Somethings been unsettling me for quite sometime. I’ve wanted to write this blog post for so long now have found myself stalling time and time again through fear the subject matter was to taboo. But no matter how hard I try I simply cannot shake this thing off; why are there hardly any black brides or brides of colour on Love My Dress? Why are there hardly any black brides on any of the wedding blogs I know?
It’s a fact I’ve been acutely aware of since I started to build the now vast archive of real wedding features on Love My Dress almost four years ago. Perhaps it’s my background of involvement in policy writing that has made me extra sensitive to balance, fairness, equal representation, etc. When I look at bridal blogs I mostly see a sea of white brides. Beautiful, gorgeous, inspiring, unique human beings. But almost always white.
Why is this?
Love My Dress is an all-inclusive blog – I work very hard to ensure our content is appealing to all those looking for wedding inspiration – be it a civil ceremony or civil partnership, a heterosexual bride or a gay/lesbian bride. I don’t turn down a submission based on a brides size, age or the colour of her skin. I enjoy blogging all types of wedding that fit within the aesthetic we love to promote here at Love My Dress – that generally being glamorous, elegant, vintage inspired etc. We even have our own series written by a disabled bride (watch out for her real wedding feature up in early January). The fact the bride uses a wheel chair (with flashing wheel lights!) makes no difference to me. She has amazing bridal style, is intelligent, articulate and has an interesting experience to share. Taking all this in to account, you can hardly say we’re not diverse. So why is the number of beautiful brides of colour gracing these blog pages so low in number?
As if the scattered thoughts of my frustrated mind were sending out a belisha-beacon signal for someone to come and make sense of it all, I received an email last month from a recently newlywed black bride. Her name is Nova, and some of you in to the UK wedding blog scene might recognise her as the lady behind the blog Nu Bride.
Nova of the Nu Bride wedding blog (JK Photography)
Nova is an approachable, friendly and intelligent woman and her blog Nu Bride is a beautifully curated dedication to the black bride seeking inspiration online for their wedding day. Nova connected with me through an enthusiastic email, within which she shared some of her personal observations on the UK wedding blog community and wedding industry in general, and how it has a tendency to overlook black brides. Like me, Nova observed that there are a surprisingly small number of real black brides that feature on UK wedding blogs and within UK wedding magazines.
And I hate to tell you this, but Nova is not the first black bride to have shared this observation with me in private.
Before I go further, I’m keen to talk a brief moment about the term ‘black bride’. Race can be a sensitive subject, which is why people don’t talk about it. I believe that this is why a conversation needs to be had about it, so that a healthy and open discussion is raised. Some women don’t want to be defined by their race, and this is of course perfectly acceptable and understandable. We shouldn’t have to be defined by race in this way, and one day, I hope we won’t have to.
I’ll not deny having almost copped out of publishing this post at all, but my gut instinct kept on pushing me real hard to be brave. I also shared my concerns about use of the term ‘black bride’ with Nova. I also shared my feeling of ignorance at not knowing if the term ‘black bride’ was offensive. I found Nova’s response reassuring; ‘In terms of the terminology ‘black bride’, yes that is perfectly politically correct, and what I describe myself as. I am a black woman, (well brown if I really want to be pedantic!). Therefore, a black bride. Others will prefer Bride of Colour (broader and more of a US term) but neither are un-politically correct, or offensive, in my opinion.’
Nova also underlined the importance of the use of specific keywords like ‘black bride’ when blogging, (ie, tagging blog post images/adding keywords to Pinterest image posts etc), and how important they are in generating more useful search results on search engines and popular inspirational image tools like Pinterest. It’s part of the reason I recently established a ‘Beautiful Black Brides/Brides of Colour’ Pinterest board and set up a beautiful brides of colour page category on Love My Dress. After all, if you wanted to search for an image of a red open rose, you would type in ‘red open rose’, not just ‘rose’, wouldn’t you?
