By Annika Konrad
So much of what it means to be a woman, or at least what society tells me it means to be a woman, is visual. I’ve previously written about my experiences being a visually impaired woman and struggling to find matching clothes and apply eye make-up. As I began to plan my wedding, I was reminded of how gender and disability intersect. If you’ve ever planned a wedding before, you know that it involves a lot of making decisions about details, and many of those details are visual—the look of the venue, the color scheme, the flourishes, the dress, the hair, the wedding party’s dresses and suits, the list goes on. And everybody wants to know, what does the bride want?
Well, my question for you is: what if the bride is visually impaired? Do you still want to know what the bride wants? I can tell you and show you what I want, but the way it looks to me might be different from the way it looks to you. Do you want it to look good to me, or do you want it to look good to other people?
I first encountered this question when searching for a wedding venue.
My husband and I scoped out a nature center set in a prairie reservation. As soon as I walked into the room I was in love with the aesthetic. Later, while reflecting on the venue at home, my husband said, “I’m not sure I like the owls and birds perched on the ceiling.” I said, “What owls and birds?” I didn’t see them. If he had never said anything, I would never have known they were there. Like my husband, I don’t consider owls and birds to be part of my desired aesthetic, but if I don’t see them, do they matter? On the other hand, if my guests see them, they will be part of their own aesthetic experience. Whose aesthetic experience is more important—mine or theirs? And vision impairment aside, can two people even have the same aesthetic experience?
I was also concerned about how my vision impairment would impact my experience at my own wedding. Would I be squinting in the bright sunlight? Will I tire of having to recognize faces and find people in the crowd? Will I accidentally upset someone by not immediately recognizing their face and displaying the appropriate reactions? Will I be able to read my vows in the sunlight? Will I trip over something? Will I spill a drink? These are the types of things I think about every single day, but when it’s your wedding day, you have a whole year in advance to worry about it.
Well, it turns out that the great thing about being a bride is that you’re in charge. You’ve likely controlled almost every detail from the color of the menus to the font on the invitations (unless you’ve been lucky like me and recruited other poor souls like your fiancé, sister, or mother into the thick of it). But most importantly, you’re in control of your own experience, and I was determined to enjoy it.
On the day of the wedding there were visual aspects of the experience that didn’t go as planned. I had two allergic reactions to facial makeup. My flower crown turned out to be a lot bigger than I had imagined. One of the groomsmen wore a dark gray suit instead of a light gray suit. I was squinting super hard while I walked back down the aisle with my new husband. The sun was shining directly in my eyes so I could hardly see my maid of honor give her toast during the reception. I had a hard time seeing guests’ faces while we were dancing in the barn.
But I didn’t care. I realized that I am in control of my own experience. Even though I couldn’t see many faces while walking down the aisle with my parents by my side, I knew all those blurry faces were there to support me and my husband and decided to wear the biggest smile of my life. It was so exciting to have so many friends and family gathered in one place that seeing all the details didn’t matter. My excitement carried me through greeting every guest, even when I didn’t know exactly who I was looking at. My excitement carried me through dancing to almost every single song on the dimly lit dance floor. It even carried me through (just barely) the oh-no-there-aren’t-enough-cupcakes moment.
I hope to find this feeling of pure joy in many other moments of my life and let it teach me to love even without the details.