They are no longer just for loved ones, but displays of intimacy and wealth designed to be shared with the world. Shanti Mathias finds out how the look of a wedding is changing in the age of Instagram.
On Instagram, Angela PanThe wedding looks perfect. At her bachelorette party in Auckland, she sports a balloon train in millennial pink. In a short video, soft music accompanies the unboxing of her bridesmaid gift sets, including personalized wallet pouches and fluffy slippers. In an immaculate white dress, she kisses her new husband Joseph in front of their family and friends.
Pan, a creative director who now lives in Australia, is one of 20,000 New Zealanders who get married every year. More of these people will use social media. Since the global wedding industry is worth hundreds of billions dollars, social media is both a lucrative place for companies that work with weddings and a place where people can realize their happiness.
“I used social media as a planning tool for the whole wedding,” says Pan. She spent hours exploring wedding hashtags on Instagram and seeing who her friends had mentioned when posting wedding photos. She created Pinterest boards for cakes, decor, and hairstyles, then shared them with her wedding planner. All of the vendors she used at her wedding were found through social media. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of choice; the online marriage industry, like everywhere else, overrepresents white cishets. It was difficult for Pan to find makeup artists and clothing designers who had experience with Asian skin tones and body shapes.
Rachel*, a Wellingtonian who got engaged to her partner in March, has also found inspiration online, but finds herself more skeptical of the “generic” Instagram wedding – flower walls, cottagecore and unique hashtags. “A lot of it is about status and flexibility – it’s not in my budget,” she says candidly. “The Disney Industrial Complex is telling us we need these huge weddings because that’s supposed to be the happy ending.”
For wedding businesses, social media is a great way to find clients. “We think social media is wonderful,” says Sirjana Singh, half of Tinted photograph. Singh and her husband Ben Lane have 18,000 followers on Instagram, drawn to their moody, lush photography and behind-the-scenes stories. Singh says tinted photography has become a full-time business because social media has given them enough clients to shoot weddings for a living.
Teuila Benoni, wedding planner with Marriage she wrote in Auckland, agrees that social media is good for business, while helping couples communicate the type of wedding they want. “It definitely helps with the aesthetics, [especially] if you want a magazine cover wedding. She pauses. “It can be a strain on the budget, though, because you want to put a lot of different things in your wedding photos.”
Is the proliferation of wedding content on social networks homogenizing weddings? Benoni doesn’t think so. Wedding She Wrote specializes in planning for couples of diverse ethnic backgrounds, many of whom find inspiration to embrace aspects of their culture’s weddings online. “You can present various rituals,” she says. “The ones that haven’t repeated in your family for a while.”
While Singh points out that Tinted Photography – which specializes in adventure photography and runaways – makes every shot unique, she also says photographers and couples have nothing to worry about looking like each other. “Centuries ago people said ‘oh my god, they painted royalty like that. I want to be painted like this. “” Photographers like Singh need to be immersed in trends – and they still don’t know what the TikTok era of wedding photography will look like.
While social media is useful for wedding businesses and engaged couples, the connection between the social internet and weddings raises bigger questions about why people get married – and why they feel the need to. talk to others.
“New Zealand is not a very religious society overall, so most [motivators] are social, not legal,” says Vivienne Elizabeth, a sociologist who studies family and gender roles at the University of Auckland. Ten years ago, Elizabeth published a study on what motivated the people of Aotearoa to get married. For most of the couples Elizabeth studied, straight and gay, a wedding was a joyful celebration with loved ones, though for some it was important to gain family approval. Couples have made very personal choices when planning and presenting their weddings.
Today, Elizabeth sees the trend of personalization continuing. As long as you meet the minimum legal requirements – one celebrant and two witnesses – a wedding can be anywhere, and vows can say anything. Elizabeth says that “there is a wide range of possibilities” of what a marriage looks like; it is part of a larger trend towards the individualization of society.
One thing that remains the same, however, is that people want others to know about their marriage. “We create social proof, show people you can get this with this [much money]Singh says when I ask him why people are willing to spend thousands of dollars on wedding photos. “[Social media] changed the way we photograph. People want Instagram moments they can share later,” adds Lane.
There is also an element of comparison. “Social media creates bizarre expectations,” says Pan. “You see a photo of an influencer wedding with a huge budget, and you [want] to go beyond. The parts of her own wedding that she has chosen to share online focus on the aesthetics of her wedding, the type of visual content that works well on social media. “I knew my audience would love to see the outfits, the locations, the stationery, the table placements — that’s what I was excited to share,” she says.
But does the visual nature of social media simply reinforce the kinds of pressure and comparison that drive couples to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a ceremony? It’s well established that social media creates pressure, says sociologist Elizabeth, and that includes pressure to share wedding photos. “There is a requirement to archive and display your own life, [so] you show it at its best,” she says.
Shared online, wedding photos play an important social role, allowing a couple to achieve intimacy with each other, as well as demonstrating who is important in their social circle. Real-world details like invitations, bridesmaid and groomsman selection, and table seating do it just as effectively as comments under a Facebook wedding announcement or tagging certain people – and no others – in photos on Instagram. This all works to the benefit of the multi-billion dollar wedding industry (where most players are small businesses trying to cover costs) as well as the multi-billion dollar social media industry, where huge corporations make huge amounts of money from people’s desire to be perceived.
Ultimately, however, there are parts of a wedding ritual that cannot be captured by a photographer or shared online. Pan, who chose to have an “unplugged” wedding where guests don’t use their phones during the ceremony, knows this. “There are moments that stay in your head, not on social media, not on someone’s phone,” she says. She does not plan to share her vows or wedding speeches with her 8,000 followers. “Only the people who were there have that memory – that’s what makes it so special.”
*certain people’s surnames have not been used for confidentiality reasons.