I was not particularly concerned with the problem of being a woman in the world until I was planning a wedding. And it wasn’t the thousand petty gender-based insults of the planning process that tipped me over to rabid feminism (you know: the now-you’re-engaged checklists that start with, “Set your wedding weight loss goal,” the vendors who dismissed my fiancé’s questions with, “Whatever the bride wants”).
It was, instead, the direct insults of Internet strangers, who had seen a video of my fiancé’s elaborate proposal in their British online tabloid:
That lady needs a serious make over !! wonder why he is proposing, perhaps he needs to stay in the US?
So ugly … truth!
He’s got pretty low standards by the look of her.
Good god! ugly couple, bad clothes & HUGE teeth!
Lucky girl. I mean it, she’s pretty ugly.
My defenders did not necessarily make me feel better:
This is so women can know that you don’t have to be hot or pretty or sexy…
Loads of nasty people here as usual. This lady might not be pretty but I’m sure she is lovely as a person.
She looks so plain, she must have a wonderful personality.
At least the ostensible defenders were more accurate in their criticisms:
Has she ever heard of deodorant? I’ve never seen a woman with patches that big under her arms!
You could have at least searched what a deodorant is and what prevents a ‘sweat patch’ before being rude here. You meant anti-perspirant?
Let me assure you that I felt—and insisted to friends who pointed out that the best revenge against trolls is to ignore them—that there was a greater principle at stake. An unsmall minority of commenters were straightforwardly asserting, not to me (because we’ll give them the benefit of assuming that they were not intending their comments for my eyes particularly), but to the world at large, that there is such a thing as not being pretty enough to deserve happiness.
doesn’t everyone deserve happiness?
Let me rewind and replay that so you can appreciate how fucked up it is: There are people in this world who honestly believe that there is such a thing as not being pretty enough to deserve happiness.
Now that raised my previously undiscovered feminist hackles. In the months leading up to my wedding, I was more interested in Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg than in Vera Wang and Emily Post. I read social and cultural histories of marriage and sent angry rants about choice feminism to my (patient, kind, feminist) fiancé. I wrote (yes, really) sentences like, “Prehistoric assumptions about gender underlie the entire wedding-industrial complex,” in emails to friends looking for cheery wedding updates. I donated to Planned Parenthood for the first time.
And in between, I scoured YouTube for “beginner makeup tutorials.”
Because I was doing it too—believing that some fraction of the happiness I would feel while marrying the man that I love and throwing a darn good party for a huge and supportive crowd of family and friends would be correlated with how pretty I managed to be on that day. By caring that other people cared, I was participating in and propagating that form of female body insecurity that I was simultaneously wishing was not a real thing. I hated Kate from Cardiff and her typo-riddled, small-minded assessment of my appearance, but I also hated my hair.
when you think you’re doing it wrong
I wish I could tell you that I understood this when it mattered; that I was able to plan a wedding and spend more time thinking about what would bring me and my husband and our families and friends joy than whether or not it was a societal obligation to wear lip gloss. I didn’t. I looked at wedding dresses more than I replied to excited phone calls from old friends. I pinned pictures of shoes more than I thought about whether our grandparents were healthy enough to travel. I looked at hairstyles on the Internet while snuggling in bed with my fiancé. And when I sometimes decided not to fully engage in the beauty-based rituals of bridedom (buying a dress that was inexpensive and practical but not necessarily The One; wiping off the ill-advised lip gloss before the ceremony), I felt enormously guilty for doing it wrong.
It has taken a long time to understand that caring about strangers’ random Internet cruelty is just as regrettable as inflicting it. In between, there’s been lots of seizing upon incoherent excuses for hating wedding planning and dissolving into tears at the thought that marriage might be a first step toward bringing daughters into an irreparably unjust world. (My now-husband’s patient absorption of all that is part of what continues to convince me that the commenters were right that I am unjustly lucky to have him.) And I’m still not clear on what it all means.
But: As someone who, a year and a happy wedding later, nearly didn’t write this because it would mean revisiting the mild depreciations of trans-Atlantic strangers, I recognize that it is impossibly hard not to care. But I submit to you that, whatever your wedding-related appearance-based insecurity is, it might be the kindest thing to let it go.
This post originally ran on APW in October 2013