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Why I say yes to the dress

What do you do if you find yourself loving a TV show that promotes values you don’t support?

Such is the case for me with TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. The gist of the show is women come to Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City with a variety of friends and relatives (their “entourage”) to try on and pick out their wedding gowns.

Things I love about the show:

  • The beautiful gowns.
  • Randy, the fashion director, and how he compliments all the women, no matter their shape or size.
  • The relationships between family members. I get choked up when a father gets tears in his eyes upon seeing his daughter in full bridal regalia (or “jacked-up” as they say on the show).

I also understand, however, that weddings often uphold unhealthy cultural ideals that include and go beyond the perfectly thin and conventionally beautiful bride.

Traditional weddings are a symbolic handing over of the woman from the keeping of one man to another, as though she were property to be exchanged. The media and wedding industry also create and support the idea that having a wedding (not being married, mind you) is the single most important thing a woman can do.

And about Say Yes to the Dress — I know that:

  • Wedding dresses are ridiculously, insanely, stupidly expensive. They also reinforce traditional beauty standards (samples are traditionally a size 6) and can cause women to focus on their “problem areas” as they try the dress on in front of friends and family (and the TV audience).
  • Randy’s job is to sell wedding dresses. It’s in his best interest to make the bride feel beautiful so that she will buy a dress.
  • The women are often depicted as relying on their entourages to help them make decisions. It’s not uncommon for a woman to like a dress in the dressing room, but decide she doesn’t like it if her entourage expresses disapproval. The result is that the women can come across as indecisive, immature, and utterly dependent on others to tell them what they think.

And yet, I watch the show every chance I get. 

How is it that I can be so addicted to a show that creates and supports ideas I’m directly opposed to?

For me, it comes down to making informed choices. Being media literate is knowing how to determine the assumptions and values media uphold about women, beauty, sexuality, and any other number of issues.

Once we’re able to see through the media’s implied values, we have a choice to make. We can acknowledge that the core message of a show is in conflict with our values and decide to reject the show’s message while enjoying the show (or movie or ad campaign or whatever) for other reasons.

Or we can decide that the conflict is too great and not watch the show and even let the makers of the show know why.

Or perhaps the show is not in conflict with our values at all — not all media rely on negative images of women and can actually promote images of strong, independent women.

Knowing that you have a choice is the important thing. You do not have to blindly accept what you’re being told by the media — nor do you have to fully reject it. Becoming media literate makes you powerful by giving you the autonomy to decide and advocate for yourself.

And that’s something I can definitely say yes to.

Tara is a writer and educator who has a long-standing interest in sociology and women’s issues. She is particularly interested in the way the wedding industry defines and reinforces a single, narrow definition of womanhood. 


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