The glossy magazine covers featuring smiling brides adorned with flowers and lace are not a new phenomenon. The first magazine devoted specifically to brides was Bride’s Magazine, published for the first time in Autumn of 1934.[i] In Decoding Women’s Magazines, Ellen McCracken notes that corporations like Conde Nast, publisher of Bride’s Magazine, learned early on that the wedding planning period was a lucrative time to advertise to female consumers, while simultaneously instilling ‘a large array of pseudo-needs’ that the magazine could also propose to meet. Beyond strategically capitalizing on the spending powers of women during the pre-wedding stage, these magazines also sold traditional views about gender and marriage. Studies of publications like Bride’s prove that – unsurprisingly – they reinforced the popularly held societal views common at the time of publication.[ii] For example, an October/November issue from a 1983 Bride’s featured an article titled ‘Becoming a Wife’ that provided advice to female readers on how to fulfill their new roles – advice that clearly reflected dominant social norms.[iii] Articles like these (even when not as explicit in their training aims) were also accompanied by advertisements for various products that (directly or indirectly) promised to help women fulfill their new wifely roles. Therefore, these glossy magazines packed full of advertisements for designer gowns, luxury jewels, and upscale honeymoon resorts are not as benign as they might appear at a glance. As McCracken notes, these magazines were stealthily training women to ‘uphold the traditional status quo,’ while also teaching them to purchase commodities that would further ensure they would fall in line with conservative ideologies concerning gendered relationships.[iv]
Although one would hope that more contemporary issues of Brides Magazine would have done away with this practice of associating soon-to-be married women with conventional domestic roles, unfortunately, this practice continues. For example, the October/November 2013 issue contains an ad for Cuisinart that depicts a future groom, on bent knee, proposing to his would-be bride.
He has painted ‘Will you marry me?’ on the wall, and his fiancé reacts as one might expect: she is thrilled. The copy reads:
One good proposal deserves another! Not that he’s popped the question, it’s time to say ‘yes’ to the kitchen of your dreams. So, when filling out your registry, pick something fast, that’s build to last, something hot, like a set of pots, and something new that’s brewed just for you. Make the kitchen of your dreams a reality with Cuisinart.[v]
This ad highlights at least three issues: first, the sentence ‘Now that he’s popped the question, it’s time to say ‘yes’ to the kitchen of your dreams’ places the romantic ideal of the wedding on the same level as domesticity, implying that, for the woman, the wedding and the domestic realm exist (or should exist) in tandem. Also, the word ‘dream’ appears twice in the ad, further inculcating in women the notion of living in a fairytale world once married. Finally, the singsong, rhyming nature of the ad, along with the reference to the ‘something borrowed, something blue,’ serve to both infantilize women and perpetuate the prospective fairytale-like quality of the wedding that women are meant to embrace.
A Macy’s ad in the same issue features a young man and his bride-to-be sitting on a couch, surrounded by gift registry items such as home appliances and towels.
This ad, too, glamorizes domesticity: the future bride is wearing a tiara, implying she is a princess who has snagged her prince. At the same time, she is surrounded by blenders, cake plates, dishes, pots, and towels, and the copy urges the couple to ‘Register for Macy’s Dream Fund.’[vi] In this ad, both the images and the text suggest a merging of the romantic with the domestic. On the second page of this two-page ad is a full-sized image of two vacuums (meant to represent the couple), along with flowers in a vase in between the two vacuums. The words ‘I do’ are in the upper right-hand corner, and the copy reads: ‘Make a clean sweep as you start your new life together.’[vii] The ‘I do,’ placed strategically over the bright pink vacuum cleaner, along with the pink flowers, work together to imply that she will say ‘I do’ to her fiancé at the same time that she says ‘I do’ to domesticity. Essentially, the message here is that a bride-to-be can be a princess, provided that she combines this glamorous role with the soon-to-be domestic role of wife. This is ironic, of course, considering that fairytale mythology would have us believe that the prince is supposed to take the young woman away from a life of toil so that she can become royalty. Finally, the juxtaposition of ‘dream fund’ with ‘the magic of Macy’s’ works as a method to remind the bride-to-be that her wedding should combine the magic – found through marriage – with her childhood dreams of becoming a bride.[viii] Hence, similar to the Cuisinart ad, the Macy’s ad also reflects the cultural training women received during girlhood, while reinforcing domestic stereotypes that will be continually thrust upon them in the coming stages.
Another noteworthy contemporary advertisement for cookware appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings. The ad for All-Clad shows a young bride-to-be holding a large frying pan in front of her body, and the copy below her chin reads: ‘I fell for a rugged, real looker who cleans up good. Now we’re together for life.’[ix] The copy indicates that, along with falling for her future husband, the future bride has also fallen for the cookware. That is, the perfect marriage for a woman is one that unites her with a man at the same time that it unites her to her new world of household tasks. While the copy on the first page of this two page ad stresses the rewards of cooking together with a spouse, both the fact that the woman is holding the cookware and the copy, which states they are ‘together for life,’ suggest that the domestic realm is exclusively her domain. And even though the ad is intended to be humorous, it still works as any ad from 50 years ago might work in that it reinforces stereotypical models for women.
What is significant about all three of the ads discussed here is that they use direct address to communicate (supposedly veiled) directives: Cuisinart tells the future bride to ‘Make the kitchen of your dreams a reality with Cuisinart.’; the Macy’s ad tells her to ‘make a clean sweep as you start your new life together’; and the All-Clad ad maintains that ‘Expressing your culinary side is fulfilling while creating a recipe and also when enjoying the results at the table.’ While this isn’t an uncommon practice in advertising, it is interesting to note that this strategic use of second person (‘you’) is also prevalent in the self-help genre. Bridal magazines are not often considered as falling within the realm of the self-help genre. However, this childlike rhetoric, rhyming tone, and use of direct suggest they may as well. And most significantly, these three advertisements highlight how being a bride is, indeed, a pivotal stage in a woman’s life. For this brief period of time leading up to the wedding and during the event, a woman has become the princess bride that society has told her to she should long to be. But immediately afterward she must return to reality, where she will receive still more instruction on how to fulfill her now role as a wife (and potentially mother).
At first glance these bridal magazines may seem like relatively harmless products that simply buy into the capitalistic wedding culture. But, in reality, the contents that fill their pages actually do some lasting cultural training during a period that has been framed as the so-called climax of a woman’s life – the moment when she finally gets to become a princess for a day; the point at which she’s finally secured her supposed “happily ever after.” These magazines don’t train women on how to act for just their special day (or the Bridezilla-influenced lead up to it), but rather they train them on how they’re supposed to act in the days, years, and decades that follow it.
[i] The title of the magazine when it was originally published was Bride’s; later, it was titled Brides.
[ii] McCracken, Ellen. Decoding Women’s Magazines: From Mademoiselle to Ms. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, pg. 268.
[iii] McCracken, Ellen. Decoding Women’s Magazines, pg. 269.
[iv] McCracken, Ellen. Decoding Women’s Magazines, 269-70.
[v] Cuisinart. Advertisement. Brides Magazine. Oct/Nov. 2013, pg. 160-61.
[vi] Macy’s. Advertisement. Brides Magazine. Oct/Nov. 2013, pg. 54.
[vii] Macy’s. Advertisement. Brides Magazine. Oct/Nov. 2013, pg. 55.
[viii] Macy’s. Advertisement. Brides Magazine. Oct/Nov. 2013, pg. 54-5.
[ix] All-Clad. Advertisement. Martha Stewart Weddings. Winter 2014, pg. 137.