Thursday, October 28, 2010

Online Marketing and the Plus-Sized Bride

In light of the Marie Claire controversy this week (if you missed it, one of their bloggers wrote a vitriolic piece entitled "Should Fatties Get a Room? (Even on TV?)" about how overweight people gross her out), I wanted to repost this blog article I originally wrote in March about how the wedding industry often markets (or doesn't) to plus-sized brides. 

Before we get into that though, I'd like to give a nod to some people in the industry who are changing all this and celebrating love in all sizes:
  • Khris Cochran, the brilliant craftista behind the DIY Bride brand, launched Plumage this year, a fashion resource for plus-sized brides. It features real weddings of non-skinny brides (which, frankly, rarely show up on mainstream wedding blogs), as well as directories for both bridal gowns and bridesmaid dresses in plus-sizes.
  • Strut Bridal Salon, in Phoenix, is the first bridal boutique that I know of (and if there are others, forgive me), that caters exclusively to brides sizes 12 and up, with a mantra that "curves are meant to be celebrated." They carry gown samples in sizes 16-32.
  • Randy Fenoli and Kleinfeld launched a new show called "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss", which focuses on helping plus-sized women find their perfect dress and feel beautiful for their wedding day.
There may be others, but these are three companies that are focusing specifically on this market in a positive manner.

Here is the original article from March on the messages the wedding industry sends to brides online:

Online Marketing and the Plus-Sized Bride
originally published March 18, 2010

Last year, the Journal of Health Psychology published a study* of Australian brides-to-be and their pre-wedding weight concerns. The study included 879 brides with an average age of 26 recruited from five different Australian-based bridal websites. Here are some excerpts from their research:
  • 75% of the brides intended to exercise more and eat in a more healthy manner. 
  • 35% planned to cut out fat and carbohydrates from their diet.
  • 43% planned to use an indoor tanning bed before the wedding day.
  • 52% planned to undergo teeth whitening treatments.
  • Over 1/3 of the brides had been encouraged to lose weight for their wedding by someone else. (emphasis mine)
In light of this information, my questions relate to how the social media marketing efforts of various wedding companies contribute to the body image of brides. I have listened to several seminars of wedding industry educators - both in person and on educational DVD's and webinars - on how to attract the "ideal bride" as a client. Most have explicitly stated that a vendor should only show photos on their websites and blogs of "beautiful" brides and "only rings that have a diamond of [x] carats or more". I have been told, on more than one occasion and by different vendors, that they couldn't blog a wedding because the couple just wasn't "attractive enough". 

Many people will criticize bridal and fashion magazines for showing an unattainable image, yet turn around and run their own websites and blogs in the same way. Is this type of marketing really effective for weddings? I can think of three specific wedding photographers off the top of my head (and I'm sure there are many more) who will post photos of each wedding, regardless of how photogenic the couple may be. Each of these photographers was also completely booked during the down economy without having to discount prices or offer specials. Were their bookings related to their blogging practices? Maybe, maybe not. The fact of the matter is that their businesses were profitable without them having to only show model-thin and tanned couples through their marketing efforts.

While I do believe that each bride needs to take responsibility for her own actions, at what point do we become accountable, if at all, for encouraging unhealthy extremes? Do we have a responsibility in our own marketing practices as entrepreneurs to a bride's well-being? Is there a line? If so, where is it? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments below.

*Note: I purchased this study through a subscription, so I am unable to link to it.


Kristi Crosson said...

Love love love this article! I am a wedding photographer and my vision is to "redefine the face of beauty". And funny that you mention defining the target bride, because my target bride is plus-sized. I think all too often that overweight brides are left to feel like they are not as worthy and beautiful as their thin counterparts, and it is my desire and goal to change this perception. Big women are beautiful too and being "plus-sized" does not disqualify from beauty. So, LOVE the article!

Rich Pizzuti said...

Great article... In my opinion, those photographers that are driven by client satisfaction will probably blog any and all weddings because they know it will make their clients happy, and make them feel like the star. Also it shows their prospects that they work with a variety of different people, not just the pretty ones. Just my opinion, thanks for this post!

Alissa Harvey said...

I wrote then erased my comment at least three times for fear of not articulating my thoughts in a constructive manner. But here goes.

I see this skewed perception of beauty spreading far beyond the wedding industry. Women have intense pressure on them to be the most beautiful they've ever been on their wedding day. But for so many, this results in extreme measures, as your study indicates--the teeth whitening, the crash diets, fake tanning etc.

