The Marginalized Brides of Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss
by Alice Leppert — University of Minnesota
June 19, 2012 – 00:00
Prior to 2010, TLC’s reality series Say Yes to the Dress featured a wide array of women searching for bridal gowns. As TLC’s bridal branding expanded, the series inspired several spinoffs, including Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss, featuring solely plus-size women. Though the program’s framing narrative is vaguely "empowering"—showing women who don’t fit into conventional sizes that they, too, can achieve idealized bridal femininity, the drama and suspense undercut this already dubious aim. Much of the tension revolves around whether or not desired dresses are available in bigger sizes, whether brides can try on samples without ripping them, and whether the styles will be flattering.
Big Bliss is part of a broader trend within TLC’s wedding programming, which contrasts upper middle-class weddings with weddings marked as excessive and in poor taste. The brides on Big Bliss not only fail to conform to the beauty standards necessary to appear on the original Say Yes to the Dress, but the program also often positions them as subcultural oddities and/or working class stereotypes, such as the West Virginia bride in this clip, whose fiancé suggests that her ideal dress might resemble a mullet.
Most episodes begin with the bridal consultants discussing how they work to mitigate body anxieties, with the goal of boosting their clients’ confidence in their appearance. Indeed, when brides find “the one,” they regularly exclaim how beautiful they look and feel. However, episodes progress through a series of stock dramatic scenes to get to the jubilant “yes” moment around which the series is based, and these scenes mercilessly undermine the frame of body-accepting empowerment. The bride typically tells an emotional backstory about her lifelong weight struggle, while in the privacy of the stock room, the consultants confide to the camera that they will have difficulty fulfilling the bride’s wishes. Before she finds “the dress,” the bride is reduced to tears when dresses don’t fit or flatter, a fact rendered plain for the viewer through gratuitous close-ups of bulging flesh that cannot be accommodated in the sample sizes. The series’ relentless focus on its subjects’ bodies and the narrative problems they pose only works to further marginalize them as failures of bridal femininity, despite the lip service paid to a broader vision of feminine beauty.