Taking on the identity of bride comes with a set of assumptions. You’re slotted into a basket full of other people who are going through the same life event, but who otherwise may not be anything like you. But everyone will treat you in a certain way because of how we define the word bride, and because of other people’s associations with this identity.
There are other identities I have that are like that, of course. Woman. Feminist. And, as I’ve daily been reminded since I started wedding planning, Asian-American.
I don’t think of my ethnicity on a daily basis. But like all people of color, it’s the lens I view the world through, the awareness that has shaped my perspective. As a member of the so-called “model minority,” this has translated to recognizing the absence of my ethnicity and under representation in the media and onscreen. But embarking on the bridal experience has led to the opposite: being confronted with my color in ways I never expected.
WILL YOU HAVE A TEA CEREMONY?
When I started visiting venues, I got used to innocent comments about how I would love the hibachi station or the “Asian salmon” entree. After all, I rationalized, the venue manager had only mentioned it because it was his wife’s favorite. This is something I’ve always done: tried to give the benefit of the doubt to a person’s positive intention. And for a few visits, I thought comments like these or assurances that venues could accommodate “ethnic weddings” were just a side effect of venturing outside of the liberal New York City bubble.
But then I went on a visit to a riverside venue where I couldn’t just ignore my race, or the effect it had on the person sitting across from me. One of the first questions she asked me was the question that every nonwhite person in the U.S. has heard:
“Where are you from?”
I gave her a small, polite smile. “I lived in Georgia before I moved to New York, but my parents are from Taiwan.”
The woman smiled back. “Cool! I’m a quarter Chinese and Cuban.”
“Ah,” I said, noticing that she did look like it. “So I bet you must get asked the, ‘Where are you from?’ question a lot.”
If she heard the slight pointedness to my tone, her enthusiasm didn’t show it. “Yes! What about your fiancé?”
“He’s half Irish, half Jewish.”
“We’ve done lots of Chinese and Jewish weddings! Will you have a tea ceremony? What about a chuppah?”
I began to wonder how she would approach me if she didn’t know what I looked like. I shook my head, then decided to try to put an end to this line of questioning with something I wouldn’t normally have said. “I don’t think we’ll have either. He doesn’t practice, so for all intents and purposes, just consider him white.”
But even this didn’t stop her.
“Oh!” she said, nodding with enthusiasm. “So he’s -ish!”
It went on, and on. They were all small, well intended questions—it’s called a microaggression for a reason—and I have no doubt this woman was genuinely trying to be helpful in determining our needs. But one after another, all together, they grew into a telegraphed message of you are different. For whatever reason, she couldn’t just treat me like a person, or a woman getting married, or even as a potential client. She had to put a name to my identity to know how to relate to me. If I asked a question about the venue’s distinctive ceiling, she had to let me know that the architect was a Chinese woman, too. If I mentioned bringing in my own cake, she had to ask if it was a “special” kind of cake. Everything she said was so rooted in my ethnicity that had I been white, I don’t know what she would have said to me at all. And it wasn’t even limited to me.
“Are either of you big drinkers?”
“No, not really.”
“What about his family? You know, since they’re Irish?”
I sat there for a moment, a little stunned. “No,” I finally said. “He doesn’t really have any family.”
When I got home that evening, I crossed that venue off our list.
EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT WHEN YOU’RE NOT THE BRIDAL NORM
But it’s only in person—venue hunting, dress shopping—that I’ve been treated this way. Online, where no one can see me, it’s different. Online, it’s back to noticing the lack of diversity and representation.
Early on, I fell in love with a high-end photographer’s work, which I saw featured in magazines and my favorite websites, and I contacted her to get her rates. But then, as we got further into the process, I noticed that almost every single bride in the photographer’s portfolio was white. The vast majority were blonde. How would that gorgeous, gauzy, full of light photography style work on an Asian-American bride with black hair? I was sure that an excellent photographer like her would still create beautiful images. But without seeing that representation of people like me, I couldn’t know for sure.
Since then, even when the bridal industry isn’t whacking me across the face with my Asianness, I haven’t been able to stop not-seeing myself in the bridal industry. It’s endemic, from the photos of hair accessories and dresses on only blonde and brunette models, to the bridal spreads in magazines with white models. And I’m light-skinned, cisgender, and bridal sample-sized. If it’s this noticeable for me, I know the problem has to be a hundred times worse for brides with darker skin, plus sizes, older ages, LGBTQ identities, or anyone who doesn’t fall into the whiteness, in dress and skin tone, that the bridal industry defines as the norm. They sell us on all the ways we’re not that image, and then they sell us the solutions for the “problem” they’ve highlighted.
I don’t know how to solve the issues in the bridal microcosm any more than I know how to solve the same problems in the world outside of it. But I think we start by telling our stories and acknowledging these experiences that aren’t the bridal industry norm. We create our own visibility, and our own ways to be seen. Our own space.