[Un]veiled Contempt: Why I Choose Not To Cover UpFebruary 13, 2012 5 Comments
Wedding veils have been a point of contention for progressive brides since the birth of feminism.
“I didn’t want to walk into this life-changing event looking like I didn’t have my eyes open,” my mother, married in 1970, told me. “It didn’t make sense to me that I should want to hide myself or imply in any way that I didn’t know what I was getting into. My friends, for the most part, felt the same.”
The origins of the wedding veil are somewhat murky, with lots of anecdotal history kicking around. One factoid (“factoid?” sure) fairly consistently thrown out there is that, as usual, this all started with the Romans. In fact, the word “nuptial” comes from the Latin word nubo, meaning, “I veil myself.” Roman brides wore red veils, known as flammeum, in order to hide and protect themselves from evil spirits on their wedding days.
This concept pops up in traditional Chinese and Indian weddings, where an umbrella is held over the bride as a symbol of protection. I, too, plan to bring an umbrella to my wedding, but that’s because I’m getting married here.
Veils in early European marriages, meanwhile, served as a means of concealing the bride from her husband until the ceremony was over. This tradition started because in days of yore, marriages were business transactions in which the bride was bargained for through her father. Showing her face only after the ceremony ensured the transaction could not be reversed, even if hubby didn’t like the looks of his new main squeeze (a sure-fire route to a life of happiness there, huh?)
And of course, there are roots connected to the virginity of the bride. Some say the white veil, traditional in contemporary Western weddings, represents the bride’s virginity and the raising of it – by her father (traditional), her groom (a bit better), or herself (more progressive) – stands for the breaking of her hymen. In front of all her friends and family. Good times.
So where does this leave us today?
My friend Lisa told me: “I can’t imagine wearing a veil. It’s one of the most blatantly sexist wedding traditions there is – it’s even worse than a white wedding dress as a symbol of purity because it so strongly represents a woman’s subjugation to her husband.”
Then again, there are those who feel less adamant. My friend Michelle is considering making the tradition her own by opting for a blue veil to match her dress.
“I think it can totally work, even just in an, ‘I-look-good-with-this-thing’ kind of way, rather than an, ‘I’m-trying-to-look-pure-and-virginal-and-play-the-part’ kind of way,” she said. “I mean if you look good in it and want to go with it, rock it! All my guests are aware of my politics – choosing to wear something on my head or not is not going to change their opinion of me or my partner.”
While I’m a big supporter of turning traditions into your own thing (just look at this Italian bride – talk about rocking it), either surprisingly or unsurprisingly, I can’t help but agree with the woman who raised me. To me, a wearing a veil would make me feel, symbolically, that I was walking into something without knowing what I was doing when in fact, at the ripe age of 28 (most likely 29 by the time I get married), this is anything but the case: I decided to get married and I’m walking into this with my eyes wide open. I’m no innocent, but surely that makes my choice of groom all the more discerning.
And nobody is “giving me away.” Which leads me to my upcoming column, two weeks from now: “Give me away? Give me a break!”
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