Friday, September 27, 2013

on Pinterest and Wedding Planning


So after 4-5-ish months of wedding planning and looking for inspiration for my wedding on Pinterest, I have found several things that really frustrate me about the site, so I've decided to write this post to pop the Pinterest perceptions that I and other users may have gotten while looking through the site.

Don't get me wrong, I love Pinterest. It's given me some great ideas, a good image of what I want, and links to multiple DIY tutorials. But that's precisely what my problem with it is.  To be more specific, I have a few bones to pick with Pinterest: its ethnocentric focus on the privileged; its planner-centric point of view; and shameless, rampant "musterbation".  So the first third of this rant will be more focused on social-justice/equality concerns while the latter two will address more the practical aspects of wedding planning, though it is all tied together, really.

Before I elaborate on these concerns I have, I want to recognize that, of course, Pinterest content is created by the people who use it, so it is more a reflection of what everyone else on Twitter is doing (including myself) and not the site itself.  But it's hard to type "Pinterest users" or "everyone on Pinterest" every time, so of course, the site as a whole shall be used to reference its content and users.  Of course, Pinterest is a powerful tool for business big and small to advertise their services/products, so content and the way it is displayed/filtered may also be impacted by corporate agendas, but I'll pick that apart as I get to it.

Pinterest for the Privleged

Going in order, I will start with my concern about what I consider as Pinterest's "ethnocentric focus on the privileged."  What exactly do I mean by that?  Well, this is actually half Pinterest's coding (I think) and half its users... Because Pinterest, itself, has the "Wedding" section/filter - and if you go there, you'll see a lot of what you expect to see when looking up weddings.  The traditional white gowns, bridesmaid dresses, shoes, cakes flowers, place-settings, invitation designs, and mason jars (oh god, mason jars).  Before I roll my eyes more at mason jars, I'll ask you to look closer at what else we see in the "weddings" section?  Well, a female bride and a male groom, (usually white, or at least same-race) in some sort of quaint rustic or big city setting, and a whole lot of things that cost a whole lot of money!  So who's being targeted here?  The "typical/traditional" couple - heterosexual, rich/well-off, white couple. 

Now, the "heterosexual" piece, of course, resonates the issue with society at large, and I'm always very happy to see the very-rare LGBTQ wedding photo pop up in my browse through the Wedding section, but I am very so unhappy about how rare it is.  With same-sex marriages being legalized in more states, now, I hope that this is something that will increase in the future.

It also makes me sad that Pinterest doesn't present more cultural diversity in the wedding section.  While this, again, is in part due to a larger (world-wide) interest in the traditional western-style wedding, I feel like perpetuating that that's how a wedding "should be" (oh no, digressing to "musterbations"!) by filtering out other cultures from the wedding board is definitely not helpful to keeping multiple cultural traditions.  I mean, if we wanted to truly be a melting pot as America should be proud for, couldn't we see "American weddings" borrow more traditions from other cultures, rather than the other way around?  That is I know it is extremely popular to have a white western-style wedding gown as part of your ceremony in China now - my cousin who is Chinese and was married in China to a Chinese husband with all our Chinese family around was taking from this Western style, and it's not just her, many ladies in China do.  However, many Chinese girls in America, might go strictly for a Western-style wedding.  I admit I might be guilty of this myself when next year rolls around, (we're still planning), but honestly, since I've never planned a wedding before, and I'm getting most all my inspiration from Pinterest, naturally, that's all I've been exposed to - Western wedding traditions!  A potential photographer I was talking to asked if I would be doing any traditional Chinese games during the reception and named some examples.  "What are those?" I had to ask - I had no idea, they weren't on Pinterest's main wedding board!  I've seen "The Shoe Game" which was an idea I entertained in my head until I realized half my guests wouldn't understand what was being said, and that it would take twice as long if I tried to have my mother translate everything.  Pinterest had provided me a great idea that I couldn't use for my culturally (and linguistically) diverse group (something that I will discuss further in the planner-centric point of view).

