The Nation's Pulse

Postmodern Bride

Weddings today seem little more than an excuse for a couple to enjoy a really big party.

By 6.14.06

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Given the season, it's hardly surprising that the Wall Street Journal would report on the newest bridal trend. But the trend itself is anything but predictable: Brides are hiring wedding "photojournalists" to snap risque pre-ceremony photos of them -- in their lingerie, in provocative poses, or even in the bathroom.

Certainly, the phenomenon highlights just how far removed the modern wedding has become from a ceremony primarily intended to commemorate the union of a man and woman before God. Many weddings, it seems, have become little more than an excuse for a couple to enjoy a really big party, featuring a bride who's playing "queen for a day." Church services are bare-bones and hastily conducted so that all in attendance can hastily decamp to the reception and get down to the real business of the day: Partying.

In earlier times, of course, "sexiness" was restricted to the honeymoon suite, and even there, came into play only after the wedding. Now, it seems, brides are eager to flaunt what they've got in front of a male photographer before any vows have been made (or broken). That's probably because, in most cases, brides are showing the photographers no more than the bridegroom -- and perhaps others before him -- have seen on a regular basis, given the frequency of premarital cohabitation.

A marriage therapist and sociology professor quoted in the Journal piece theorizes that the risque photos are a refined form of irony, a means for the bride to poke fun at the trappings of a traditional bridal ceremony. And it would be a plausible explanation -- if, in fact, the brides were being subjected to traditional white weddings against their will.

But even as it's become clear that the majority of brides aren't actually virgins on their wedding nights, symbols of chastity like veils and white dresses have nonetheless remained valued parts of bridal ceremonies. That's true even though now, more than ever, couples are paying for their own weddings, and can therefore arrange them as they like. And so it's worth asking: Why would young women continue to opt for a traditional wedding when they could skip the church, dress and veil, and simply precede a really fabulous bash with some sexy boudoir shots?

Notwithstanding the jarring addition of provocative pictures, the customary white wedding will remain the norm, quite simply because it is still enormously important to women. Traditional weddings speak to women's deep-seated longing to have their union with a man honored in a formal ritual that publicly recognizes the importance and exclusivity of the relationship. Even a decadent weeklong party at some splendid location lacks the emotional resonance of the most minimal church ceremony.

Perhaps risque photos so popular at present are little more than another symptom of a culture in which sexuality is celebrated above everything else. But long after the trend passes, brides will continue to wear white, and even long-cohabiting couples will continue to choose to sleep apart the night before their weddings. Those, at least, are hopeful signs that the ideals of modesty and chastity remain powerful and are still being honored -- even in the breach.

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