Reality TV is my guilty pleasure, mostly because it reflects so many attributes of the human condition, no matter how fabricated the show in question may be. I recently started watching Say Yes to The Dress – Atlanta, which is, I’ll admit, quite addicting. I find most interesting how the show affirms the pervasive human desire for approval. In this Atlanta version of the popular reality series, Southern ideals reinforce women as easily influenced by their need for such approval. In the South, the bride’s desire for approval is compounded with cultural implications. The show equates passive tendencies with traditional notions of the “Southern belle.” Consequently, the bride who is glorified for being a Southern belle is also the bride who allows her need for approval affect her dress choices.
Frequently this need plays out in this show through persuasion of family and friends. Often a bride will put on a dress in the dressing room, and her face will light up when she looks in the mirror. Then she walks into the waiting room where her friends and/or family are, and the joy runs out of her face because her “supporters” disapprove.
Commonly a daughter seeks approval from her mom. Often, the mom has a different idea of how she wants her daughter to look. In one episode, the mother was adamant about finding a dress that flattered her daughter’s figure because her daughter did not have a flat stomach. The mother disliked every dress, and they left without purchasing one, even though the daughter tried on many that she liked. This is a perfect example of how the bride’s need for approval from her mother outweighed her own satisfaction with the dresses.
Say Yes to the Dress – Atlanta provides a fascinating lesson in human communication. Often the disapproval isn’t verbalized but simply provided through silence or a stoic face. The effectiveness of such rhetoric, intentional or not, is fascinating. A bride’s wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest, most important days of her life, and choosing a dress is equally important, yet friends and family persuade women out of or into dresses because the need for approval is so pervasive. Some brides want to be Southern belles, and others want their moms’ approval. All too often, someone else is saying, “Yes.”
When a dress means more than the fabric it's worth....
As the week continues, the theme of a woman's identity being closely tied and monitored by her level of femininity runs through our dialogue. In this piece, the appreciation of the sub-cultural expectations of the 'Southern Belle' highlight the added pressures to the female. Experiencing the South in my undergraduate years at my beloved women's college, Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta brings back memories of the Southern culture I was not accustomed to coming from another South, Miami. Coming out at a debutante ball and being runner up in beauty pageants was not abnormal amongst my peers of brilliant women. The alumnae's stories of earlier times and the restrictions on women, dressing for dinner, not wearing pants, etc. were no longer physically there containing us young 'ladies', but still these remained fixtures of expectations. Along with this, the clip and post highlights the public reign the family and friends feel in denigrating the bride's private choices. As you note, words need not be spoken as the gaze of the audience surveilling and judging speaks volumes of approval or disapproval. It seems so often within the discourse of femininity, and the expectations to be a woman, it is mandatory, to be a mother, and to garner the approval of mother. Again, I wonder what the dialogue within the male sphere would look like in comparison?
Mothers and Daughters
I, too, find the cultural implications, which are often used to set SYTTD: Atlanta apart from the NY version I feel (which tends to have a more cosmopolitan clientele), quite fascinating. I wonder though, if there is not also a very strong plot of family-values and moral played out. While feminitity and the "idea" of the perfect bride is forever present, it taps into a basic nostalgia aswell. Especially when family aproval is sought. The idea of the good daughter, the perfect girl getting married, often seems to create a firm base, as most often we find that the more revealing dresses are critiqued and mothers have "imagined" their girls in princess-dresses. It almost feels like a generational conflict and struggle that, when the bride gives in, confirms gender stereotypes of the 1950s. I do not often investigate gender in my work so these are just a viewer's perceptions. Thoughts on that?
Add new comment