Bridesmaids and Olympic Athletes: Living in a Skin-Deep World

Laurie and Debbie say:

The New York Times is discussing a new trend in bridesmaid gifts: for bridesmaids as young-looking and beautiful as your dreams, you, the lovely blushing bride, can easily provide everything from tit jobs to Botox:

“Giving them something for themselves — as opposed to something that they’ll never wear again — is more meaningful.”

Some brides pick up the tab for their attendants, replacing the pillbox inscribed with the wedding date with a well-earned squirt between the eyes. In other cases, bridesmaids — who may quietly seethe about unflattering dresses — are surprisingly willing to pay for cosmetic enhancements.

Becky Lee, 39, a Manhattan photographer, declined when a friend asked her — and five other attendants — to have their breasts enhanced. “We’re all Asian and didn’t have a whole lot of cleavage, and she found a doctor in L.A. who was willing to do four for the price of two,” said Ms. Lee, who wore a push-up bra instead.

Most of the tone of the article is about how brides view this as a gracious gift, or at least a welcome opportunity, but the selfish “my wedding is all about me” story seeps through both in Becky Lee’s quotation above and in this little anecdote:

A bride asked her attendants to get professionally spray-tanned for a Hawaiian-theme reception.
Alas, two women were claustrophobic and couldn’t bear standing in a tanning capsule. “They asked the bride if they could use regular tanning cream from a salon,” [the wedding planner] said. The bride refused; she wanted everyone to be the same shade. The women ultimately declined to be bridesmaids. “Friendships of 20-plus years gone over a spray tan?”

In a completely different context, U.S. Olympic softball star Jennie Finch appeared on Fox News. No sooner had she walked off screen than co-host Jon Scott described her value as an Olympic athlete:

“A great representative: blond, blue-eyed, and extremely talented.”

Pardon us for being naive, but we thought her talent was the point, not her hair and eyes. Apparently an equally talented player of Greek, or Jewish, or Asian, or African heritage wouldn’t be such a great representative. We also thought that the friendships were the point for bridesmaids.

At least three things are going on here. First, always, racism. In this case, it’s disturbingly close to the Aryan-ideal, master-race kind of racism that wants young blond blue-eyed Olympic athletes. With the bridesmaids, it’s a somewhat more contemporary “Western ideal of beauty.” Tough to attain if you’re Asian, but clearly some people think it’s worth the effort.

Second, always, money. If and when she goes pro, Jennie Finch will get a lot more commercial opportunities than a woman of color on her team would. Remember Kristi Yamaguchi, who won America’s heart, but not the endorsements? “People like Kristi Yamaguchi don’t represent, at least with marketers, the wholesome all-American image,” as one Asian-American marketer is quoted as saying on Wikipedia. And no one gets rich encouraging brides to choose the women they love as bridesmaids and tell them how beautiful they are without changing anything.

Third, as the Times article reminds us in the headlines, we’re living in a skin-deep world. How you look–and by extension how your bridesmaids, your family, and your sports stars look–is more important than what you can do, what you have done, and what you might do: in sports, in weddings, in job interviews, walking down the street. Unless, of course, you want a joyful wedding–or a good life.

This is why this post is so important. The overwhelming message is “tell women what they should look like” but belledame222 has a better idea:

Have other women’s backs.

“Well, I think she looks great. And even if I didn’t, so the hell what? What the hell business is it of yours? Who asked you? (if one wishes to be combative) You’re no spring onion yourself. And besides, what does this have to do with (her experience of assault/her leadership ability/her position on campaign finance reform/the brilliant novel she wrote/her research in nuclear physics/anything else)? No, I said: it’s not cute and I’m not amused, and I won’t hear this.” Read the whole post.

Lynn Kendall pointed us to the bridesmaid article.