Now, it's not like Pinterest only has the traditionally Western wedding posts.  Sometimes cultural diversity leaks through the filters and you'll see gorgeous Indian wedding attire, or a groom in a kilt, but for the most part, you won't find that unless you specifically type to search for "Indian wedding."  Now of course, you can blame me for not doing my own research, outside Pinterest for more cultural things, but that's not my point, because I did look up "Traditional Chinese Weddings" and "Chinese Wedding Traditions" and was bombarded by a good number of primarily red - instead of white - posts.  So I know that Pinterest is not being used solely by Caucasian, heterosexual, western, people and that more cultural diversity does exist. But that's certainly what the Wedding board shows or suggests.

A simple search for "Wedding Dress" --
the mannequin is black, does that count?
For the last note of the "Caucasian"/White part, I will post the full screenshot of what I used for the title screen to the left. Think this is, again, an issue of society at large, as most of the models you see for wedding related things (Photography, Dresses/Tuxes, etc.) are thin and white, but we know they're not the only ones getting married.  Hair styles and makeup is another good point for this.  I pinned several eye makeup tutorials and when I went to try them out, I realized that they don't work for me as well because my eyelids are different!  I tried searching for "asian eye-makeup tutorials" and got a few better results, but really, do I have to go out of my way to search for something that suits me?  Why isn't there a better mix?  And hair - my hair is only vaguely different from the hair that the blonde or brunette models have that are featured in every, "OMG I must have this hairstyle for my wedding!" post.  Only once in the 4-some months I've been looking through Pinterest's Wedding board did I see one "fabulous ways to wear your hair on your wedding day for black women!" Not that it applies to me, but I was taken aback by it (which in itself surprised me) since I hadn't seen any posts like it before!  I mean really - I shouldn't have to be surprised by that - it shouldn't be that rare!  And you'll notice I put race/skin-tone and cultural diversity as separate, because I do recognize that not all "white" people have the same heritage or traditions, but it does speak to the standard of beauty we have that the large majority of these models we see for dresses are thin, and fair skinned, and the "rest of us" need to go out of our way to find something like "the rest of us."

Money.  You really can't talk about weddings without talking about money. One of my favorite posts was one where the description read something like, "This is a great resource on how to save money on your wedding with tons of affordable price-cutting tips!"  Naturally, I clicked on the link to check out these price-cutting tips and was lead to a page to buy a book of tips on how to budget your wedding for some non-trivial sum of money.  HA.  Thanks guys, that was a great laugh.  Now, really, how can I save money on this?  So many pins on Pinterest are really not terribly affordable when you add them all up - even the "cheap DIY that will look just like professionally made" things are either not that money-saving, or not that good looking. (Oh my gosh, parenthetical side note, if people on Etsy can charge as much as they do for their ugly, generic, bad-font-choice Save the Date and Invitation designs, I could make so much more with my skills - I mean really, I'm not trying to be a snob, but when other people sell their crap for those prices, how can I not be snobby!?)  As an example, I was looking up the cost of materials for making my own centerpieces this past week, and the price of everything added up, in the amount I would need, comes out to about 50% of what the florist quoted me for the centerpieces alone, but that doesn't include the flowers I wanted (real or fake).  But then of course, I would still need the florist for the live-flower bouquets and their quote includes a $300 charge for delivery and set-up, so by making my own centerpieces, that $300 worth less.

Now people on Pinterest often suggest using mason jars as a 'cheap' alternative to vases, cups, candle holders, aisle edgers, anything and everything else you could think of! (I put cheap in quotes because then people get into personalized mason jars, and, lets face it, that can't be really much cheaper than a dollar-store vase, can it?) And of course, there's the whole idea, "If you don't like it, just ignore it, if you do like it, feel free to use it without feeling pressured by the fact that they're so overused."  But it's so hard to ignore something that keeps coming up, and since I'm trying to use Pinterest to find a variety of different ideas, seeing mason jars over and over again is just really starting to grind my gears.