Nova shared more about her experience of using the internet to search for specific brides of colour wedding inspiration; ‘I searched for ‘black bride’ when I was looking for visual inspiration as a bride-to-be and interestingly didn’t get much luck at all. Usually random images of black items of clothing or Caucasian models wearing a black dress popped up in my Pinterest and Google searches. I eventually found that typing in ‘African American’ generated a lot of visual images and this is where I found inspiration in Munaluchi BRIDAL and other US blogs, Pinterest and publications.’
‘I really don’t think it is anything to do with personal ignorance why you had to ask me if the term was offensive either. I think it has a lot to do with political correctness gone mad in the UK, which often causes confusion and anxiety about what may or may not be classed as offensive – because the goal posts often change. This has resulted in many people being afraid to ask intelligent questions, or challenge behaviours and opinions around race through fear of being branded a racist. This is nonsensical in my opinion and does nothing but fuels an unwanted fire and closes the lines of communication.’
It was this honest, eloquent and no nonsense reply that gave me the confidence to finally publish this post in the hope that it will raise awareness and initiate intelligent and healthy debate around the issue of representation for black brides in the UK wedding industry. Nova and I intend on using Love My Dress and it’s social media channels to address this matter in a positive and helpful light only.
I asked Nova to share more of her experience as a black bride to be, who looked to magazines and wedding blogs for inspiration for her own wedding. She writes about the experience on her own blog beautifully here and here.
‘To be honest, I found turning to blogs quite welcoming. I turned to wedding blogs after buying a bundle of mainstream wedding magazines and indirectly feeling excluded because it was there I first noticed that black brides were largely under-represented. Although I found more representation for myself via US blogs, ultimately yes, unfortunately I do believe black and other ethnic brides are also under-represented, particularly in UK wedding blogs.’
What a genuinely sad, and worrying concusion for Nova to have arrived at. Sadder still that this issue isn’t just confined to the industry I adore. This Guardian piece highlights the uncomfortable issue that black models were barely seen on the catwalk at last month’s London Fashion Week. And Nova has thoughts on this issue too; ‘I believe the fashion industry embraces diversity a whole lot better than the bridal industry, but nevertheless there is still clearly a long way to go to find a diverse happy medium, particularly in the UK.’
‘I’d like to invite Love My Dress readers to take a look at the ‘Dark Girls‘ movie preview. This was one of the main inspirations behind me starting my wedding blog, Nu Bride; to empower all brides to feel beautiful about themselves, from the inside out and to create an avenue that showcases positive images of black brides. Because as black women, if it is possible for some of our own race to think this lowly about ourselves, then we have very little chance of influencing mainstream fashion and bridal industries about how they continue to market their brands.’
‘Oprah Winfrey previewed the Dark Girls documentary earlier this year and I first came across this in 2011. It made me cry, because I myself struggled with massive self-esteem and identity issues as a child. I suffered racism at school, which ultimately led to me feeling I was inferior because of the colour of my skin. It’s quite powerful. Kleenex at the ready!’
‘The scene with the little girl around 2 minutes 20 seconds in identifying pretty from ugly particularly touched me and is a driving force behind doing what I can to empower others to embrace diversity in beauty. I really think it’s important to get the message across to our children and generations to come that beauty comes in different variations and have this echoed in all media – catwalks, magazines – and wedding blogs. I am not just talking about black models either, but other gorgeous ethnicities, shapes and sizes – to reflect the cosmopolitan UK we live in.’
‘Now of course there are a lot of complexities thrown into this documentary including self-esteem, education, ignorance, colourism and parenting etc. I’ve been lucky – I’ve had incredibly supportive parents who always told me how beautiful I was and how important I was. But it didn’t stop me or others struggling with self worth and identity difficulties – when all I was surrounded with were ideals/images/media, that I could not identify with.’
‘As consumers we are often presented with an ideal or an image, over and over again. To me this indirectly instills that certain races, shapes and size of women are not considered beautiful or marketable. I think subconsciously this has an impact on younger generations too. I think there is a powerful ‘unspoken’ message through advertising and media that plays a big part in influencing what children identify with and what is deemed as beautiful, and/or acceptable.’
