So–and it pains me to admit this as a feminist and sort-of pinko commie–but I am big fan of What Not To Wear on TLC. I prefer the ones where they make over a single mom who stopped caring about her looks or someone who gained weight or lost weight and never learned how to look hot in their new body to the ones where they take a young person who has a personal style and force them to abandon it, but I will watch them all. Often when someone says something like “People shouldn’t care about how I dress, they should focus on my talents at my job,” and Clinton and Stacy always respond “Yeah, in a perfect world that would be true, but in this one, it’s not, so buy a free suit!” I think a lot of the show’s more strident critics miss that, it’s about learning to work within the system, not about what a failure you are for not doing so. There’s a very realpolitik edge to the whole thing.
But, it’s also corporate entertainment’s dream show, because it literally is about training people to be good consumers. The hosts give the participants shopping lessons. It is pretty unsubtle about framing it as a woman’s duty to know how to shop well, even if it’s hard work.
But that’s not what I want to talk about, I want to talk about the new show that’s running with it on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, Say Yes To The Dress. The show is basically a reality show about the day-to-day workings of Kleinfeld’s, which is a big fancy bridal salon. It focuses on women who go to the store to buy wedding dresses, and their struggles to find the perfect dress. Because it’s a half-hour show and it usually focuses on more than one bride, each one basically gets a story like this: “bride comes in, tries on a few dresses, eventually finds the one she wants.” The screen shows the designer, style, and cost of the dress. Sometimes it is intermingled with a story about someone having difficulties with alterations, but mainly it’s a giant ad for the store, combined with this weird fairy-tale narrative. Every episode basically has a woman saying, “..and then I put on the dress and I just started crying. I just knew it was the one.” Buying a wedding dress is a lot like falling in love, if falling in love cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. That’s basically the message of the show, that your wedding dress isn’t just a dress, it’s this magical thing that you have been dreaming about since you were a small child1, and they want to feel like a princess on their wedding day. It’s totally fascinating to watch (also: a lot of wedding dresses are really ugly and overpriced), but it’s just so bizarre, this narrative. You’d never see a show about dudes falling in love with their wedding tuxes.
1 The women on this show always say this, and while I did fantasize about one of the New Kids on the Block being my boyfriend when I was a small child, I don’t remember ever daydreaming about the perfect wedding. I don’t know anyone who did this. I’m sure some women do — and I would imagine they are the same population who frequent fancy bridal shops — but seriously, I die a little inside every time I hear the phrase “Every girl dreams about the perfect wedding.”
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