Why are we societally, still struggling to attain beauty by artificial means? Why is a plus-sized woman even labeled so? Why do companies like Dove think they deserve a pat on the back for featuring "real women"?

I'm guilty of falling into it myself. Suddenly, at 30 years old I have body issues that never bothered me in my 20's.

Wanting to feel beautiful and confident and radiant on your wedding day is wonderful! But at what cost?

I'm all for breaking down the boundaries of traditional beauty, but I wish that no discussion even needed to be had about it--does that make sense?

ReesieKitty said...

If you think being a plus-sized bride is bad- try being a plus-sized bride who is getting married for the second time at age 40!!

I am fortunate that I have a terrific photographer who is dedicated to just taking lots of great shots that show us being happy, etc. as well as making me look good.

It's almost funny- at many bridal salons you get treated like a second class citizen for being overweight OR being older, even though a 40 year old with an established career may have more $$ to spend than a young bride.

But I definitely feel like I get downgraded if my age comes up or the fact that this is a second wedding and I am looking for something more sophisticated and not a giant meringue hung with crystal beads and feathers.

Bridal shops and the industry in general need to wise up. Money spends just as well from plus-size girls and women who aren't just out of college.

Brooks Ann said...

I think that the fact that the woman is a bride and in love always makes her beautiful.

I make custom wedding dresses for women of all shapes and sizes to take them out of the salon with the sample sizes and alterations into something that we design together to flatter her unique shape. When I first meet a client, one of the questions I ask is "are you planning on gaining or losing weight between now and the wedding", because when I am draping a custom pattern I need to know if I can trust my first measurements or if I need to allow extra labor costs for the constantly changing shape (particularly important for maternity brides!). Almost every bride always says "yes". This is always surprising to me because they are always beautiful women in love.

I also have business cards that have a different photo of different real bride of mine on each card. One of them is of a bride that had a more "model-type" figure and the rest are my other gorgeous brides. I'm always disappointed when I see that everyone wants the card with the "model-type" bride on it.

I think a wedding is about the bride being completely herself. When she is happy with that, she is beautiful. Models in photos never have the same joyful beauty as a woman who is about to marry the man of her dreams.

A Los Angeles Love said...

Thank you for writing this article from inside the wedding industry. As a bride and blogger, I've seen only all too well how the inspiration/image heavy blogs - which ostensibly feature more accessible "real" weddings than when bridal media relied on print forums - have created even more weight and appearance-related pressures for brides. I've had women write to me in gratitude for discussing photography and body image so openly - women who hated their own joy-filled wedding pictures because they didn't look as conventionally beautiful as the inspiration-filled real wedding (and marketing) shoots that have filled the wedding web as of late.

Many of us don't see ourselves reflected in the popular bridal media (weight, race, age), despite the internet's supposed democratization, and many women don't fully understand the self-editing process behind the selected images. I know, for myself and my blog, I'm actively promoting only photographers who have explicit respect for all their clients. If I don't see a variety of couples on a photographer's site or blog, I'm simply not going to hire them.

I think there's a definite growing undercurrent of frustration among brides and there will hopefully be a consumer backlash against fashion magazine standards dictating everyday brides' expectations. You are correct that we each have a responsibility to ourselves, but I think it's an important question to pose to the wedding vendor community as well, perhaps posing it specifically as a respect-for-all-clients issue.

Thank you Liene for such an insightful blog. Although I'm not in the wedding industry, I always appreciate your business, marketing, and human insight.

Rachel said...

I was a "plus-sized" bride and while I felt some pressure I also avoided situations that could have put direct pressure on me. I made my own dress, I didn't deal with normal wedding vendors, didn't go to wedding fairs, etc. I chose my AMAZING photographers because they featured every couple on their site and blog. It not only showed me that they thought everyone was beautiful, but also that they knew how to shoot all body shapes in a flattering way.

Buela said...

When I was shopping for a wedding dress at a reputable bridal shop and asked about the fact that they had almost no dresses in my size (18) to try on (and of course had a no-refunds policy after you special ordered a dress in your size), an experienced sales assistant actually told me that I needed to bring a smaller-sized friend with me to try on the dresses FOR me, and that I should make my decision based on how I thought the dresses looked on her. And she was perfectly serious and clearly thought that this was a reasonable suggestion.

Serena Davidson said...

