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An illustration of a newly wed couple looking worried, surrounded by laughing and angry emoji iconsBBC Three / iStock

Inside the toxic world of wedding shaming

Is this the worst wedding trend ever?

Lisa Harvey

Picture this. You’ve just got married. You’re riding the newlywed highs and reminiscing about the vows, the venue, the DJ and food you spent months budgeting for. The 'congratulations' cards and messages are still pouring in and you’re – screw the cliché – feeling totally #blessed.

Now, imagine someone posting a photo of your dress, or the menu choices you spent months deliberating over, with a snarky caption to a social media group so that other people can rip you and your happy day apart – all in the name of lols.

Welcome to the world of online wedding shaming. These social media groups, where people come together to roast anything to do with other people’s weddings are on the rise. Currently, the most popular one is a Facebook community, founded in Canada, that has over 120,000 members worldwide. Overall, there are about 20 similar groups on Facebook, with the numbers of members ranging from 62,000 to less than 10 for some splinter groups. Over on Reddit, the thread r/weddingshaming has almost 28,000 members and posts rack up thousands of upvotes.

Although the Facebook groups are private, it’s relatively easy for anyone with the wedding shaming itch to join. Just answer a few questions, including sharing the most “shameful” wedding experience you’ve witnessed, and say how you found the group. This is, supposedly, so moderators can scrutinise your intentions and filter out trolls. But, once inside, despite also agreeing to follow strict rules (derogatory comments about race, religion, sexual orientation or gender are a ban-worthy offence, as are unrelated rants), it’s no place for the fainthearted – or for fairytale wedding ideas.

A quick scroll through the largest group’s feeds reveals posts about everything from outrageous bridal party behaviour to tacky decorations, cringey photos (think the bride and groom’s parents smooching at the altar) and “trash bag” grooms getting savaged for not looking the part. Think: “WTF is that suit though, urgh poor thing. She deserves better”, “Did he take those pants from the Walking Dead?” and “EWWWWWWW”. That’s not even counting the constant stream of “grandma’s shower curtain” and “inflatable tampon” wedding dress posts. Yes, ouch.

But it’s not all venom. The posts that tend to get the most likes are either lighthearted funnies - like the toddler who gatecrashed the ceremony and bombed all the photos (1,200 likes) or the guest who accidentally split her dress and flashed her bum in front of her boyfriend’s family (6,100). And, while tales of bridesmaid betrayal always attract attention (like the maid of honour who failed to show up and didn’t even text - 2,200), more heartfelt posts also do well - like the bridal boutique worker who wrote a message telling brides to stop feeling pressured to diet and be ok with ordering dresses in their actual size (1,600).

It seems these groups started out as a safe-ish space to blow off wedding-related steam. Anton, 22, who runs the biggest Facebook group with his girlfriend, doesn’t believe it’s encouraging toxic behaviour. “We’re not even a year old and we’ve almost got 120,000 members and see about two million interactions every month… It’s a similar environment to what you would see anywhere else on the internet – there’s the good, the bad and the ugly.” Does he feel bad for just how ugly it gets, though? “The term ‘wedding shaming’ is often misunderstood. A lot of people come to the group to get honest opinions. Many members see it as the best friend they wish they had - someone you can gossip to, who will be honest with you and make you laugh. If you can look past the petty comments, it really is a solid group of people.”

A speech bubble with the word LOL where two wedding rings form the letter OBBC Three / iStock

But most people’s “best friends” don’t throw shade at their proposal stories, slag their “creepy” wedding dance or post sick-face emojis about their Disney-themed decorations, surely? “We mute members or ask them to tone it down if it gets really mean,” says Anton. “I guess it comes down to people’s opinions and the person they are behind the keyboard.”

This online shaming trend went mainstream in August 2018 when a post from a group, that claims to be the “original”, shamed a bride for asking her guests to pay about $1,500 towards her wedding. The story went viral after it was shared by model and social media star Chrissy Teigen. That group’s moderators told Wired they felt they’d created a friendly space where people could share their frustrations. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks about our group,” said one admin. “It’s a place where people can vent about their wild wedding experiences.” Another described it as the Facebook equivalent of watching reality TV: “If it isn’t shameful, we won’t shame. Camo wedding dresses with hunting rifles on the cake are not tasteful in any capacity.”

Since then, these Facebook groups have grown exponentially. According to group member Orla, 25, it’s all about satirical humour. “I just love seeing all the crazy and WTF wedding ideas people come up with,” she says.

For others it’s cathartic. “My friend was a nightmare when planning her wedding, everything she did, especially on social media, was just so self-centered – as if she was the only person to have ever got married,” says Hannah, 32. “It drove me mad. I googled ‘awful brides’ and it led me to the group. Seeing other people’s experiences of unreasonable bridal demands made me feel better. It felt good to join in on the ranty comments. I didn’t care about offending her as she’d never find out.”

