Ad Outrage: Busting Allstate’s Marriage To-Do List

This is an Allstate ad that I ripped out of a copy of The Knot, a wedding magazine.
The tear is not part of the ad, but, somehow, it feels kind of appropriate.

By Hannah O. Brown

Full disclosure: I am not planning a wedding, nor am I engaged to be married. But as a three-time maid of honor (though once my title was actually “President of the Wedding”), I have served as a sounding board during many wedding discussions, plans and vent-sessions with multiple brides. I feel this gives me at least some authority to talk about weddings and the often unequal distribution of wedding-related labor.

While flipping through a wedding magazine in anticipation of a friend’s wedding, I came across this ad that showcases the to-do lists of the bride and groom. The bride’s list takes up the entire page, while the groom’s list is comically succinct. My friend and I spent a good 20 minutes picking this thing a part. It got pretty heated. So I thought it would be a good exercise to dissect it. You know, for the common good. To be clear, my intent is not to attack the loving men of brides everywhere, but rather to take a look at the societal structure that couples exist in while planning their weddings.

Here are a few truths that are crucial to point out:

1. Not all brides are bridezillas.

The common image of the bride is a controlling and irrational monster obsessed with perfection–the bridezilla. Brides-to-be fear the title and budding grooms are conditioned to expect their future wives to take on the role. But starting from this point puts everyone in a defensive mode, and aside from that, the amount of work that women are responsible for is enough to turn anyone into a stressed-out task master. Women get caught in a Catch-22 where they are expected to plan the details of the wedding but are criticized for being controlling. In this world, the bride never wins.

2. Wanting help with wedding planning is perfectly reasonable.

In the Allstate ad above, the case is made for Allstate agents to take some of the load off of women’s plates because they experience the brunt of planning. This is a theme I hear frequently from my to-be-wed friends: Men don’t seem to know how to help. And instead of society encouraging both partners to share the load, the burden placed on women remains without any pathways for resolution. But really, is it so bad to want help in planning a giant, fancy party? Especially one that represents the unions of two people, two families. Personally, I’d love to see it become the norm for men to take some initiative here, instead of a playful joke that ads can riff off of to appeal to women’s interests.

3. Wedding planning is more than flower arrangements and make-up demos.

The ad above lays out the duties of the bride as a list of fluffy activities that are focused on aesthetics–the design of the cake, the coordination of outfits, planning hair and makeup. These duties definitely are on the list, but they are a a very small portion of it. During my sister’s wedding, we were hauling around coolers and liquor bottles in heels. We were shucking oysters and welcoming guests simultaneously. We were superwomen. Gorgeous, shiny-haired workhorses. This is a little-acknowledged fact by society at large: Weddings are often not a day for brides to be princesses, but rather to be hostesses, entertainers, designers, and all-around problem fixers. In the words of my friend currently engaged to be married: “This ad was written by men.”

4. Women being stressed and overworked is not cute or acceptable.

The narrative of the American wedding is plagued with mentions of women under stress. Many movies, commercials and ads (see above) are written around this truth. But this really isn’t something to make light of or exploit. Managing the communication between the vendors, guests and new family members (including a brand new mother-in-law) is a huge task in and of itself, and not a straightforward one at that. But this doesn’t have to be the norm. Instead of accepting the burden of stress on women as fact, why not encourage a culture of support in these new couplings, where men are conditioned to take on responsibility in the wedding planning process and also to support the mental health of their to-be wives.

5. You don’t have to go into debt to start your life together.

The Allstate ad above outlines a few of the expectations for that perfect wedding: giant cake, ridiculously expensive dress, hundreds of dollars worth of flowers and decorations. The list goes on. And while these things are completely legitimate to pursue if they are important to you, there is nothing wrong with re-imaging the wedding ideal into something more affordable that fits your lifestyle. Spending thousands of dollars is undoubtedly a stressful way to start a new life with someone. Think about what’s really important to you, and your partner can do the same. Pick a few things you aren’t willing to compromise, and let the rest be good enough.

6. The quest for perfection is a lie.

In talking with brides and seeing their journey through the planning process, I can say one thing for sure: There is a huge amount of stress related to how successful the event will be, and this becomes even more true if guests are traveling in from out of town. But when the day actually comes, it flies by, leaving little time to enjoy months of planning. Just as weddings are likely to never be completely perfect, the planning process probably won’t be either. If you are feeling sad and overworked when it comes to your wedding, find your partner or a close friend and talk about it. Talk about what’s important to you, and what really matters. Your guests will likely never pick up on the flaws that you see during the day-of. So kick your heels off, drink red wine in your white dress and enjoy the mishaps as well as the successes.

Here’s a few tips from retrospective brides:

1. Sample cake with your partner until you want to vomit.

2. Bring a flask to the dress fitting.

3. Hoard leftovers from your reception to eat during the after-after party.

4. Wear metallic and/or neon spandex under your dress for the dance party.

5. Show up late–they can’t start without you!