I am also a photographer and love photographing unusual couples celebrating their wedding day their own way. It's always been my desire to photograph each person in front of my camera in the way that will bring out their unique beauty. It's so great to see in the comments above that brides value this as much as I do. Now it's my turn next year to be a bride in front of the camera and I am searching for a photographer who shows the same values for uniqueness and skills in flattering wedding photography!

phoenixscribe said...

ReesieKitty: "...a giant meringue hung with crystal beads and feathers." ROFL!! That is perhaps the best description of most bridal gowns!

I, too, am a curvier woman, and I recently married my 2nd husband. I found a local seamstress to help with my dress, because trying to find a not-white wedding gown in the bridal shops is next to impossible. Not only does the industry favor model-skinny brides, it nearly completely ignores not-first-time brides, as if we don't deserve the same kind of treatment as that young first-time bride. This strikes me particularly since brides planning their 2nd (or more) wedding should, according to traditions, NOT wear white.

Brooks Ann, I couldn't have said it better. Being a bride makes every woman beautiful, regardless.

It is the societal / industry obsession with size that makes it difficult for a larger woman to find the dress that flatters her body the best. When bridal samples are, at best, running in the size 12 range, they ignore women built the way I am - 5'10", broad-shouldered, wide-hipped, and a completely appropriate size 16.

Claire Ryser said...

This is a great article and I appreciate the effort you're making to expose this media madness! I see so many photography blogs that feature weddings with a "super model" wedding party! I always thought these must be the only kind of clients they book! How naive of me! While I'm a terrible blogger and never blog as often as I should, this has really inspired me to take note of this industry trend that DOES exist and ensure that I never participate in such a false representation of beauty. Again, thank you!

Tracy (Recycled Bride) said...

Interesting post, Liene! I think that just like in other media (fashion, beauty, entertainment), brides get different messages from different sources. There are some sites and blogs that embrace brides of all shapes, colors and sizes, and others that show only the conventional ideal, week after week. And perhaps there's an audience for both, depending on your market.

But to your point about photographers who showcase all types of weddings...I noticed a really interesting phenomenon on my own site recently. Every week, we post a real wedding in our "Wedding Porn Wednesday" feature. I usually get a lot of feedback on Twitter, some comments on Facebook and the blog itself. And I usually feature brides whose looks are interesting to me -- definitely not standard, stick-thin beauties. This week, I chose an amazing Indian-American wedding in Bali, much more extravagant than our typical weddings, featuring a gorgeous bride who's a model/actress. The photos are mind-blowing, and every detail of the wedding is just beautiful. Can you guess the response?

It was lukewarm, at best. So I learned something, at least about our readers. It seems they just don't relate to spreads that look like they came straight out of a fashion magazine. I'm really proud to have members who are enthusiastic about a variety of bridal styles. Is that the case for every bridal publicaton? It's unclear. But based on what I've seen and on your comments about the photogs, I'm guessing that brides just want to see other real brides at their weddings, looking and feeling beautiful and unique.

A great friend of mine who's a popular wedding blogger has a fabulous saying: "Brides are like snowflakes -- no two are alike, and each is beautiful."

Engineer Baker said...

Thank you for saying this - it's absolutely ridiculous how out of hand things are. I'm skinny (like people tell me to eat more ALL THE TIME skinny) and was told that I shouldn't get my dress fitted when I bought it 12 mos before my wedding. Why? Because I might lose weight "from stress" before the wedding. WHAAA?!? Yeah, um no.

kc said...

Thank you for writing this and for speaking out from within the industry. Early on in my wedding planning I was shocked to hear from another bride how she and her fiance were meeting all their vendors face to face because it helped them get free stuff. In the words of her photographer, because they are "magazine worthy", shooting them for a discount was a good business decision. They are both gorgeous. He: tall, dark and handsome. She: tall, slim and fair. I don't grudge them their free stuff (at last count, photography, planning and flowers), but I am saddened by what it says about the industry.

Mark Kingsdorf, MBC - the Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants said...

Liene ROCKS!

I'm so glad people are finally saying this..... I'm tired of taking sized 12-14 brides to salons who make them feel like they're overweight, just becasue the samples are cut for a Barbie Doll.

We show as many of our weddings as photographers will share images of regardless of how photogenic the couples are, or the size of thier budget.

As event designers we're showing more details than beautiful brides ( I dind't make her beautiful - just happy!)... but even smaller, or smaller budget weddings have amazing details..

And our business does very well by showing all sizes, shapes and colors of brides, grooms and weddings...

Thanks for putting this out there Liene!

Danielle said...

