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Framing the Bride

Framing the Bride: Globalizing Beauty and Romance in Taiwan’s Bridal Industry

Bonnie Adrian
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    Framing the Bride
    Book Description:

    With a wedding impending, the Taiwanese bride-to-be turns to bridal photographers, makeup artists, and hair stylists to transform her image beyond recognition. They give her fairer skin, eyes like a Western baby doll, and gowns inspired by sources from Victorian England to MTV. An absorbing consideration of contemporary bridal practices in Taiwan,Framing the Brideshows how the lavish photographs represent more than mere conspicuous consumption. They are artifacts infused with cultural meaning and emotional significance, products of the gender- and generation-based conflicts in Taiwan's hybrid system of modern matrimony. From the bridal photographs, the book opens out into broader issues such as courtship, marriage, kinship, globalization, and the meaning of the "West" and "Western" cultural images of beauty. Bonnie Adrian argues that in compiling enormous bridal albums full of photographs of brides and grooms in varieties of finery, posed in different places, and exuding romance, Taiwanese brides engage in a new rite of passage-one that challenges the terms of marriage set out in conventional wedding rites. InFraming the Bride,we see how this practice is also a creative response to U.S. domination of transnational visual imagery-how bridal photographers and their subjects take the project of globalization into their own hands, defining its terms for their lives even as they expose the emptiness of its images.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93003-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION Framings
    (pp. 1-23)

    Taiwanese bridal photography captured my curiosity on the first glance. I was Hui-zhu’s English tutor, visiting her at home weekly to help her practice English conversation skills. This was in 1993, when I lived in Taipei for a year, studying Mandarin Chinese at a local university and supporting myself by teaching English. After several weeks of lengthy conversations on a variety of subjects, Hui-zhu and I were becoming well acquainted. One day, I passed by her bedroom and looked inside. Centered directly above her full-size bed hung an enormous portrait of a bride in a white gown and a groom...

  6. CHAPTER 1 How Can This Be? Ethnographic Contexts and History
    (pp. 24-50)

    In Taiwan today, a proper wedding is not complete without the services of a bridal salon, which provides rental gowns, studio portraits, a bouquet of flowers, car decorations, and other goods, including a book for recording gifts and stretches of pink satin for banquet guests to sign. Bridal salons offering these products and services can be found throughout the island—in big cities and remote townships alike. The use and display of bridal salon products and services cut across class, ethnic, regional, and city/country social divides. I found it difficult, in fact, to locate a couple married in the preceding...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Fantasy for Sale The Modern Bridal Industry
    (pp. 51-75)

    It is impossible to talk about Taiwanese bridal photography without discussing competitive consumption. Though not the only driving force behind this modern cultural practice, status competition explains much about it. Brides, grooms, their families, and their guests regard the photographic displays that decorate wedding banquet entrances as indicators of wealth and prestige. Portable photo albums also make social statements about the bride and groom wherever they are put on view. As objects of competitive consumption, bridal photographs undergo what economist Juliet Schor (1998) calls “upscaling”—with each passing season the standards drift upward as couples seek to outdo the status...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Inner and Outer Worlds in Changing Taipei
    (pp. 76-107)

    Nei zai meiis a clever saying coined in Taiwan in the mid-1990s. Translated literally, it means: a man’s “inside people” (wife and children) are in America. Its cultural translation is: he enjoys the resulting freedom with a mistress.

    Extramarital sex, surprisingly, serves as a useful entry point for discussion of marriage and family. National conversations about this common transgression of norms (not considered a transgression at all by quite a few men) cast light on the place of marriage and family in modern Taipei lives.Nei zai meidescribes a man who enjoys the best of two worlds. He...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Family Wedding Rites and Banquets
    (pp. 108-146)

    Mr. Xu, one of Taiwan’s oldest wedding photographers and the founder of a once-booming but now outdated photography studio, lamented that Taiwan’s young people do not value Chinese traditions the way Japanese value theirs. In Japan, he noted, couples still dress up in Japanese costume as part of their weddings; in Taiwan couples wear only Western attire.¹ I reminded him that since the early 1990s it has been popular for couples in Taiwan to dress up in imperial-style crowns and gowns for their photo albums. Yes, he said, but they do so only for fun, not because they value Chinese...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Making Up the Bride
    (pp. 147-179)

    Brides wear a sort of mask painted right onto their skin, glued to their eyelashes, carved out of their eyebrows with razor blades. Bridal makeovers turn women into brides, transforming everyday women with their individual characteristics into generic look-alike beauties in three hours’ time. Meticulous hairstyling sculpts hair into perfectly shaped curls, aided with hair extensions and gluelike hairspray. Bridal stylists(zaoxingshi)target not only hair and face but also breasts and hips in their labors, outfitting brides with breast padding and hip-exaggerating gowns. Stylists’ work involves laborious, transformative processes that bring women’s bodies into compliance with the beauty standards...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Romance in the Photo Studio
    (pp. 180-203)

    For women, the early start time and long duration of their makeovers mark the photo-shoot day as special, but for men, taking the day off from work, rising before dawn, and spending a long day in the highly feminized¹ space of the bridal salon are chores. Grooms and grooms-to-be often brushed off my questions about their bridal salon experiences and photographs, saying that bridal photography is for women. When I chatted with grooms during their shoots, they often showed me that they had brought along newspapers to read in anticipation of boredom. One of the largest Taipei bridal shops goes...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Contextualizing Bridal Photos in Taiwan’s Visual Culture
    (pp. 204-223)

    Photographs seem to have a unique relationship to reality because they represent a slice of actual time. One can paint, but not photograph, someone who exists only in imagination or memory. Roland Barthes argues that the photograph (the signifier) and the pictured subject (the signified) are always “glued together.” When we look at a photograph we tend to see only the pictured subject; the photograph itself is as if invisible (1981: 6). Susan Sontag (1977: 154) points out that a photograph is “a material vestige of its subject,” like a footprint. Photography’s unique claim on reality allows it to serve...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Context of Looking: What Taipei Viewers See
    (pp. 224-238)

    When I first became acquainted with Taiwanese bridal photography, my attention focused on elements that are so common, so taken for granted, in this genre that spectators in Taiwan seldom comment upon them. A foreign observer’s eyes, much like a child’s, are useful for raising questions that people accustomed to a practice are less likely to consider. Many practitioners of Buddhism highly value the cultivation of “beginner’s mind,” which does not take for granted that which is taken for granted. Anthropologists appreciate the usefulness of beginner’s mind in studying sociocultural phenomena even while valuing “native” understandings. What do those who...

  14. CONCLUSION Reframings
    (pp. 239-246)

    Lisette, a Taipei fashion industry executive, lived in Europe for several years after growing up in Taipei and completing college there. In Europe, she fell in love with a Swiss man. I met her about one year after they had moved to Taipei, married, and been honored at a wedding banquet. Lisette loathed the typical bridal gowns and photographs well known to any resident of Taiwan, and she refused to conform to convention. She commissioned a custom gown made from imported designer fabric in red. The style, as she described it to me, differed from styles common in Taipei in...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 247-272)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-286)
  17. Index
    (pp. 287-297)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 298-298)