Skinny white women are not the only people on the planet who get married. Black women do, too. Turns out being a plus-size, dark-skinned future bride in Portland is like being a unicorn—or at least that’s how I felt when it came to finding wedding vendors that catered to me.
It all started last summer when my fiancé and I finally set a date for our nuptials. Like any brand-new blushing bride to be, the second I got engaged I dove headfirst into the internet to search for local wedding vendors—and it didn’t take long to notice all the brides looked the same. Don’t get me wrong; Portland is a great place to plan a wedding—as long as you’re petite, blonde, wealthy, and white. But on social media and throughout the bridal industry it’s almost as if non-white or fat brides don’t exist.
Another thing I noticed: The wedding planners I hired, like many others in this city, came with a list of preferred vendors that catered to the stereotypical bride. It was pretty clear that kinky hair and weaves were far beyond the scope of the stylists they suggested. And when I hopped on Instagram to see what kind of looks the makeup artists were capable of, I was hard pressed to find any complexion darker than a tan bronzer. Meanwhile, the DJ I called had absolutely no idea who Fetty Wap was—which was an absolute deal breaker. My last hope from this list was a popular photographer whose work is celebrated locally and on the holy grail of wedding inspo blogs, Style Me Pretty. We hit it off instantly via email, but when I asked if she would be able to manage photographing various shades of black and white skin in natural light she suddenly ghosted me, and then cancelled all together. (But not before alluding to darker skin being “a challenge” to capture on camera.)
Needless to say, this was stressful. I never expected to encounter discrimination or subtle racism during what should be a magical time—but here I was. I eventually did find vendors who weren’t afraid of culturally sensitive questions.
A few months after my nuptials, I received a postcard in the mail, and on it, a photo of me holding a bouquet. It was an ad from the florist Lisa Martin, who designed my wedding. I burst into tears. Not because it was me on the flier from Bloomsberry Floral, but because somewhere in Oregon a Black girl would see this photograph and be able to fantasize about her wedding day, the same as every other girl.
Representation matters, and it was sad that something so small struck me as so monumental because of the lack of cultural representation that currently exists in the wedding industrial complex.
Since my wedding I’ve made it a mission to try and spare—or at least minimize—the trauma of subtle discrimination for future spouses of color, or LGBTQ partners who inevitably face some sort of microaggression while planning their weddings. I started by asking the question, “Do Black Brides Really Matter to the Wedding Industry?” in an essay for a popular wedding blog. And even though it got lots of attention, months after it ran it still felt as though there was a lack of commitment to this issue, since most of the local and national vendors continued to advertise their services to white women who are already represented as the wedding industry standard. The “dream wedding” was still very much being seen as a white man and woman, at least through the eyes of most wedding blogs and publications.
I reached out online in search of vendors who were willing to help broaden the definition of “the perfect bride,” as well as businesses that emphasized they proudly catered to all kinds of love, no matter what it looked like. One of my vendors included Katie Carver from Urban Studio, who acted as a guardian angel, making sure my wedding went off without a hitch. She never made me feel like I was the exception—with her I felt like every other bride, if not better. So she was the first person who came to mind when I decided I would re-create an inclusive wedding vision, a photo shoot that would depict what the marketing for wedding professionals could look like.
The criterion was simple for everyone involved: Each vendor needed an open mind and a consciousness of the need for their service to exist as a space that would be stress-free. We then decided to collaborate on our own styled shoot. Before I got married I thought those picture-perfect images of laughing couples and immaculate tablescapes, sky-high tiered cakes, and flawless couples holding cascading florals were what everyone’s wedding looked like. I soon found out that none of this was real; vendors create these visions to show potential clients what their wedding could be. Just knowing that so many people rarely envision large brown bodies in love made me more determined put this project together.
Each vendor was a woman of color or an ally to social justice. The models I cast were representative of me and all the other brown brides who never see themselves when flipping through the pages of a wedding magazine. The models were two gorgeous and talented people who represented the plus sized community, whom I’ve never seen featured in any Portland bridal shows. Not only would this group be seen, but they’d also be seen as real people with love between them, and not tokenized props by those attempting diversity.
We all collectively agreed it was time to break free of our own boundaries.
Both models had glowing reviews of the photographer I recruited. And Beth Olson, founder of Twisted Aisle Weddings, was no stranger to nuptials that some would consider outside the norm.
Ania Bridal volunteered to participate in this shoot after they caught wind of our vision, and their welcoming staff opened their doors, making us feel right at home when it came to finding the perfect fit—no matter the body type. After wardrobe and photography, the most important elements of any wedding are the flowers, venue, and rentals.
Saria Dy (of Rue Anafel) is a floral wizard I found in a wedding vendor group who creates moody and unique arrangements and prioritizes feminist values for all individuals. Her arrangements for our shoot were breathtaking. As a lover of vintage, I was also thrilled to hear two new names with a gorgeous selection of one-of-a-kind furniture pieces for our set. Sherine Iskandar of Vintage Meets Modern was referred to me by Pilar Ilo, who also specializes in vintage and estate rentals for “petite events.”
As for selecting our glam squad, it was essential to consider the different needs of my models. Not only did makeup artist Peter Asio slay the wedding contour on my “special day,” but he was also the only person out of several dozen who even had makeup dark enough to match my skin and give me the look I wanted. Rayna Thomas was the second artist on our team, and she’s trusted by clients of all complexions to enhance their bridal beauty. Obviously hair was a priority as we styled our shoot, and as any Black person knows, our hair can, at times, require a little more attention. I was referred to a local designer and cosmetologist named Kendra Jones, who created two very glamorous yet different looks that included the bride’s natural hair.
Lastly, finding a POC bakery can be a challenge (and after a while you begin to feel like a creep, racially profiling Instagram for different ethnic wedding professionals). But I was determined to find people who were missing for me when I was a bride-to-be. Tier PDX had the most aesthetically pleasing and delicious cake collection I’d ever come across, so they were quickly added to our womanist wedding roster. Heart of Celebration also provided custom cocktails and non-traditional menus without the culinary cultural appropriation.
I firmly believe everything happens for a reason. If I’d never had awful event planners and felt so silenced during my own wedding, I’d never have embarked on my journey to create space for future brides. Although most of the participants in this shoot were women of color, others were there to support our vision as allies. In addition to the magical Katie Carver, there was also local planner Justine Brougham who founded Together Events. Their company also values feminism and brainstormed the styling of the rentals alongside Pilar and Sherine. When our artist fell through we were fortunate enough to ask our friends at Gallery 903 to loan us a backdrop. Without hesitation they allowed us to stage a very expensive painting, because they also believed in the message behind our shoot.
In the end I, along with the people who participated in this shoot, hope it paves the way for people of color who also want to get married in the whitest city in America.
Want to see more photos from the Woke Wedding photo shoot? Check 'em out here.
No Need to be a Bridezilla! Here’s a Vendor List that Takes the Microagressions Out of Wedding Planning.