The Marginalized Brides of Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss

Curator's Note


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.

 Thanks for the citation, I haven't seen that, and it sounds like an interesting counterpoint to Big Bliss.  You're exactly right that the program reduces almost all back story on the brides to their weight, even those brides who proclaim to be "proud to be plus-size" (and there are quite a few) eventually reveal their underlying body anxieties in the course of the episode.


Great post, I had not seen this series of Say Yes to the Dress and appreciate your highlighting the marginalization of others within wedding-based reality TV.  As noted in this post, the representation of women outside the thin norm enforces the stereotypical image of beauty.  Weight in television, reality or otherwise, conditions this idea that fat is not pretty.  A stylist for AMC's Mad Men, commented that this season's overweight character Betty, "even though she is overweight, she creates a façade of beauty."  This idea is evident within the Big Bliss clip presented here.  The idea that even though one is not thin, one can try and feel beautiful.  In this instance, the idea of class is tied more closely to the social construction of acceptable beauty.  Within this hierarchical class structure, weight outside the normative image of beauty follows the dictates of race in terms of class order.  Along with this, I venture to say, that stereotypes of socio-economic presentations associated with race are intricately woven.  Additionally disturbing, and a pre-requisite to being outside of the thin norm, is the requirement to justify one's 'otherness.' The photo clips with a voice over of the bride explaining her bodily otherness is not required of those within the normative.  As we discussed yesterday, this is another form of surveillance, in this instance the punishing gaze and inquiry upon the non-normative as a consequence for their otherness.

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 think surveillance and a punishing gaze are definitely key here--the women's bodies are scrutinized in much closer detail on Big Bliss than they are on the original series.  As we hear the brides decrying the appearance of various body parts, the camera often zooms in so that we too can judge their bodily excess.  Several episodes have disclosed the brides' measurements, both in close-ups of measuring tape pulled around waists, and in doom-and-gloom dialogue about failure to fit into dresses.

And yes, the Big Bliss brides are often identified with various subcultures--most often comic book and video game fandom.  One bride was having a "Batman villains"-themed wedding, for instance, and she was certainly positioned as something of a freak.  The episode seemed to mock her desire to have a "floaty" dress that would signify her chosen villain, as though that sort of light, feminine frivolity would be impossible given the size of her body.


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!


Thanks, Suzanne!  You are absolutely right that many times the brides confess to not wearing dresses, and indeed, their "victories" are presented as marginal successes of femininity.  One of the most egregious episodes featured a woman who was awaiting gastric bypass surgery, and if I recall correctly, she also claimed she had never worn a dress.  She was unable to find one she liked and/or one that fit (in fact, she specifically commented that she didn't feel "pretty"), and she completely broke down and cried, "I guess I just wanted to be a girl!"  Though the consultants reassured her that she was, in fact, a "girl," it seemed clear that by virtue of being unable to say yes to a dress, and unable to "feel pretty," she was not a girl.  Her storyline resolved when she vowed to come back after her surgery, as though she might be able to feel like a girl once she lost a significant amount of weight. 

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 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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