Bride wars

Why brides in China are increasingly hiring professional bridesmaids for their big day

A couple poses for wedding pictures at a park in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, March 18, 2014. (REUTERS/William Hong)

In September, a 28-year-old Chinese bridesmaid from Wenchang, Hainan province, died after being pressured into drinking too much alcohol, spiking alarm over the dangers of traditional weddings in the country. Bridesmaids are routinely subjected to verbal, physical or sexual harassment and abuse — as the recent viral video of Liu Yan, a famous Chinese actress being dumped into a swimming pool during her friend’s wedding demonstrated. Bridesmaids play an important role in traditional Chinese weddings and increasingly function as a sort of “social display,” where the attractiveness and number of bridesmaids are seen as echoing the status of the family’s status. Some of the obligations of being a bridesmaid include drinking rice wine on behalf of the bride — often resulting in dangerous over consumption — and performing sexually suggestive stunts as a symbolical “final hurdle” before the couple’s wedding night, which, in extreme cases, devolves into sexual assault.

While mistreating bridesmaids could lead to severe legal prosecution, it often goes unreported, making it hard to estimate how widespread the abuse is. In this context, it has become routine for brides to hire professional bridesmaids — with more than 50 wedding planning firms in China offering the option as part of wedding packages. For their “services” — which can include being a makeup artist, drinking alcohol for the bride and keeping away rude wedding guests, among other things — they are paid between 200 and 800 yuan ($30 to $120) per wedding. However, as QZ argues “without proper legal and regulatory provision, the professionalization of bridesmaids may do little to challenge the chauvinistic wedding traditions in some Chinese regions. On the contrary, it may even reinforce the idea that the female body can be an objectified commodity for sale.”

Read the full story at Quartz.

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