Women are inundated with pressure to keep up appearances, whether that be in family life, in work life, or even just her appearance. The emphasis that is placed on women and how they choose to live, parent, act, or look intensifies each year as beauty standards continue to dominate media and advertising. One time in a woman's life - one day in fact - where these pressures mount dramatically is on a woman's wedding day, where she is expected to be at her most beautiful.
Tasnim Jara, president of healthcare non-profit Aroggo, was well aware of how women - especially within her community in Bangladesh - are pressured to look a certain way when they are a bride. She acknowledged that society's stance on a woman's financial success, her family's status and other aspects of her life is judged based on how she looks at her wedding. Commonly, Muslim brides are adorned with lots of gold jewellery - armfuls of bracelets and necklaces - head pieces, and heavy make up.
In a Facebook post, Jara spoke about how this wasn't something that she wanted for herself on her big day, and how she opted to marry her husband whilst wearing no make up or jewellery. Even her wedding gown - which is often the highlight of a bride's big day and one of her costliest fashion purchases - was a white cotton saree previously owned by her grandmother. But why? All decisions made with regards to her bridal look were to prove a point about brides and the pressure that's put on them to meet certain expectations when they tie the knot.
”I was troubled by the singular image of a bride that our society has – with tons of makeup, a weighty dress and mounds of jewellery weighing her down. Don’t be fooled, this lavish image of a bride does not represent the financial well-being or agency of a woman in the family,” Jara wrote. “This sometimes rather happens against their will. As if the society has decided that if we really have to spend money on women, we spend it against their will and for a cause that won’t do them any good.”
She goes on to elaborate with examples of gossip at other weddings that she's attended - questioning the bride's level of beauty, the amount of gold she's wearing or how much her dress cost - which in turn pressures brides-to-be.
“Growing up listening to these questions, a bride feels pressured to look for the best makeup artist in town, pays a hefty amount in time, money and energy, and ends up looking nothing like herself; because the society constantly reminds her that her actual skin colour isn’t good enough for her own wedding.”
Despite her personal choices, Jara makes it unmistakably clear that she doesn't judge those who wish to dress up and transform themselves on her their wedding day: 'Don’t get me wrong, if a girl wants to use make-up, jewellery and expensive clothes for herself, I am all in for that. But it is a problem when she loses her agency in deciding what she would like to wear on her wedding day. When the society forces her to doll up and look like a different person, it gives a message that the authentic look of a girl isn’t good enough for her own wedding.'
Jara's decision to appear at her wedding the way she did came at a cost, with many family members refusing to be in photos with her because she didn't fit the mould that they had carved out for a bride. She does, however, thank 'the few' that supported her, including her husband, Khaled, who 'has not only supported me unconditionally but also beamed at me with so much pride, for taking a stance against the stereotypes.'
Jara, like many of us, want to see change:
“Personally, I feel that we need to change this mindset. A girl should not need a whitening lotion, a gold necklace or an expensive saree to be accepted as a bride or to make her feel confident. So I arrived at my wedding venue wearing my dadu’s saree, with zero makeup and no jewellery. People may call it simple, but it was very special to me, for what I believe in and what it means to me.”
As a bride, both in the coming months and on your wedding day itself, it can be hard to avoid societal pressures. But, it can be even harder to live with the possible regret of not staying true to yourself and what you wanted, whether that be what you wanted out of your wedding, your career or your life in general. We hope that Tasnim Jara's story will help other women see that true happiness cannot be compromised by gold, cosmetics or other people's acceptance.