When it comes to the expectations put upon a bride, the patriarchy has done us all a great dirty wrong by creating yet another unattainable standard for women to try to meet. I know— shocking, right? This one tends to go by the cliché of the ‘perfect bride’.
The perfect bride will look the most beautiful she has ever looked on her wedding day. She will be an effortless host to her friends and family: gliding about like a silken swan; laughing in all the right places; glowing when appropriate; accommodating for each individual attending, as if they themselves are her personal guest of honour. And… she will manage all of this on potentially one of the most emotionally-challenging, mentally-demanding, physically-exhausting days of her life, without making it seem like any work at all. The perfect bride, simply put, will not be human. Or, in other words, she does not exist.
Ask yourself… is the thing your friends, family and significant other most love about you the fact that you are perfect? No. It isn’t. And even if you were perfect (which you aren’t, none of us are), let’s be honest… it would probably be the thing your friends and family loved you in spite of, not because of. Who wants a perfect friend? Who can relate to or connect with or be vulnerable around perfection? So why strive for it on your wedding day?
I’m saying this because, though it was magical, memorable, joyous, elating, happy, fantastic, wonderful, special, hilarious, emotional, spectacular and incredible… my whole wedding day was not perfect from start to finish. And I believe I’d be doing the readers of this magazine— and the ethos of what it is to be a Rock n Roll Bride— a disservice to pretend otherwise.
Strike one in pursuit of perfection (and I’m pulling no punches here, reader): I had such bad diarrhoea for the whole morning on my wedding day that we started referring to the downstairs loo as “the scene of the crime”. I’m not sure if it was the gluten the night before or if I just had a nervous tummy, but it was like the scene from Bridesmaids and it was not okay. Strike two: During the journey to the venue, I had my first ever anxiety attack and had to get out of the car.
I must add here that I was already legally married at this point. We got town-hall hitched the day before, with fourteen people present, and I hadn’t had one moment of nervousness that day. My feet were not cold, my thoughts were not second, I was not nervous about the getting-married-bit. I was physically and emotionally overwhelmed by the enormity of the big day, because I felt I was falling short of what everyone would have expected from me— a confident and socially-capable and comfortable person— on my wedding day. Basically, I felt I was failing at being the ‘perfect bride’.
Having arrived, I told my Maid of Honour that I didn’t think I could go in until I had seen my husband (something she, as someone who is familiar with anxiety attacks, later told me she wasn’t going to allow to happen in a million years, I just needed distracting). Throughout the ceremony, every now and then, I felt a pull in my stomach and I’d worry I was about to return to “the scene of the crime”. And, so aware of the eyes on me, to calm myself, I even found myself thinking: “You are on stage, Rachel. This is just like every show you’ve ever done. Just play the role of a confident woman.”
Of course, amidst this, there was SO much I was enjoying during our beautiful, magical, personal, music-filled humanist ceremony. And I must say, it is difficult to write this column— knowing it will be published alongside the stunning photos of our happy day— and not feel guilty or ashamed for having anything remotely imperfect to say (such is the patriarchal conditioning I have received to perpetuate the myth of the ‘perfect bride’). But that is the whole point of this… that is the feminist act here… I could just tell you all the good bits— the speeches, the setting, the sticky toffee pudding(!)— but in doing so I would be complicit in the very myth I am trying to dispel.
Our wedding was incredible. I absolutely loved. it. My husband, all of our guests and I had a ball. Not that it is ever a competition but so many people have said it was the best wedding they’ve ever been to, because it was so personal, so filled with love, friendship and joy. But it wasn’t perfect. That is the point I want to make, so that any future brides reading this might be saved from feeling the way I did on the morning of my wedding; like they are getting it wrong because they are human enough to have unpredictable emotions (or bowel movements!)
Strike three in pursuit of perfection (yes, this did actually happen): at the end of the ceremony, on the walk back down the aisle, I tripped over the aisle carpet, stepped onto my dress, and fell. The accompanying gasp was fresh out of a wedding movie. My husband’s lunge to catch me just before I hit the ground was a caricature. Alas. Splat. Strrrrike three, Mrs. Darwin, you are outta there! No perfection for you.
However! Just as my husband helped me back up again and everyone cheered and laughed, my brother and one of my bridesmen— who hadn’t seen what had happened— fired the confetti cannons behind us. The timing was so funny you couldn’t have written it. You might even say… the timing was perfect.
The resulting photo is brimming with life, humour, energy, joy and love, in a way that would not have been possible had I not fallen over seconds before it was taken. “Life,” as my Best Man added kindly in his speech, “is not about the falling down; it’s about the getting back up again”. And I know that might be a cliché, but it is absolutely true. Life is in the imperfections, the mistakes and the flaws. We need to celebrate them all.
The truth is, I wasn’t letting anyone down. I wasn’t falling short (pun intended) of anyone’s expectations of me. Just like the myth of the perfect bride, none of what was panicking me actually existed. Once I got back up and recovered from the laughter, I was able to relax and enjoy everything to the full. Because now that I fallen on my face— in front of everyone I know and love in my wedding dress— I could no longer try for perfect. I didn’t have a hope! The pressure was off! I could just be me.
In my speech, I told my husband, “I don’t need our life together to be perfect. I just want to continue to make the best of things with you, for the rest of our lives. Because when we do that, it always turns out for the best. And who wants perfect, when you can have the best?”
Don’t waste your gorgeous energy trying to be the perfect bride. She doesn’t exist. She is yet another lie the patriarchy told us to make us feel like we aren’t good enough. On such an overwhelming, intense, high stakes, emotional day, do not set yourself up for a fall by telling yourself you have to be perfect. Just do your best. Just be you. Once I remembered that, I had the best time. Not perfect. The best.
Rachel is a writer, singer and singing teacher. She has performed in vintage and swing wedding bands since 2015. Rachel lives in South West London, where she is currently writing her debut novel. You can find Rachel on Instagram via her brand spanking new handle @rachelbdarwin.