Then there are those who are aware of the cruelty factor – and yet continue to be a member anyway. “The whole concept is a bit shameful in itself - it breeds negativity and cattiness and isn’t doing anyone any good,” says Kathryn, 26. “But I love the entertainment factor. I just try and remember ‘each to their own’. If anything, at least you learn what not to do at weddings.”

Regardless of people’s individual motivations, the overriding message is clear - there’s now a corner of the internet with a hyper-appreciative audience waiting to shame and sip the tea about other people’s big days, and the most bizarre or brutal posts now regularly make headlines on tabloid news websites.

Kat Williams, founder of online wedding magazine Rock n Roll Bride, came across the trend six months ago when she discovered that members of her magazine’s Facebook group, which has 15,000 members, were screenshotting photos of other members’ weddings, and slating them in these ‘mean girl’ groups.

A shocked emoji icon wearing a tiara surrounded by laughing and angry emojis and the words OMG, WTFBBC Three / iStock

“They mainly go after people’s outfits,” she tells me. “The most recent one was a couple pictured on a boat - the bride was wearing a fluffy jacket, the groom was wearing a kilt, and I had no idea what was so shameful. I think when some people see something that is unusual or different to them, they snap to judge. They probably do it because it makes them feel better about their own lives. But they’re never going to get to a happier place by dragging others down.”

Kate Beavis, who runs a wedding blog, thinks other social media platforms are inadvertently fuelling the trend, too. “Instagram and Pinterest give us a vision of what a ‘perfect’ wedding looks like, and anything less to some people is not good enough. But these images are usually filtered, photoshopped or styled by professionals. So, while these platforms can inspire wedding days, it sets a standard in some people’s minds of what it should or shouldn’t look like,” she says.

Given how seriously some people take weddings, having a (semi) private online space to air dirty wedding laundry could arguably be seen as an antidote to the highly public and performative elements of weddings that we’re so used to seeing on our feeds. Recently, one wedding shaming group member posted: “These groups make me feel one million percent better about my own wedding. Why do people think it’s ok to make guests pay to attend a wedding, or even expect a gift? And also, why are wedding themes a thing?”

Spend enough time in these groups, though - particularly reading the comments - and, beneath those silly nuptial stories, lies an online playground of hate. Going after others on social media, especially when it comes to things like how people spend their money, how they look or how they act in relationships, isn’t new. However, this proliferation of groups designed with the sole purpose of criticising other people’s special days raises a key question: why can’t some people just be happy for others?

Psychologist Emma Kenny has been researching online hating communities. “Some of these people could have what’s known as Dark Triad Personality (DTP) traits where there’s high levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy,” she says. “Usually, if we do something nasty, it makes us feel rubbish, nervous or angry with ourselves but people with DTP traits don’t get that negative reinforcement, so they seek out opportunities to be as horrible and grotesque to other people as they can.”

These kinds of people tend to feel that if “anyone is doing better than them, that person has absolutely no right to it,” says Emma. But, when a group has thousands of members, one personality type can’t be the full story. Emma adds: “That’s one extreme but then you also have people who might be feeling down about their own life and join in because venting makes them feel less alone. Ultimately, having somewhere to direct their hostility and connect with others who have similar resentments creates a breeding ground for meanness.”

Even if that doesn’t sound like you, Emma advises against allowing yourself to get sucked into participating in these groups. “The more people do it, the more likely they are to desensitise themselves against upsetting others. It can turn people into monsters and that toxicity can end up spilling into their physical world. People should be careful about engaging in, or just entertaining themselves with, wedding shaming because it can make you into a nasty person.”

An illustration of a newly wed couple looking worried, surrounded by laughing and angry emoji iconsBBC Three / iStock

Let’s face it, people are always going to have an opinion on weddings whether it’s online or not. But it’s one thing to make a snide comment to a guest or bride herself – and another to totally take them down in front of thousands of strangers. And, unfortunately, these wedding shaming groups show no sign of slowing down as, currently, dozens of posts are approved and posted online every hour.

“My girlfriend has seriously considered shutting it down a few times because of the massive time commitment,” says Anton. “I don't think anyone would say they think it's okay to shame other people's weddings but it's refreshing for people to give and receive feedback about their weddings because far too many people are afraid to be honest with brides.”

Rock n Roll editor Kat can’t see the angst burning out any time soon but is fighting the haters in her own altruistic way. “I’m always putting out stuff on our social media accounts that’s life affirming and inclusive – like a recent Las Vegas wedding where the groom was a crossdresser, and wore the same dress as the bride – and it got an incredible response. Hopefully, that will attract positive, like-minded people, and eventually weed out the vile ones who just want to bitch.” Cheers to that.

Case study names have been changed