Tanya Gold on weddings

25Apr11

“So the brides know what they want. They also know what they do not want. They do not want to be themselves on their wedding day. Who does? And if not then, when? They want longer hair, whiter teeth and thinner bodies; the ghost of Cheryl Cole, Beautiful Woman 2011, is shouting at them.”

Tanya Gold wrote a darkly spectacular article in the Times Magazine two days ago, about weddings and the repulsive excesses of the industry attached to it (whole article below as it’s not online). It’s a bold piece of writing – throughout a frenetic, nightmarish piece, she couples her own episodes of dysfunction with a very sane analysis of an utterly insane industry. An industry that could only wield such (financial and emotional) power because it is attached to the stuff of our capitalist-induced, nevertheless profound fantasies. She brilliantly dissects the clutch of “the wedding” upon us whilst demolishing its promises: “When I was 7, I wanted to get married. (I also wanted to kill the cat) … I am aware that my emotional brain is fighting with my thinking brain and I am actually cracking up. One moment I’m shouting in my head about consumerism, and writing long, Marxist polemics about how wicked and ugly it all is; the next comes the thought – why her? Why that girl with blonde hair and slightly protruding teeth? Why not me? Why am I not a bride? Shall I buy a tiara? And stab myself with it? … I feel such pity – for me, for them, for us all, because I have read enough Freud to know that they are searching for something that does not exist.” Anyway, read it and weep …

After a lifetime of dating inappropriate men, a bridal fair has me running up the aisle (and not in a good way)

I am not sure exactly when, during the bridal fashion show at the National Wedding Show, I start crying like a dog that has been shot. I just know that by the time the brides appear on the catwalk – and they aren’t even real brides, but models dressed as brides, which makes them a lie inside a delusional fantasy – I am actually sobbing fat, salty tears of cliché. Not that anyone notices. They are too busy gawping.

Why the tears? When I was 7, I wanted to get married. (I also wanted to kill the cat.) My parents rowed like politicians, so I suppose I yearned for some kind of blissful union. It didn’t last. When I was 10, my father left; his parting gift was a phobia of rejection, which at the time I didn’t understand.

So I became a small control freak who grew to seek men who would reject me: gays, alcoholics and married men who looked like pigeons but made love like psychopaths. I decided I would never get married. Eventually, I thought that a man unbuckling his belt as he walked through the front door was normal. I did have a solitary marriage proposal, at 21, from a lawyer with an eating disorder. (I laughed.) And as the fear of commitment bulged, so did my hatred for the bride.

I refused to go to weddings (my excuse was always, “Sorry, I’ll throw up”), except my sister’s, and even then I wore a black dress. She was in white and together we looked like Purity and Malevolence. The closest I ever came to my own wedding was having sex on top of a copy of You & Your Wedding, which I bought for a joke; how loser of the moment and I laughed as we bounced up and down on an advert for fairy cakes, no fairies we.

But parties always end, and one day I woke up and I was 37, childless and alone, apart from the TV, which can speak but doesn’t listen. (“I don’t need you,” I have screamed at lovers, “I have a massive TV!”) And I decided to go to the National Wedding Show at the Birmingham NEC, in that unconscious way that you do when you are turning a psychosis over in your mind. You will it to a climax, in the hope that it will pop, like a spot. Shame the show’s in a barn stuck on a provincial airport that smells of dead Sundays, but never mind.

Travelling from the station to the show, I am in a state of acute paranoia. I see some deaf brides signing on the moving walkway and I think they are talking about me, even though they clearly aren’t.

I walk into the press office. “Hello,” says the press officer. “How are you?” I wish I were dead, I say, automatically. I. Don’t. Care. About. Weddings. I. Am. Immune. She looks worried; I can almost see her brow spell out, “Mad single hack. May attempt to harm babies.” “Tea?” she says, eventually, because she is English. Or is she giving me tea because she understands? I drink the tea. I walk in. I walk the bride plank.

