Those of you are familiar with the Love My Dress blog and therefore format, will know that concluding each real wedding feature are the brides’ ‘Words of Wedded Wisdom’, and they are fabulous! A real insight for those yet to pass through the day of wedded bliss. They are frequently calming, heartfelt, entertaining and reassuring. In brief, they are my favourite bit – unscripted, unprompted, say-what-you-will, personal reflection.
My wedding was one of those fortunate few, lucky enough to grace the beautiful pages of this very blog. And at the end of the questionnaire, when asked for what was now my eagerly anticipated I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-have-my-own ‘words of wedded wisdom’, I wrote:
The secret Love My Dress Facebook group is more valuable than words! It is the single greatest resource of kindness, openness, honesty, love, friendship, empathy and collaboration that I have ever witnessed from a group of women before, and the most valuable outlet you can give yourself on your wedding planning journey.
Since I wrote those words, and saw them in published glory, I’ve been reflecting on the sentiment behind it. I know that I wrote them because it was honest. It wasn’t from some vein hope that the writers of the blog were so egocentric that a few sacrificial words of flattery would cement my fate amongst their pages. And I know that this honesty derived from nothing other than my own lived experience. What I felt less clear of, what I wanted to mull over within my brain that so constantly seeks explanation, was, how was it that I had such a positive experience through this particular blog and it’s private Facebook group community?
Just last week, we were told that of the startling rise in common mental disorders (CMD) in our population: a trend increasing. On average, across age ranges, 19% of women suffer with a CMD, with young women disproportionately affected. The survey study correctly concluded that it cannot determine causal prevalence, but it did allude to the likely influence from a dramatic rise in the social media culture over the presiding 7-year period. Consider then, that more women than men marry under the age of 30 with the highest marrying age bracket for women being 25-30, and you’ll see parallels in that age range.
We live in an age of social media saturation. The benefit of course is that we are mere clicks away from constant connection, and we are more open than we ever have been. But online connection doesn’t necessarily result in meaningful connection. We can hide behind a wall of anonymity and thus accountability, with our openness leaving us profoundly vulnerable. We share the minutiae of our lives, and we can, and frequently are, criticised for this.
Somewhat ironically, research has found that loneliness amongst the younger population has increased since the age of social media. Given that social pain has as real an impact as physical pain, is it any wonder our incidence of CMD has actually increased?
When I was growing up, about age 12-13, my friends and I would frequently do “fashion shoots”. We’d dress up in each other’s clothes, pull frankly fabulous poses and take photos on disposable cameras, thinking we were utterly marvellous. Those photos were printed, squirrelled away in forgotten albums and come out periodically for monumental giggles (lime skirt, black feather boa and purple lipstick… really?!) but at the time, they were never seen by anyone except us.
This isn’t hugely different to the posing seen by adolescents today, the difference however is the world-wide sharing of those images on photo-sharing sites, and the comments you can receive from well, anyone. Given that this can happen at any age, are we really surprised we’re suffering?
The bombardment of images, now readily altered at the click of a smart phone by just about anyone, ensures that we are surrounded by a perception of perfection. The glory that is wedding pinterest-land doesn’t differentiate between images from styled shoots and those of honest reflection. The global dieting industry is expected to reach £220-bn by 2017 as we seek to alter ourselves to fit what we believe as the expectations of society. And whilst there’s no financial measure for it, a quick google for ‘wedding diet’ elicits an astonishing 21,800,000 results. We, fellow brides, are big business.
As with all things, where there is money, there is a vested interest. Huge multi-national companies peddle diet products in goody bags at wedding shows, and stalls exist with everyone selling anything from an intensive bridal boot-camp, to detox tea, to teeth whitening and cosmetic enhancement. The industry knows we look at millions of images of perfection, and it knows we want it. We want to look the best, have the best, be the best because in some ways, we’re kind of told we should: it makes money.
