often been sitting on a hot car seat in a petrol-station car park, unravelling my own pin and curl, wondering if we’ll ever find the remote church in the obscure little parish that would make a fool of any Eircode.
There is something very nice about the thought of little colonies of wedding guests traversing the country each week, all for the sake of people they love who are in love. Weddings are back in a big way, and I think it’s wonderful. But there is an element of them, which maybe seems more striking on its return, that feels, at the very least, to be a little odd.
It was when I was navigating the website of a local beautician, hunting for an elusive Friday-evening spray tan appointment, that my eye was drawn to a collection of treatments branded “wedding preparation”. One return journey through a rabbit hole later, I had learned a lot more than I’d known before about the intensive yet long-term hair, skin, dental, nail, fitness, surgical and injectables regime that brides are expected to undertake before they walk down the aisle.
To be clear, these are not standard beauty treatments that women want when getting dolled up. These are long-term undertakings to fundamentally change the texture of the skin on your face, the size of your body, the shape and colour of your teeth, the health and thickness of your hair, the length and strength of your nails, the depth and visibility of the lines on your face and, if you’re silly enough to still use sunbeds, the tone and colour of your body.
I strongly believe that the pursuit of nice aesthetics is not amoral, and that anyone who shames women for beauty treatments is boring. But “wedding preparation” fails the only test I have for treatments that change your appearance, which is that you should be doing it for yourself. Choosing to change your appearance for the perceived better exclusively for your wedding can’t really be for yourself, otherwise you would have done it before you were engaged. I think “wedding prep” is often the response to a specific kind of pressure women feel about the expectations we have of brides.
The intense devotion with which women are spending their engagements “perfecting” their appearance is starting to remind me of the preparation an actor puts in before they appear in a Marvel film. But at least the latter has the aid of CGI to make them seem superhuman to their intended audience. Women, who just have their own flesh and bones, are still expected to produce a similar effect to well-wishers on either side of the aisle. Beyond anything else, “wedding prep” creates intense financial pressure on women who are paying extortionate costs for treatments and personal trainers for over a year while very often also needing to contribute to the significant deposits required to pay for the day out itself.
The pursuit of supreme, ultra-perfect skin, teeth and nails before allowing oneself to tie the knot unfortunately conjures little more for me than images of father-in-laws inspecting brides’ gums and feet at the bottom of the aisle as if they were mares at the mart. Perhaps some think that “wedding prep” is a sign of a more regressive, base instinct we have for brides to meet the aesthetics that we associate for fertility. I actually think it’s something much sadder and simpler. The term “bride” has become so loaded with expectation that many women are under ferocious pressure to “improve” themselves before they’ll allow themselves to feel worthy of the ‘B’-word title.
The pandemic was a great tonic for the airs and graces that used to seem intractable from Irish weddings. It’s gloriously refreshing to see so many more people choosing to say their vows in the style that really suits them — even if it means something smaller, more casual or more unique than what we are used to. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if the expectations we have of brides could relax just as much? Don’t we think they deserve that? I do.