‘That’s why I am passionate about asking the UK mainstream wedding industry to seriously consider how it continues to market the ‘bridal image’. As Iman says in her article on London Fashion Week in relation to diversity on the catwalk; “Silence is unacceptable”. Iman’s article goes on to say: “It’s widely accepted that many designers, publications and catwalks do not want to use black models, claiming they don’t sell their product”. Where is the evidence of this? Is this now a meme? Should this response be accepted? If we don’t intelligently and articulately challenge and ask questions, then we as an industry or nation will never evolve and grow.’
We will never evolve or grow. It’s a scary prospect – certainly as a mother of two little girls, I take all this very seriously. I want my girls to understand that the endless images of perfectly airbrushed skinny white girls in the magazines are not wholly representative of the world they live in – that people, life, the world is so much more diverse.
So, wedding blogs. I asked Nova for her general thoughts and how good they are at representing and connecting with black brides…
‘I go to specific blogs for specific things. Some are brilliant at using an inclusive narrative voice, others aren’t. I also think that the ‘personality’ behind the blogger carries a lot of weight over content. For example. Its not uncommon to see posts about getting your wedding hair or make-up right that only talks about European hair/light skin. Or articles on tanning products.’
‘With regards to ‘visual inclusivity’, I have seen very little visual representation of black brides on the UK blogs via real weddings. I would really like to see more real weddings out there on the wedding blogs, promoting a gorgeous mix of ebony and porcelains! I think the reason this isn’t happening as much as it could be right now is probably down to a number of factors. For example, the number of real black bride submissions are often much lower – this may be due to the fact that magazines and blogs aren’t connecting with a wider demographic, so they automatically don’t submit. Or perhaps images of black brides are less favoured? I really don’t know and I would love to find out!’
Nova has a point about submission numbers, and I have to be honest, Love My Dress simply doesn’t receive very many submissions of brides of colour. I’m practically on hyper alert for them arriving in my inbox and I’m sensitive to the fact that I don’t want Love My Dress to come across as excluding black brides.
But why aren’t we receiving the submissions? Nova shares more of her thoughts…
‘I am of Jamaican heritage and as a HUGE generalisation, we can often be depicted as quite private people in contrast to other cultures. (I am an exception to the rule. Obviously! Tee hee) I even notice on Nu Bride, that not many of my readers comment directly on the blog, but will send direct messages or emails to express opinions or congratulate. Also, with the few submissions I do receive of black brides, sometimes there are issues with the quality (photography, lighting for example) of the submission and I often can’t use them.’
‘The US bridal industry is quite different. Much more inclusive in terms of wide range of ethnic diversity in the ‘mainstream’ bridal industry, catwalks, blogs and publications. Have you seen press images of the eclectic mix of catwalk models currently on the Bridal Market catwalk in New York? Gorgeous. It is in stark contrast to White Gallery London. It’s so interesting.’
‘Of course it is incredibly important to acknowledge there are many aspects to a wedding that are universal and have no relevance to race whatsoever (culture yes, but not race). Culture to me is a separate entity and not what I am addressing. If I were looking for something culturally specific, I would not go to a mainstream blog or magazine, that is not what their purpose is. No one blog fits all.’
‘I would also dearly love to see ethnic diversity in the choice of models that are used to showcase designers’ new bridal collections. I would love to know how designers choose to market their products on and off the catwalk and if diversity is even on their minds. For example, I get copious amounts of submissions from PR companies or designers asking me to showcase their new collections and invariably the images are of Caucasian models with blonde hair.’
‘Beautiful? Of course! But as always, I want to showcase diversity (from skin colour to hair colour) for my readers. I often have to go back and ask if they have any other images showcasing ethnic diversity. The small majority do and it makes me wonder why they don’t send those images first, but the majority don’t. It doesn’t stop me from using them, but it is such a pity.’
‘I would also LOVE LOVE LOVE it if one leading mainstream UK wedding magazine would take the lead, be the shepherd, consider the potential negative impact this continued ‘ideal’ may have on demographics of women that don’t fit that ideal. And one day it would be wonderful to see an image of a black ‘princess’ on the front cover.’