Beauty and physical appearance aside, the wedding industry is now worth an incredible £10-bn in the UK alone. Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, magazines, web pages, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat – the list is endless. They all provide amazing access to ideas and inspiration; a web of creativity that I have no doubt should be credited with our move away from feeling stifled by the option of only a church or a registry office for our celebrations. But they also tell us what everyone else had.
So you’ve seen it, you want it, your expectation of yourself and those around you are of nothing short of perfect, you’re surrounded by money-making ploys to make you feel negatively about yourself your budget and your creative talents, you’re more likely to be affected by poor mental health, the social pressure you feel to be the best is staggering… is it any wonder the phrase ‘bridezilla’ was coined? Our wedding related behaviour is not always ideal. And then add to that the vulnerability of exposing yourself, and your flaws online to an army of equally frustrated anonymity protected brides.
So if that’s the context, how the heck did/does this Facebook group and it’s wonderful community of members (who have affectionately become known as ‘The Belles’) provide me with such a positive experience?
At one time, I followed another Facebook page, one that posted queries on behalf of a many an anonymous bride. Though it really didn’t take long until I unfollowed it after seeing an influx of negative, insulting and judgemental responses emerge. Those commenting weren’t anonymous, their Facebook profiles were known, yet it didn’t make a great deal of difference. This negativity happened so frequently that the posts began to be preceded by a disclaimer akin to: ‘please don’t insult our brides’. Well, one can conclude from that that if there’s a health warning as a header it’s likely that it’s an unhelpful outlet.
With that said, is it that the Love My Dress Facebook group works because communication is facilitated between two faces? Real people so to speak? It seems unlikely to be just that given the abundance of lengthy keyboard warrior comments on many facebook posts between two previously unknown individuals. That being said, nor is the group ‘policed’.
The answer to this long, and rambling post of reflection is that in all honesty, I don’t know why. But this group works. It shouldn’t, everything about the context says it shouldn’t, but it does.
I’ve been a member now since the groups’ very roots. If my memory serves me correctly, I think I was member number 18. I’ve travelled with the group since the days when there was 1 post every 3 days, to the present picture of probably 25. The women in this group ask everything from the mundane and practical wedding planning issues, to the sharing of deep personal anxieties and troubles, to the hilarious and ridiculous: their words and their photos. And by their side, a community of crazy brides, goes along with them on their journey. In all the posts and comments I have seen, not once have a witnessed someone be belittled, humiliated or insulted – and that’s a lot of content.
There was even a post about BREXIT – a pro-remain thread of multiple authored levels of frustration – and amongst the comments came a lady who said ‘I voted BREXIT and here’s why’. And in response? A barrage, not of abuse, but of respect for her decision despite the very different and highly charged political positions.
Love My Dress was by far my favourite blog, not just because the blogs strongly feature the bride’s voice, but because of the whole ethos, sentiment and community.
Statistically, over 1 in 5 of us has a mental health disorder. We’re likely suffering to a degree from a media age we’re the first generation to experience and are navigating our way blindly through, yet we’re seeking comfort and assurance from strangers within social media – and we’re receiving it. Strangers who are also suffering wedding anxieties, crisis of confidence and pressures of perfectionism. But instead of seeking assurance for ourselves from the belittling of others, all 1,037 of us are aiding each other, building confidence, offering assurance, providing a space and a safety and a community of love, openness, and honesty.
For your information, that’s a huge group of women! For me, this, is the single most positive experience I have encountered from a group of women in my life. I don’t know how this group, and indeed the Love My Dress blog, does it when so many others fail – and I can only assume there’s a huge credit and testament to be found from the woman who conceived it. Every day it surprises me and every day I love it a little more. Perhaps it’s a reaction to a group of women finally finding a safe online space to call home, but whatever the groups’ success, long may it continue.
So in true wedding fashion, here’s to the Wedding Belles, to all it represents and to showing social media what is possible. Long may it continue!
Images taken from my real wedding feature on Love My Dress – photography by Lisa Aldersley