#IDo: Does social media pressure ruin the joy of weddings?

From clever hashtags and elaborate online invitations to live feeds, some ceremonies are all about garnering likes and followers

Weddings are both documented on and inspired by social media these days. Unsplash / Nathan Dumlao
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It’s not unexpected that brides-to-be are constantly fielding questions, hearing opinions and making decisions about their wedding ceremonies. With six months to go for my own nuptials – a rather short time when it comes to desi wedding planning – it seems it’s all anyone wants to talk to me about. Despite being mentally prepared, I was taken aback by the nature of some of these conversations, specifically the ones that are hyper-focused on the social media savviness of the ceremony.

What’s your wedding hashtag going to be, asked one well-meaning friend. Have you sorted your WhatsApp invitation, inquired another, while a third wanted to know if I was going with the event planner that everyone had been obsessing about on Instagram.

Not big on social media, I passed off these and other questions as trends that are just not for me. It was only when I realised that most people around me expected me to follow these fads and reacted rather oddly when I said I didn’t want a hashtag, or that I wanted to celebrate differently from the norm, that I realised the kind of pressure that’s been built around having the perfect wedding – and, more importantly, showing it off to the world.

What does a social media-savvy wedding look like?

Couples and wedding planners often turn to Instagram and Pinterest for decor inspiration

From invitations that take the form of a YouTube video to decor that’s doing the rounds on the feeds of influencers, these ceremonies are an attempt to attract and impress as many people as possible.

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I miss out on clients when I tell them that I won't be consistently posting their videos, taken from a phone camera on our Instagram feed as a live telecast
Fatima Arif, photographer

Wedding hashtags, now a popular concept where the couple’s names are melded to create a carefully curated hashtag, allow followers from anywhere to keep up with the proceedings. Weeks after the wedding, pictures and videos are posted by everyone involved, from the photographer to the dress designer and make-up artist, so the social media hype continues long after the event itself is over.

The most well-liked or popular coverage is often reposted on lifestyle portals and fashion round-up lists, affording the bride and groom a level of celebrity status. Fatima Arif, founder of Fatima Arif Photography, says she’s seen many couples using their accounts and the response to their wedding as a way of turning to blogging or fast-tracking their way to becoming an influencer.

Couples feeling the heat

It's not uncommon for the couple and their friends to put up live feeds of a a wedding on social media

This is not to say that such weddings are for everyone. Nida Sheikh, a bride-to-be who is in the midst of planning her wedding next year, believes social media weddings are curated primarily to garner more likes and attract more followers.

“I would advise couples not to be taken aback by the pressure. It’s only a small part of society that indulges in extravagant weddings and those are the ones that are covered on social media. There are many simple and intimate events that take place, but get no online coverage because the content is not deemed appealing to a wider audience.”

While Sheikh may be right in saying many weddings fly under the radar, the perceptions created on social media are quite different, making couples think that everyone else is doing it and they need to as well. The desire to ape what we see online can end up making a wedding less about individuality and more about being part of a competition.

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For those who want to see these events being carried out on such grand scales but can’t afford to do the same, the experience of planning a wedding can get quite painful
Zoreed Raza, founder, La Celebrators event planning company

Neha Raheel, an educational consultant who got married three and a half years ago, says that the constant sharing on social media has accelerated an already-consumerist culture and that much of social media marketing is often targeted at brides or women attending weddings. Through a collaboration of photographers, event planners, caterers and others, the couple and their family members end up putting on a show akin to a Bollywood production.

“There’s this pressure of going to a wedding and then not being able to repeat clothes, because you posted about them. Weight loss ads and crash diets are also directed towards brides. The pressure of uploading stories and the warped body image expectations that social media creates plays a huge role in adding to this,” says Raheel.

Arif says her own choices to use social media sparingly have lost her potential business. “I miss out on clients when I tell them that I won't be consistently posting their videos taken from a phone camera on our Instagram feed as a live telecast,” says the photographer.

Arif says that the pressure of promoting a ceremony on social media can often take a toll on a couple’s experience of their big day. “They spend more time worrying about how to be the next big thing instead of enjoying the process,” says Arif. However, she adds that this doesn’t apply to all her clients; there are many who prefer their images not be shared online, including brides who wear the abaya or niqab and do not want to be seen on public portals.

On the brand bandwagon

Another outcome of highly publicised weddings is the birth of overwhelming options when it comes to clothes and accessories.

Raheel says that there were several moments during the course of her wedding planning when she was left overwhelmed about what to buy and what to wear. She recalls a conversation about her decision to wear flower jewellery at her henna function, with someone asking her which designer her jewellery would be from.

“I didn’t even realise that flower jewellery was associated with brand names. I assumed I would get mine from a local flower vendor. The idea that even something as simple accessories made from fresh flowers were branded was a shocking revelation of how obsessed with big names everyone has become.”

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People are experimenting, they do not want typical weddings any more
Sahar Sheikh, wedding planner

Zoreed Raza, founder of event planning company La Celebrators, says her 22 years of experience in the wedding planning business have taught her there’s a lot more to a good event than only being the most expensive or copying the latest trends. Raza says that while she implemented more original ideas earlier in her career, now she mostly gets clients who bring her pictures of social media references that they want copied, as is.

She cautions that following trends is not necessarily an easy task, be it due to economic pressure or social expectations. “For those who want to see these events being carried out on such grand scales but can’t afford to do the same, the experience of planning a wedding can get quite painful.”

Sonya Barlow, founder of global social enterprise LMF Network, agrees. “Personally, I find social media and wedding planning using platforms like Pinterest and Instagram quite toxic. Many ideas are difficult to implement, and there are a lot of expectations, either from yourself, friends, family or people around you, so you want to make sure you are seen in a certain way,” she says.

Riding the wave

Some embrace the modern-day evolution of weddings with aplomb

Equally, there are some planners who excel at meeting a couple’s social media expectations without allowing the pressure to get to them. Sahar Sheikh, founder of Purple Parrot Events, says she’s enjoying the ride in an industry she feels is still quite new and has been made evermore accessible by social media.

The event planner may have been in the business for only five years, but was quick to use her social media-savvy nature and understanding of modern communication to understand that platforms can be a very effective tool when used in the right way.

That said, Sheikh does feel that an overload of information and outside influences have left us at risk of losing touch with traditions such as the doodh pilai (drinking milk) and joota chupai (hiding shoes) ceremonies. But as an event planner, she sees this coming together of old and new as a challenge, one that she revels in resolving.

“Everything about weddings has changed. People are experimenting, they do not want typical weddings any more,” she says. “In the end, couples should remember their wedding is the time they are the centre of importance. You need to be happy on your wedding day, not worry about it, so make your decisions accordingly. If you are enjoying it, everything does come together.”

Updated: July 31, 2021, 5:11 AM