At a coffee bar off Washington Square Park, the stranger seated next to me noticed my gift bag. “Going to a baby shower?” he asked. “No, I’m a wedding planner, actually. Headed to a rehearsal soon.” “Oh, god. That sounds intense. Does that gig make you never want to get married?” I paused, unable to give him a straight answer. The truth: the answer was far too complicated to get into over an iced tea. I’d need at least a shot (maybe several) of espresso.
Growing up, I perfected my role as the “eventual bride.” I dressed up as one for Halloween (note: it’s not cute), I’d perform wedding ceremonies with my sister, and the purity pledge I signed at age nine sealed my status as the someday-virginal bride just waiting for her prince (read: beautiful wedding) to come.
Around eighteen, I had my feminist revolution after stumbling upon some of Gloria Steinem's writing and a gender studies course in college. I realized a marriage is much more than a wedding and sex is much more than a long awaited gift to give to somebody. I began to reject many of the teachings of my upbringing and started to seriously wonder: why get married? I gawked at my fellow classmates dying to meet their “soul mate” in college and gawked even more when those girls got engaged before graduation. Maybe the stark reality was I was all the more worried because I could understand their reasoning (it had once been me!).
So, you can imagine my face when my very good friend, Jill, looked at me after a session of helping her plan her wedding and said: “Amy, you could really do this, you know. Be a wedding planner. Start your own business.” The sound of it made me uneasy. Me? A Wedding Planner? Images of Jennifer Lopez and over-the-top white swans and bridezillas swarmed my brain. I sat on that conversation for several weeks and eventually came around to the idea for two reasons: one) besides feeling a bit queasy in the wedding space, everything about the planning process was very me (designing, producing, acting — all roles wedding planners get to play!) and two) it is my firm belief that every industry needs change-makers to challenge tradition and innovate. Didn’t it say something that I didn’t even feel comfortable walking into the space of wedding planning? Is it that off-putting? It was Steinem herself who said, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”
So, how do we unlearn in this oversaturated, ostentatious industry? For me, it was an understanding that weddings must keep perspective. If we’re celebrating love and commitment, let’s also celebrate the love and commitment a couple has for all causes they’re passionate about. My company donates part of its profits to non-profit organizations that couples select! If you’re planning and coordinating your wedding solo, connect with your own local non-profit or tie donations into the gift giving for the wedding. I mean, seriously — who ever needed wedding china anyway? On top of that, it’s important to challenge what you know to be true of weddings/marriage and be intentional about what traditions you keep and which ones you kick to the curb.
Getting married is not for everybody but I guess the long answer to that coffee shop stranger’s question is that I’m far more open to the idea than I ever have been because I see a cultural shift happening in wedding culture that makes me giddy. There are brides questioning tradition, grooms taking a larger part in the planning process, and couples of all backgrounds (LGBTQ, too) that are making weddings a safer space for everyone by highlighting the love and not the show. All I know is if I ever do get married, there will be cake. Lots of cake. And people will eat it unabashedly. See? A mini feminist revolution right there. A starting place. Who’s in?
Amy Shackelford is the Senior Planner and founder of Modern Rebel & Co., an alternative event planning company with a social impact focus. She is a fierce feminist, party enthusiast, and cupcake lover; she brings all of this + her spunk to her one-of-a-kind events in NYC.