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Friday, April 9, 2010

The Treachery of Labels (apologies to Magritte)

Names and labels have power, whether we want to admit it or not. Labels help us understand the world around us. Yet we tend to throw labels around carelessly. When we blog, we label, aka tag, our thoughts for others. With weddings, labels that are freely tossed about include "inspiration boards," "DIY project," "offbeat," and "budget."

Early on in planning I was drawn to "offbeat" content. However, I quickly found myself evaluating whether our ideas were original or unique enough (see my post on inspiration). Did I "belong" on an offbeat site when we were having a pretty traditional Jewish ceremony? (I don't count decisions to have sustainable, in-season food or flowers, environmentally conscious favors, or upcycled/vintage components as offbeat - we live in San Francisco and that's pretty normal around here.)

We came up with the theme for our wedding and decided upon the DIY projects we're doing to support our theme. As I looked for tutorials I routinely searched for "inspiration boards" or "DIY projects." I quickly learned that depending on which blog you follow or site you watch, these labels can mess with your mind. You often have to read carefully to find out whether or not the images are from a real DIY wedding, a produced wedding, or a photo shoot. (Other brides such as Becca at A Los Angeles Love and Liz at Chic on the Cheap have remarked on this phenomenon as well so I realized I wasn't alone.) If you're not thinking about it, these images and words can induce undue stress.

Staged and "almost-too-good-to-be-real" images led me to write my Stop with the Perfection post with the full support of my FH. (I later cross-posted this post to a couple of wedding boards upon his suggestion.) When I wrote the post and hit Publish Post, I didn't know what response I'd get. Sure there were a few snarky responses, but most comments and feedback showed that I wasn't alone in my struggle with industry pressure for weddings to be perfect. Many of us are afraid of contributing to the consumerism of the wedding industry, of friends and family labeling us a bridezilla, and of not having our day "measure up." I'm glad that I shared my feelings; it opened up a great dialog with friends and relieved stress that I was inadvertently applying to myself for no good reason.

One community that I've grown to love and look to is WeddingBee.com. The reason? Real brides who are honest - they share what worked, what didn't work, and they talk about what most brides are feeling but afraid to express. Take for example, Miss Scissors' post two days ago, "I've Stopped Reading Wedding Blogs." When she wrote, "All of these beautiful weddings, half-or-more of them staged, were screwing with my psyche. (Truth be told, they still do.) ... Seeing inspiration shot after inspiration shot after inspiration shot after inspiration shot… It just got to be too much for me. I needed to feel good and solid about what ... we were doing to make our wedding fabulous, fantastic, and us." I haven't gone cold turkey, but I have modified my bridal feed in Google Reader. I have three - Real Brides, Bridal, and Bridal - Staged Shoots. For ideas and guidance on stretching our wedding dollars and tackling reasonable DIY projects, I'll tune into Real Brides. And when I'm in the mood to look at photo shoots and get inspiration for my personal photography, I'll look at Bridal - Staged Shoots. If I forget which blogs feature real weddings and which tend to cover photography shoots and vendor services, this feed reminds to "Look at Content within at Your Own Risk."

Emily Anderson of Eco Chic Weddings issued a similar cry in a recent post, "Take Back Your Wedding." "Reality check. A lot of people in the wedding biz (for the most part) still don't get it. The messages are the same--here's this beautiful image/ idea/ product/ venue/ whatever...that you can't afford." I, for one, can't wait to see how she mixes it up going forward.

Another term that seems to be associated with a line you shouldn't cross is budget. As most people don't talk about money, budget is an emotionally loaded label without tying it weddings. There were three blog posts about budget that I especially appreciated. One from Jessica at The Budget Savvy Bride was about the relative definition of "budget" based on where you live and where you're hosting your wedding. I like her focus on "savvy" and "how far you can make your money go or how to maximize the budget you're working with, rather than a specific price tag."

The other post was from Miss Octopus. "I am an unabashed wedding enthusiast, and I will admit that going on flights of fancy about having every single pretty thing Martha Stewart Wedding dangles in front of my eyes is something I have indulged in once or twice (a day). ... When Mr. Octopus and I seriously started talking about “wedding” as in “fall 2010″ rather than “wedding” as in “someday”, I decided to start doing a little casual research—and then promptly had to be revived with a pair of electric current paddles. I had no idea what those dreamy ideas ... actually cost. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. ... Because of that, though, I’d really like to help other brides avoid the shock and awe that I felt upon discovering the price tag on this stuff. So, I intend to be completely transparent about our budget." Read the rest of her post for the rest of the details.

The final, most recent post, was from Becca at A Los Angeles Love in response to commenters. She explains quite eloquently the difference cost-of-living and having won the genetic lottery (being born into a family of caterers, photographers, etc. willing to provide free labor). She compares $2 well drinks in Texas with $6 well drinks in Los Angeles (the same multiplier applies here in San Francisco as well). All of a sudden $20,000 in San Francisco is a very clear "budget" wedding!

I'm not going to release our budget numbers into the great wild that's the Internet. I will say we won't make the $10,000 budget goal - which in San Francisco with a 100 or so guests is really tough (for a laugh check out this $10,000 SF Wedding Challenge post on The Knot). Friends are one of my three must haves and in our combined top five must haves (I'll explain the Top Three Things in a later post) so we weren't willing to invite only a subset to the wedding and then have a less expensive party that everyone was invited to. We don't want people to miss seeing us under the chuppah. Therefore, the largest expenditure in our budget is food and drink. And you know what? We'll still be stretching our budget dollars (and you'll be reading about how we did), but I don't feel guilty about the total number anymore (thank you Miss Octopus and Becca!).

What are you doing to stay sane? Did you redefine any labels? What communities/support groups are you part of?

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