This article is very good and oh so true. It is sad that we have to even talk about this but weddings isnt a mega conglomerate because we are all secure with ourselves. When I first started planning my wedding, dress were elaborate gowns for sizes 0-2. Thats really good for them but what about me? I ended settling on a gorgeous gown from Igigi. Something else I find disturbing is that a "beautiful" couple is more likely to get discounts on various services but someone who is not considered "wedding beautiful" gets nothing?

I wish companies would take more responsibility but beauty sells. That is the sad truth. All we can do is find alternative businesses who celebrate all forms of beauty and not the plastered cookie cutter weddings that adorn every corner of the wedding market.

Anonymous said...

I was a plus sized bride and could hardly find any wedding photos of other like sized women. Honestly, if we weren't friends with our wedding photographer I don't think he would have posted our photos on his blog.

Khris Cochran said...

Thank you for such a thought-provoking post, Liene.

If the average woman in the US is size 14, the average bride is going to wear a "plus-size" in bridal wear which is cut small to begin with. Yet we see virtually none represented in the wedding media. It's exceedingly frustrating.

As a plus-sized bride myself in 2000, I know a great deal about that particular struggle. While most of the larger/popular design houses now offer gowns in plus-sizes (not true when I got married) virtually none showcase brides of size.

I know a lot of my readers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the wedding industry and are calling out for real diversity in size, age, race, culture, budget.

Fleurtle said...

There is a definite need to promote more positive body images in mainstream media. When I was a teenager in the 90s, I always felt "fat" because my legs weren't as skinny as models pictured in magazines so even though I wore a size 6 on top and 10 on bottom. This actually contributed to making me become plus size, now I'm about a 20. I have now made it my mission to help plus size women (including brides) to feel comfortable and confident in their bodies by launching Fleurtle - There are many other blogs and designers that also cater to the plus size community. I wish they were around when I was a teenager.

Michael Shandro said...

Interesting article. We blog them all. Weddings and portrait sessions of all of our clients are on our blog: Seriously, why not? We work with all sorts of people and everyone's love is equally important.

Wendy McLaughlin said...

I am a plus sized photographer about the make the leap to part time pro. I will be photographing my first wedding this October. Both of the brides are plus sized. Now, I understand how we as photographers want to make our subjects feel beautiful, however, I found this online

I thought it was the most insulting thing I have ever read. I am going to be photographing every one the same way. I think it's silly and sad how the world views plus sized and/or "unattractive" people. There's really no such thing a an ugly person in my mind. Thank you for this article!

ABC Dragoo said...

I realize I am a little late to comment, but it is maddening how often the wedding industry pushes brides to be thinner during their engagement.

I went to 6 different dress boutiques - each of which asked me how much weight I planned to lose before my wedding day. I wrapped up my dress appointment as quickly as possible (each time) and went to a new shop.

On my 7th store, they did not ask about my weight loss goals - while I preferred dresses that I had tried on at other stores, I could not be a party to that kind of pressure - I bought my dress from the 7th store because it was refreshing not to be judged.

I am an average size 6/8, work out regularly, and eat a healthy diet. Pushing me to lose weight shouldn't have even crossed the minds of the salespeople in the first 6 dress shops.

I wish more people in the bridal industry would get their heads on straight.

Polka Dot Bride said...

I have heard the same thing from local photographers- that theyve been advised not to put photos of anyone who is in any way shape or form different because "brides don't like to see that".

Unfortunately the busier I get with the more submissions, the less I look out for submissions. The sad fact is they simply don't get sent. I've featured quite a few brides above size 10 but have never had anyone over an 18 submitted. AGain I don't care about looks (I do care that the brie smiles!) I care about the extra touches, the thought and all of our other criteria when choosing a wedding to publish. (Biggets being, full of joy!)

I do realise this is feeding it as as well so have made i a point in my lsit to ask for brides of all shapes, sizes, cultural backgrounds.

Ann C. said...

Thanks for the shout out. We opened Strut because I was so disappointed in options available to plus size brides when I went shopping for my own wedding dress last year.

The weight loss comments were so sad for me to hear. Yesterday I got a call from someone wanting to partner with us to sell HCG to our brides. I was stunned. The point is to let women of all sizes feel and look beautiful--NOW--today, just as they are, without losing weight.

I had never thought about photographers and how many don't post larger brides. I will say one magazine told me that venues won't let them shoot curvy girls for cover shots (that the venues are "sponsoring").

Anyway, though we are just one shop, we're hoping to change the experience for plus size brides one at a time. Thanks for the engaging article.