How the Obsession With Celebrity Weddings Fuels Unrealistic Expectations of Relationships
Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor’s wedding yesterday — technically, an intimate affair — felt nothing short of a national festival. A video of large steel utensils being transported in a truck, possibly to cook for the wedding guests, garnered over two million views on Instagram — a testament to the public frenzy surrounding the wedding of the Bollywood superstars.
This frenzied interest is neither unique nor novel. In the human mind, celebrities live fantastic lives that their fans want a sneak peek into. These high-profile events — parties, weddings, birthdays — become ways to feed the imagination that borders on obsession, in so many ways. “We all want to believe that our real lives could turn into a fairytale; it’s the ultimate dream. Watching celebrities live a fairytale makes it feel like maybe someday it could happen for us too,” wrote Bianca Guzzo, a Canadian woman, commenting on Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ wedding to Nick Jonas.
“These are fantasy weddings to the common man, hence the allure, just like fairy tales used to awe us… Through these grand celebrations, wishes are born in the minds of people, and wishes are also fulfilled vicariously,” Nikita Jain, psychotherapist and faculty at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University in Delhi, explained last year. “One is able to imagine what a fulfilled wish or fantasy would look like, let’s say of getting married in a castle or a haveli,” Jain added.
We know, however, that no obsession is purely innocuous. The problem with the allure of these extravagant, opulent affairs rears its head when the desire to consume such media turns into a desire to emulate their aesthetic — brought to them in dazzling immediacy on unhurriedly designed posts on social media. This fixation shapes our ideas of love, relationships, marriage — arguably, all things human and personal that are, unfortunately, weighed against fairytales designed for public consumption.
In 2014’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, Bhatt’s character says, “Main shaadi karoongi toh Kareena waala designer lehenga pehenke karoongi; varna dulhe ko ‘tata, bye-bye’ kardo [I have no intentions of getting married unless I’m given the designer lehenga Kareena Kapoor wore].” The character was fictional; her expectations regarding her wedding weren’t.
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“Everybody is into designer merchandise these days… Add to it the trend of hiring wedding planners, stylists, florists, and multiple vendors for weddings and you have a toxic cocktail [that] has added so many unwanted layers to an Indian wedding today. All this expense pushes up cost[s] dramatically,” Pratibha Chahal, a sociologist, told Al Jazeera.
These lavish, high-profile weddings fuel a culture of luxury and extravagance around marriages — seeping into the aspirations of the masses while setting standards unaffordable to most. This verges on dangerous in a society where weddings often serve as the vehicle to assert one’s wealth and status in society — leading many to become steeped in debt to fund their dream weddings rather than saving up for a brighter future with their spouse. Celebrity wedding aesthetics only fuel this mania.
That’s not all. “What’s also problematic about the commodification of weddings is what is commodified, and that’s often women. The wedding industry is synonymous with the bridal industry: not couples, not grooms. So, there’s this massive machine that is selling women this fantasy of being a bride… being thin, looking the part, springing for lash extensions, you name it. There is high-grade pressure on women to transform into a bride, regardless of who she is, [what] her background [is], or what her values are,” Karen Cleveland, co-author of The New Wedding Book, said last year. Cleveland mentioned speaking to women who responded to the pressure of being the “perfect bride” by crash-dieting, bleaching their skin, and “even [getting] a feeding tube inserted to lose those last few pounds.”
Further, the Instagram aesthetics that celebrity weddings perpetuate, create pressure for people to constantly look perfect at their wedding — lest a guest uploads a “subpar” picture of them — making the event itself stressful, and sullying its memory in the long term.
Moreover, the commodification of weddings takes focus away from the actual marriage; it is no wonder then that the compatibility and bond between the couple, who are venturing into a new life together, seem almost secondary compared to the superficiality of their wedding. What matters more are questions like: Where did they get married? What roses were those? How many people were invited? Who came, who didn’t? The whispers around banquet halls echo in the digital corridors — just much louder.
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The “picture perfect” weddings of celebrities also paint an impeccable portrait of romance — creating unrealistic expectations of love. Ironically, this impacts the very relationship one is stretching themselves thin to celebrate. “With famous couples brandishing themselves through unrealistic imagery, it is no wonder why modern expectations of what a relationship is meant to look like are unreasonable… Millennials are falling in love with the idea of relationships — not people,” states an article, adding, “The value of a relationship lies in the other person, not the aesthetic of the couple… [it] require[s] much more than a photogenic presence to endure.”
A few decades ago, before social media dominated our lives, we weren’t bombarded with every single detail of our favorite celebrities’ “special” days — making it easier to consume the news and move on with our lives. But, at present, moving on from them is arduous; any intent to avoid being blitzed by pictures and videos of the grand affairs involves making an active choice to avoid scrolling through the Internet at all.
Having said that, celebrities — just like everyone else in a free country — are entitled to celebrate important milestones of their lives as minimally or as lavishly as they wish. Unfortunately, however, social media plays a pivotal role in the pernicious hype around these star-studded affairs. This not only hurts the lives of ordinary citizens but also denies celebrities the privacy that some of them might desire on such intimate occasions.
But while celebrities have managed to find ways to take advantage of the hype — financially and otherwise, there aren’t nearly as many upshots for their fans. Yet, in the digital age we’re living in, there’s no escape — especially not when we’re as psychologically wired to fawn and obsess over the fairytale weddings of our beloved stars.
As Guzzi added, “[So] long as celebrities keep getting married, sharing their special day on their socials, and selling their wedding photos to magazines, we’re still going to continue to consume them in all of their lavish glory, and believe that someday we, too, could afford to have a flower wall like Kim and Kanye.”