Prior to 2010, TLC's reality series Say Yes to the Dress featured a wide array of women searching for bridal gowns. As TLC’s bridal branding expanded, the series inspired several spinoffs, including Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss, featuring solely plus-size women. Though the program's framing narrative is vaguely "empowering"--showing women who don't fit into conventional sizes that they, too, can achieve idealized bridal femininity, the drama and suspense undercut this already dubious aim. Much of the tension revolves around whether or not desired dresses are available in bigger sizes, whether brides can try on samples without ripping them, and whether the styles will be flattering.
Big Bliss is part of a broader trend within TLC's wedding programming, which contrasts upper middle-class weddings with weddings marked as excessive and in poor taste. The brides on Big Bliss not only fail to conform to the beauty standards necessary to appear on the original Say Yes to the Dress, but the program also often positions them as subcultural oddities and/or working class stereotypes, such as the West Virginia bride in this clip, whose fiancé suggests that her ideal dress might resemble a mullet.
Most episodes begin with the bridal consultants discussing how they work to mitigate body anxieties, with the goal of boosting their clients’ confidence in their appearance. Indeed, when brides find “the one,” they regularly exclaim how beautiful they look and feel. However, episodes progress through a series of stock dramatic scenes to get to the jubilant “yes” moment around which the series is based, and these scenes mercilessly undermine the frame of body-accepting empowerment. The bride typically tells an emotional backstory about her lifelong weight struggle, while in the privacy of the stock room, the consultants confide to the camera that they will have difficulty fulfilling the bride’s wishes. Before she finds “the dress,” the bride is reduced to tears when dresses don’t fit or flatter, a fact rendered plain for the viewer through gratuitous close-ups of bulging flesh that cannot be accommodated in the sample sizes. The series’ relentless focus on its subjects’ bodies and the narrative problems they pose only works to further marginalize them as failures of bridal femininity, despite the lip service paid to a broader vision of feminine beauty.
First off, thanks for a great post! When TLC came out with Big Bliss I was excited to see what the show would offer and was not surprised to be dissapointed by the program. Not shockingly, big girls don't have personal stories above and beyond their weight, like skinny girls do. In fact, according to Big Bliss and other programs like it, the life of women above a size 12 revolves entirely around their weight. They have no friends, no jobs, and no relationships - except a dysfunctional one with food.
Your peice reminded me of an article by Laura Patterson, “Why Are All the Fat Brides Smiling?: Body Image and the American Bridal Industry.” Feminist Media Studies 5.2 (2005): 243-246. A great read for folks who find this topic of interest.
Unlike TLC, the full-size women in wedding magazines are forever happy. Unlike their model counterparts, whose waife figures allow them to appear indifferent about their bridal gowns, the fat girls are only shown as happy; happy to be in a gown and happy to have a reason to wear one.
Marginalized Conceptions of Beauty
The bride in this clip, along with the stereotype of West Virginia 'mullet' style, is presented as prescribing to an alternative style. With the mention of black on a wedding dress the bridal consultant raises her eyebrows. Don't you find at times that women outside of the thin norm are defined as having alternative style? I often wonder if this is a result of the normative not allowing their otherness to co-exist or an act of rebellion against the beauty standard norms?
"I Feel Pretty"
Thanks for such a great post! And, what a perfect theme for a June week.
Your sense that the show positions the brides as "failures of bridal femininity" strikes me as entirely right, since the bride featured in this clip admits as much when she says she hasn't worn a dress in years. It strikes me that this show is about not only saying "yes" to the dress, but to wearing dresses and feeling "pretty" as marks of being a "woman". And, it assumes that plus size women have a hard time feeling feminine, which is troubling to say the least.
I look forward to the rest of the week!
With more series than I ever remember before that deal with weight loss, big brides, how overweight women group around the same, the realm of reality appears to be just as focused on the issue of body mass as contemporary political and nutrition based documentaries and even the fictional realm with certain comedies. It appears there is massive push right now to discuss the matter, yet as you point out, SYTTD: Big Bliss objectifies excessive flesh, points to the inadequacy felt by brides above size 12 and reinforces the thin norm all over pushing overweight brides into a corner.
While I see a lot of similar things in the main series and the Atlanta spin-off, booty-size, showing the girls, exposing the legs, looking sexy... all find mentioning at most brides's appointments featured, but the fact that, after having a more balanced program originally, larger women have been moved into their own series strikes me as part of a larger trend. I wondered what you think about the overall, seemingly increasing, visibility of the overweight body? Marginalization by newly found exposure?
This is a great post. I would
This is a great post. I would be interested to see how much this is also true of other reality shows and their spin offs. If we look at the genre of reality shows in general and examine the spin offs and other shows that develop out of them, how often are these spin off shows created in order to create room for someone or a group no longer included within the boundaries of the original show. This might be part of a larger trend that speaks not only to the desire for greater marketing reach, but also a desire to provide specialized spaces for certain performances that a television network can clearly demarcate.
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