The one universal question stretching beyond race, religion or socioeconomic status that a young, vibrant, intelligent woman asks of the universe as she stands and twirls before the mirror clad in white dress and veil is “am I pretty?” It’s not about vanity or fashion. It’s the question her feminine heart yearns to know. Most women won’t dare admit that they need to hear and believe their answer is yes.
John and Stasi Eldredge write about what they believe is the yearning of the feminine heart in Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of A Woman’s Soul (Thomas Nelson, 2005). This ground-breaking book asserts that, as men and women are created in God’s image, men reflect the masculine side of God, and women reflect the feminine side of God. Both men and women are equally valued, but created for radically different purposes. God created women to reflect His beauty.
This could be what’s at stake in “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta,” a reality show broadcast on cable network TLC Fridays 9/8C where young brides-to-be bring their entourage of mostly female family and friends to help her decide on the perfect wedding dress. The program features the upscale bridal salon “Bridal’s by Lori” in Atlanta, Georgia. The bridal consultants there seem genuinely in tune to the bride’s preferences and love the rare one who can confidently express what she wants, even if there is occasional disagreement from others, and make her decision final on the dress. But if all brides were that calm and confident, there would be no need for a reality TV based on finding the perfect dress, would there?
The show opens with the beaming bride-to-be who introduces herself, describes how she and fiancé met and introduces Mama, aunts, cousins, sisters and a best friend. Sometimes the future mother-in-law is there, sometimes Grandma and sometimes Daddy. If Daddy is present, the search for the dress is guaranteed to be seeped in drama. The entourage ultimately forms the “panel of judges.” Once bride-to-be is in the dress and gazing at the foreboding full-length mirror, cousin “Sally” doesn’t think enough skin is showing while older sister “Marianne” thinks the dress is slutty. Mama can only shake her head and Daddy definitely doesn’t approve. And suddenly the once radiant bride melts into a puddle of tears. Sometimes bride-to-be demands something over budget, and when Daddy controls the cash flow, there’s a power struggle. Tempers also flare when Mama or Grandma disapproves.
Yes, the ritual of choosing the right dress is almost (but not quite) as important at choosing the right future husband.
The consultants do their best to focus on what the bride-to-be wants. But some brides wilt under family expectations of the dress they “should” wear. Out of earshot from the “judges” and within the safety of the dressing room, one of the consultants might deliver a “behind the scenes counseling session” to a particularly distraught bride. Why is family and friends’ approval of the dress crucial for the bride-to-be? The dress represents the beauty of the bride.
“Think of your wedding day – or the wedding day you dream of. How important is your dress as a bride? Would you just grab the first thing in your closet? A friend of ours is getting married in six months. This young woman has seen her share of boys and heartbreaks. Her tale of beauty has many hurts to it. But as she told us about trying on wedding dresses, and finding just the right one, the weariness faded away, and she was radiant. ‘I feel like a princess!’ she said, almost shyly. Isn’t that what you dreamed of?” (Captivating, 15).
I am certainly no exception to this. As a little girl, I played with my mother’s bridal veil, imagining myself as a princess.
My mother recalls choosing her bridal gown in the 1960s on her own with no angst. My sister chose hers quickly with little input from our mother. I have now had two experiences with bridal gown shopping and neither were fraught with major drama, but I know of some struggles from other brides-to-be.
During my first wedding gown search, my mother-in-law and mother were excited. I valued their input, but I knew what I wanted, the budget, and the mission was accomplished. I was also aware that my then mother-in-law appreciated being included, given that she had no daughters. Just a few months ago, I had the privilege of another quest for a wedding gown. This time, my mother was unable to be physically present because we now live in different states, so I was grateful that my maid of honor was willing to step into that role.
I didn’t know if my second experience would be similar to my first as dress after dress of long sheaves of satin and tulle were pushed and pulled over my head. Would I spend several weeks in frustration and drama like some brides-to-be have? I’ve never had serious body image issues, yet I found it difficult to appreciate my body shape anywhere from a fitted mermaid to a princess style. Again, I knew what I wanted, but wasn’t sure what I would find in my price range at any given bridal salon. The bridal consultant at the first salon was kind and warm. I must have slipped on about 10 dresses, but felt more like a waif drowning in a sea of satin.
At the next salon, the consultants were also professional and attentive, and when I slipped into the fifth dress, my eyes fixed on my reflection. My maid of honor gasped. “Your whole face just lit up,” she said. The strapless sparkling ivory lace overlay under a champagne satin skirt must have brought forth a sparkle within me. I really did feel beautiful. My delight was secondary only to the moment my boyfriend proposed. I was blessed to meet my wedding gown so quickly after getting engaged, sidestepping almost all pressure and negativity. I will wear that gown with the same amount of confidence as saying “I do” to the man who God brought into my life when I least expected it.
According to Stasi Eldredge, “When we [women] are young, we want to be precious to someone – especially Daddy. As we grow older, the desire matures into a longing to be pursued, desired, wanted as a woman . . . . At some core place, maybe deep within, perhaps hidden or buried in her heart, every woman wants to be seen, wanted and pursued” (Captivating, 10).
God created within a woman the desire to be pursued and romanced, but the Eldredges theorize that God wants her to find contentment in being pursued first by her Creator. I believe this to be true because it mirrors my own experience. I read Captivating when it was hot off the press as I was struggling to recover from a divorce that left me feeling physically and spiritually at my utmost ugliest. That’s why the Eldredges’ message has become so meaningful to me during the almost eight years I have had to practice these lessons.
Scripture uses the beautiful metaphor of a bride and bridegroom to paint a picture of how Christ the bridegroom pursues and romances his bride as the church. “As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5). It is my prayer that any single women with a desire for a husband first learn to find peace and contentment through a relationship with Christ and wait on His timing. All women need confidence in their own beauty and worth before saying “I do.”