And really, if you DO want to save on money, Pinterest actually probably isn't the best place to look, because it has made me think of a huge number of things that I must have at my wedding ("musterbation" comes later! Tangents!) that I, well, don't need, and that no one will really remember!  That is something that comes from the planner-centric point of view that Pinterest has.  WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!?  It means that Pinterest pins are really only looking to advertise to the person planning the wedding... Well, duh? of course you want to tell the person planning the wedding what to expect!  But... no.  Not really.  The best, and only, post I have seen that goes against this mentality is the one that pops up every now and then: "Top 10 complaints guests have about weddings they attend" (or something like that, my wording may be off.)  But yeah - while a wedding may be "YOUR BIG DAY" the majority of people there will be guests, more specifically, guests that you, hopefully, care about.  So even though there's all this talk about "do what you want"
keep in mind that you are doing this in part for your guests (or else why would you be inviting them?).

So when you get stressed trying to decide between a colored mason jar or a personalized mason jar - try thinking of things from a guest's point of view.  That really calmed down my planning (maybe it will make things more stressful for some), but I will delve, again, into an example: I was freaking out about chairs.  There are some pins on Pinterest for adorable, elegant, classy but expensive ways to decorate your ceremony and/or reception chairs.  I called my sister who had her wedding a couple of years ago and she asked me simply: "what did the chairs at my wedding look like?"  I thought for a few seconds.  "I don't remember."  She asked back, "what do you remember about the wedding?"  And that really helped me to focus my perspective.  Now, of course, you can't guess exactly what details your guests are going to pick up on, but I'm a very detail-oriented person, and I couldn't remember even what her centerpieces looked like until I went back through the photos (the one reason why I do want to invest in centerpieces, otherwise I wouldn't care).  But just remember, the origin of many pins is really to get you to spend money - money you don't need to spend - on things that people may not notice or remember. 

The other problem I have been seeing with this "planner-centric" view means that it is also almost entirely directed at women.  If I were a man trying to plan a same-sex wedding, or even a hetero-sexual groom looking to help out my bride, Pinterest would be extremely frustrating for me.  There's also the perpetuation of (potentially dangerous) societal norms through Pinterest.  Guides for women on "how to be the best housewife ever" and "everything a wife must do to respect her husband."  So things like the former - okay, I guess, if that's what you want to do, all the power to you.  Caring for someone, a home, oneself, and eventually maybe a baby is hard work, I can respect that, but when it's paired with some of the "must" and "should" vocabulary that I will discuss momentarily, it gets a little dangerous.  The latter really scares me - the posts that talk about how husbands must be respected by their wives, and how wives must do certain things to show respect... I mean... again, that sounds okay, but what scares me is the fact that you don't see the other - guides about how to be a respectable housewife, or how to make sure your husband respects you too. Again, this is something where other things (in this case, posts about husbands respecting their wives) do exist on Pinterest, but they don't come up in the "Wedding Planning" section.

"YOU MUST, YOU MUST, YOU MUST!" -- Rarity

So, again, this all boils down to the rampant "musterbation" of Pinterest users.  "Musterbation" is a term that shows that we psychologists do have a sense of humor!  It was coined by Albert Ellis referring to, as described by UrbanDictionary.com "the tendency to think that certain things 'must' occur or 'must' be done." Cute, huh?  So how is Pinterest guilty of "musterbating" in the sense of wedding planning?  So many - too many - posts on Pinterest are written to effect of: "every bride must have this for her wedding day!" "I must must must have this!" "25 things you will regret doing if you forget this on your wedding day!" It's really, again, dangerous.  I realize that anyone who does blindly listen to an image-board site is probably not going to get far in life really, so who would do that? But honestly, if you're trying to plan your wedding to be realistic, Pinterest can be a little bit problematic. 

All In All...

Soooooooooooooo... the takeaway message?  Pinterest is great for inspiration, but be mindful of what you really want, who your guests will be, and really there is nothing you must do on your wedding other than get married (which might not even require a wedding at all, so...). Other resources like Off Beat Bride and When Geeks Wed for more, creative, non-traditional ideas.  Also, yeah, don't buy a book that tells you how to save money because that's not saving money...

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some pins to browse through.

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