Do Weddings Fuel Needless Consumerism?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Two weeks ago, I blogged about Newsweek's cover of the royal wedding and the opinion that the royal wedding was a light, but not shallow, break from a world filled with heavy news. It surprised me when this turned out to be my most controversial post to date (a post along the lines of "what the F*&! is this woman thinking?!" was reblogged on Tumblr nearly a thousand times). I don't mind if people disagree with my opinions, and the counter-arguments do raise an interesting, though not new, question: do weddings fuel needless consumerism? Have weddings become nothing more than an endless parade of gluttony and a chance to show off just how well one has kept up with the Jones’s?

This question presents a tension that I think is healthy. It is one that was always on my mind when I was planning events. I’ve lived and worked in developing nations, in areas of extreme poverty, and when you’ve seen, firsthand, people living without the very basics in life (food, water, shelter, clothing), it can be really difficult to take a bride seriously when she’s stressing out over a precise shade of pink in her five- or six-figure flower budget. It can be really easy to fall into a pattern of saying or thinking, “how can you spend that amount on xyz, don’t you know how many lives that could save?” This pattern of thinking is toxic. Being a spending martyr is no better than being a glutton: neither nagging about nor ignoring real issues is a good solution.

That’s not to say I think weddings are by default superficial or materialistic. I’ve also had the great pleasure of working with couples and colleagues who get what a wedding is really about. I love weddings because they are, at their core, a celebration of people. They celebrate the couple, their love and their decision to go through life together, thick and thin. They also celebrate every single guest in the room. Weddings are a way of honoring the people who helped shape the bride or groom into the person the other fell in love with. There is nothing shallow about celebrating love, whether it's the love between a couple, the love between a family, or the love between friends.

I share this story often when I speak: one of the main reasons I went into business for myself was because I wanted to be able to fund the humanitarian projects I’m passionate about (namely related to HIV/AIDS and issues of extreme poverty). I began my career in events at a non-profit that worked with social justice issues, and it is something I am deeply passionate about. Years ago, I watched a 60 Minutes piece about a plastic surgeon who worked six months out of the year at his posh practice in the States and then the other six months he volunteered overseas doing reconstructive surgeries for children whose faces had been mutilated in Sierra Leone. When I started my business, I decided I wanted to build it in a similar fashion. This goal shapes every decision I make with my business. It is the reason I chose to grow my company the way I did. It is an aggressive goal, and so I developed a plan with an aggressive pace. Aside from having a background in events, I chose the wedding industry because I knew it wouldn’t crush my soul in the process.

The needs of the world can be overwhelming, so you have to choose what you’re personally passionate about and do what you can in those areas. No one can do everything, and fortunately, no one is expected to do everything. Working to eradicate poverty, or feeding the homeless, or championing cancer or autism research doesn’t negate the need to also celebrate the joys of life. People have a right to live fully, not just merely.

If someone is a materialistic, shallow person, then it makes sense that the focus of their wedding would be materialistic and shallow. Having a beautiful ceremony or reception and a big celebration does not necessarily equal superficiality and all weddings shouldn't be painted with broad strokes of a black and white brush. Luxury or high-end doesn’t necessarily equal shallow. Shallow equals shallow and it comes in every tax bracket.

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