It’s so weird, this barn. You could have a war here. You could build a palace, or land a plane. It’s a movie set, a mass brothel for consumer goods and synthetic romance. The only place I have ever been that seems less connected to the real world is a B&B in Hanger Lane on the North Circular (dirty weekend!), or possibly the inside of one of those machines that scan your brain. They could rebuild Paris here. I hate Paris. It is the McDonald’s of love, a whole city that thinks like a bride.

There is a definite Midlands bridal look – they are blonde and nervy, with slightly protruding teeth; like me, they look either angry or terrified as they twitter and shop.

Standing next to a bored-looking string quartet, I am aware that my emotional brain is fighting with my thinking brain and I am actually cracking up. One moment I’m shouting in my head about consumerism, and writing long, Marxist polemics about how wicked and ugly it all is; the next comes the thought – why her? Why that girl with blonde hair and slightly protruding teeth? Why not me? Why am I not a bride? Shall I buy a tiara? And stab myself with it?

There are two main psychological themes in the Barn of Despair. (This is from the thinking brain.) So, what do we have? One is boring British snobbery; posh is best, middle class is OK and if you are working class, eat yourself. The Posh (“Princess”) Bride is getting married in 1830 – a great year for feminism – and she will wear a dress that makes her look like Queen Victoria dusted with flour. She will wear a tiara, although in her heart she is probably wearing a plastic crown. She will arrive by horse and carriage, or vintage car, or hot air (balloon). She will wed in a castle or a stately home that will toss her back to her semi at midnight like a rotting pumpkin. Since we live – or are supposed to live – in a semi-functioning liberal democracy, not a feudal nightmare where poaching rabbits from the gardens of the Notting Hill set is punishable by death, this fantasy upsets me. Politically, it sucks. (Still thinking brain, just.)

Fantasy Two mingles queasily with Fantasy One. She is Child Bride, with bits and bobs that would please a five-year-old – make her smile, make her drool, maybe even make her do her homework: pink cakes and sweet stalls, butterfly wands and bows. I watch a blonde woman try on a tiara: “It’s well heavy,” she says. I can see the brides everywhere, buying virgin veils and cupcakes, then retreating to the smelly café and eating baked potatoes, as though they have simply stepped out of one story and into another. As if aware of the problem, a fairy godmother (professional shrink) has a stall offering psychotherapy for brides. She is chatting to one who’s too frightened to speak; the silent one knows! She knows she has been swallowed by her wedding theme!

As I talk to the brides, I am reminded of the time I interviewed some five-year-olds about why they liked Bratz dolls. They couldn’t analyse why they liked Bratz dolls, because they were 5. I get one-word answers here, too, from distracted faces that are forever looking past me at the props. “Pretty,” they say. Idiots.

So the brides know what they want. They also know what they do not want. They do not want to be themselves on their wedding day. Who does? And if not then, when? They want longer hair, whiter teeth and thinner bodies; the ghost of Cheryl Cole, Beautiful Woman 2011, is shouting at them. There are brides in booths having dental work, slumped on chairs, their mouths pulled open by a weird contraption while their teeth are bleached a shade closer to some mad ideal, which I have decided is Cheryl. Soon she will age, to be replaced with some other Cheryl-ish ideal, but for now she is Cheryl. One is trying to say something to a sister or bridesmaid – what is it? I move closer. “Clutch bag,” she moans.

In the next booth, they are selling hair. It is on racks, and it segues from silver blonde to tar black; it is vaguely concentration camp. Brides are trying the hair on and banging the inevitable tiara on top, so they look like big angry fairies in someone else’s hair. The hair hangs round the ears, on a piece of elastic, giving instant long hair, so you can, on your wedding day, wear someone else’s hair, because your own hair is not good enough. Not on your wedding day, the day when you ask to be loved for yourself alone and not someone else’s hair. I ask the saleswoman where this hair is from. (Whose is it? Who did you take it from, and what did you give in return?) “It is 100 per cent human hair,” she says. “A-grade human hair.” “It’s not European, it’s Asian,” says her colleague, adding apparent commercial racism to the list of her crimes.

