The Bride Factory: Mass Media Portrayals of Women and Weddings

Article excerpt

Engstrom, Erika. The Bride Factory: Mass Media Portrayak of Women and Weddings. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. 300 pp. $38.95.

In The Bride Factory, Erika Engstrom explores bridal media from dieir inception in Victorian-era newspaper announcements to the modern media milieu of bridal magazines, websites, and reality television shows. Following Antonio Gramsci, the feminist scholar interrogates the common-sense heteronormative and consumerist logics embedded in bridal media: the mediated mandate for all women - from the feminine to the feminists - to find the perfect dress and to be the perfect bride regardless of the monetary or personal costs.

Engstrom contends that the hegemonic logics of bridal media operate by creating a mystique surrounding the traditional white wedding. Future brides, the target audience of bridal media such as the cable television program Say Yes to the Dress, can literally buy into the cultural construction of feminine perfection by purchasing wedding-oriented products featured in storylines. While attempting to conform to this ideal of wedding-day perfection, the real career women portrayed in modern bridal media discipline their bodies to fit into the mold of the perfect dress; in the end, the mediated image of the perfect bride undermines the professional and personal identities of reality television characters.

Engstrom acknowledges that there is a degree of agency in depictions of bridesto-be. They can and do assert their authority in wedding planning activities. In the last instance, their power is illusory and fleeting. She asserts that in reality women bear the brunt of the unpaid physical and emotional labor associated with creating the perfect wedding. They may have final decision-making abilities, but they last only for a season. Furthermore, women too vocal in the assertion of this authority are portrayed as hysterical monsters, better known as bridezillas.

Resistance and opposition are accounted for in Engstrom's book. A rare counterhegemonic thread exists in mainstream bridal media - the bride-to-be determined to elope, the thrifty homemade wedding, the same-sex couple's nuptials. The voice of resistance and opposition emerges from alternative websites such as feministweddings.org or unmarried.org, which lack a profit-driven motive. These sites, Engstrom contends, have materialized from a subaltern class of organic intellectuals, individuals who have embraced the democratic possibility of the Internet. …