Incidentally, readers, Nova and I had a discussion about the images that are conjured to mind when you think of the term ‘princess’. What do you see when you think of who a princess? A Cinderella type with a big dress, blue eyes, porcelain white skin and blonde hair? Disney has made efforts in the past few years by using characters with black skin as their movie leads (see The Princess And The Frog), but on the whole, their heroines are usually white skinned.
So, are wedding bloggers getting it wrong? Do we need to be focusing on being more inclusive and representing more black brides than we do? I was really interested to hear more of Nova’s general thoughts on how wedding blogs in the UK are promoting the black bride – and could be doing it more effectively; ‘I reached out on Facebook and a mutual friend suggested I contact the delightful Charley Beard of the London Bride blog for some planning tips. Charley’s was the first blog I stumbled across and I loved it – she introduced me to some other US and UK blogs for potential inspiration. In the end, I found I got all of my visual inspiration as a black woman from American wedding blogs. I found images of women in dresses that looked like me and also a larger selection of curvy real brides too, which made me smile.’
‘I think it’s important for brides, regardless of ethnicity to find a blog/magazine that feels like the writer is speaking to them. Brides like to be made to feel special don’t they? How can they feel special when they don’t feel like they are being represented?’
‘The beauty of using wedding blogs for me was the ease of dipping in and out for specific inspiration from various blogs. Bit like a pick ‘n’ mix – picking your favourites from each blog. I don’t think one blog ticked all the boxes for what I was looking for as a bride-to-be; whilst that would have been lovely, I don’t think it was a negative at all. Having choice and variety was so important to me during my planning. However, for mainstream bloggers with a wider reach, I think the changes need to be subtle. Simply by considering visual inclusive representation. Whether that is via real weddings, the models and advertisers they use or by using an inclusive voice. These subtle changes could only bring about positivity.’
‘For me it doesn’t need to go into full culture about each race and religion. That to me is not the issue and is an impossible feat to represent every single culture in detail. Brides will find specific cultural resources for their religion or culture via their local communities, cultural specific blogs, or families. But I think it would be simple and could only be very effective to slowly start increasing the number of images of women of varying ethnicity and shapes and sizes on an even keel. Some beautiful blog features that have inspired me and that I’d love to see more of the same of can be found here, here, here and here. I say it all the time – we are all beautiful and we all matter.’
I’ve loved connecting with Nova over this issue and would like to thank her for her support and for being so helpful. I’ve made a lovely new colleague and friend and Nova’s intelligent, articulate and very well balanced thoughts and suggestions have given me immense food for thought. Love My Dress isn’t trying to appeal to everyones personal aesthetic taste, but we don’t ever want to discriminate against any members of our reader community based on race, skin colour, age, height or weight. After writing this feature and after having connected with Nova, I feel commited more than ever to make this as diverse a blog resource as I can.
Do you think the UK bridal industry have an issue with diversity?
Are they under representing black brides?
Is there more that wedding blogs and wedding magazines could do, or be doing differently?
Is the term black bride acceptable to you or do you think political correctness has taken a wrong turn somewhere?
We appreciate and understand why some of you may prefer to comment anonymously to this feature and that’s completely OK with us.
You might also want to explore our Beautiful Brides of Colour category.
Photography – Nikos Gogas
Cakes – Elizabeth Solaru Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium
Cinematography – Urban Cinematography
Creative Director – Nova Reid | Nu Bride
Designer Wedding Gowns – Elizabeth Stuart
Flowers & Design – Essential Couture | Essential Wedding Hire
Hair & Make Up – Suki Miles
Jewellery – (modern wire jewellery) Xaman EK |
Jewellery & veils – (pearls and birdcage veils) Yarwood White & Lily Bella
Linens – Over The Top Rentals
Shoes – Handmade by Marsha Hall
(* red shoes only are by Jimmy Choo)
Stationery – Foto Fusion
Venue – Grace BarModels – Natalie Douglas, Scarlette Douglas, Teneisha Bonner + Nova of Nu Bride