I am about to vomit on my shoes, which are, of course, black. So I ask the men at Moss Bros if they can make a suit for a man as big as a car, because this knowledge will soothe me. I like fat men and their imperfections; they understand me. “As big as a Hummer,” they tell me, smilingly, in their shiny suits, a pile of limp gigolos. (Poor single girl! Go home and soothe yourself with visions of a Hummer-sized suit for a Hummer-sized lover! Go and shag a married man on top of You & Your Wedding.)

I ask the wedding insurance men if they can insure me for the non-arrival of the groom. They cannot. They look upset that I have brought my malice here. An unhappy ending – in the Barn of Despair? How dare you?

I notice that one photography provider is offering video cameras for hire; it is called Shoot It Yourself, because if you can’t shoot it yourself, then who can?

I ask the members of a string quartet if they would play Sympathy for the Devil dressed as Tweetie Pie; all of them dressed as Tweetie Pie, because three Tweetie Pies are not enough for my wedding day, if I ever have one. I want two brace of them. “Yes,” they say, even though I am lying, because I have been over my ideal wedding with a wedding planner, and it will cost £325. (Taxi, curry, pizza, condoms.)

And then, a real joke, because it isn’t mine. I walk past the Church of England booth and a female vicar walks forward, with a kindly nod: “How far are you along?” she asks. With my wedding plans, you mean? She nods again. I have none, I say. I am Mr Rochester – I have no bride. (I am no bride!) I have only a mad wife in the attic. (I am the mad wife in the attic!) I glance at her booth. It is made of photographs of the interiors of a church. It is a cardboard church and I like it. God needs to buy a booth here, along with everyone else. That is the free market.

A little further along I find X Factor Bride – a makeover show, set in a fake TV studio. The presenter is talking to the audience in inspiration-ese, as if they are warring football teams about to kick each other’s heads in: “Mums! Brides! (Paranoiacs!)” They pull a bride (blonde, of course, what else?) from the audience, paint her, backcomb her, and drag her backstage to be stuck in a dress. It is as if she is being stolen by werewolves and dragged by her ankles into the bride machine.

Soon it is the Reveal, when she is shown to us, transformed. Transformed, that is, from a toothy girl into a sweat-soaked horror, because at least some part of the bride must know this is a fantasy that cannot run for ever; no woman can be 7 in front of everyone she knows and survive. “Your hair is outstanding,” says the presenter, who does not have the expression of a romantic. A mum is also abducted. She is now electric blue. This sets me off and I begin to sink; I cannot take it any more. It is like the time I had a fight with a boyfriend and a nosebleed in the lobby at Cowley Manor, and I had to be removed, covered in blood and tears, before a random bride walked through to glory; I was the axe murderer at her country-house wedding. The real world retreats, and I can only see details: the mottled arms of one bride; the cracked heels of another, as she eases into a pair of bridal shoes.

And the rank smell of them, trying on dresses that have been hawked up and down the country, following the National Wedding Show, pulled on by bride after bride after bride, then cast aside, because that is not the right hue of fantasy – bring me another! All the dresses, although different in tiny details, are the same. It is odd how women, on a day that is supposed to express their individuality, all end up looking like the same person. I feel such pity – for me, for them, for us all, because I have read enough Freud to know that they are searching for something that does not exist. I should not have come.

I sit down for the fashion show – perhaps this will save me? Yeah, right – fashion always makes me feel good. A pair of models walk together. They are almost beautiful and they look almost in love. One male, one female, they do a fair impression of the people you hated at school. If a genuine wedding is synthetic, what does that make a fashion show inside a wedding show?

And then I’m crying properly, and in retrospect, after I have thanked the PR for the tea, and apologised many times, and run away from Birmingham as if Bluebeard were after me, naked and wielding a potato masher, I know when I began to cry. It wasn’t the sad meringues that set me off, but the amazing mother-of-the-bride clothes. I feel a kind of guilt, as if I am saying to my mother – I am not a good wife either. I am not a wife. This fantasy has nothing to do with me. And so I run, not down the aisle, but away.

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2 Responses to “Tanya Gold on weddings”

  1. 1 beyondbinary

    My dream marriage celebration is one giant roast of the marriage industry. Great fun!

  2. Thank you for reposting this. I definitely think that it speaks to the industry that is building around marriage, and specifically, around sculpting the body of the bride.


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