Ethiopian Culture / Immigrant Life

21 Short

After a long and rewarding career spanning six weddings (eight if you count the ones where I was honorary), I haveCute-and-Funny-Bridesmaid-Gifts-1 finally retired from bridesmaiding. I may be 21 short of being Jane from a certain movie, but I’ve acquired enough wisdom to pass on to those who might be considering a career in bridesmaiding.

First things first, if you’re getting in it for the glamour and immortality, stop right now. There ain’t none. It’s a little bit like being Vice President. Yes, you get to be at all the functions and in all the photos, but unless something happens to the bride, nobody’s going to remember you. When I was little, weddings used to seem like fantasy-land, a real live Prince Charming’s ball. Unfortunately, the invitations that came to our house, addressed to one of my parents, always said ‘with spouse’, so it was a long time before the fairy godmother smiled on me and I got to accompany one of my parents to a real wedding with a real bride in fluffy white. But do I remember any of the bridesmaids? Nope. Call it an early career hunch on my part, a sign that I was truly meant for this line of work. Even from the weddings I’ve attended as an adult, do any of the bridesmaids come to mind? Nope. Ditto the groomsmen. If you’re considering this career because you’ve bought into the myth that that’s how you meet someone, drop it. Why? Two words: midnight, pumpkin.

That being said, let’s start with the good news. Are there perks to the job? Plenty! On the day itself, you get to look best (hopefully), arrive last, eat first and leave first. Guaranteed, you will be in the professional photos, shot from your best angles, and might even earn yourself framed shelf space in the home of the happy couple. There’s also bound to be some swag in the form of jewelry and sometimes even footwear. Depending on the client, you might even score some free spa days or individual massages, at least a manipedi. Which is all great since you’re also there (unofficially, of course) to get showcased as still “on the market” on the big day. But please be advised that there will be serious disciplinary measures taken against you if you spend most of your contract time leading up to the big day, and during the big day itself, pursuing this opportunity.

But really, what do any of these matter? The true perk, the only perk, is having table service in The Wonderland of Love & Happiness. Plus, no one will ask to see your dance certification when you’re worming your way into the hot centre of the dance floor. You get an automatic pass. And when you do take your shoes off, as you eventually will, nobody will at you and think ‘gHetto!’. They’ll look at you and think “Now THAT’s a bridesmaid!” and just like that your next gig is as good as set.

Now, the bad news. It is said that the job of bridesmaid came about in the Western tradition (whatever that is) out of a need for people to act as a buffer between evil spirits or ill-wishers and the bride and groom. So, in honour of tradition, check your cynicism at the door and get your superhero-face on. Chiffon’s about to get real.

It’s not officially in the books, of course, but from the moment you sign the contract until you wipe the crusty mascara off your lashes and open your eyes the morning after, your waistline will become your enemy. Sort of like flight attendants back in the day. There are no scheduled weigh-ins before hiring or before each shift, but you don’t exactly want to be known as the one who had to make repeat trips to the dressmaker. The problem with this is that your contract commits you to attending a lot of functions in the lead-up to the big day, at all of which there will be more varieties of delicious food and deceptive drink than you have imagination to think up excuses for avoiding. You set the tone, and the tone requires partaking. So partake you must.

Regarding the functions, this will become an issue only closer to the big day but there will be late shifts, overnight shifts, and even some night-to-day shifts without much of a break in between. Often these shifts will result in sleep disruption and other physical wear and tear (most of a nature that will require chiropractic adjustment once your contract is finished), but attendance is non-negotiable. It is recommended that you wait until after most of these functions are behind you to claim your spa coupons, assuming those were included in your contract.

If not, you’re spa out of luck. Your option is either to go on autopilot and hope that your nuts and bolts hold out ’till the big day, or shell out for your own maintenance package. Speaking of shelling out, I think it goes without saying that you’re responsible for your own uniform, accessories, haircare and war paint (unless provided complimentary, but this is rare). Most contracts will require that you commit to more than one uniform, etc. as there is a universal zero-tolerance policy regarding repeat use of uniforms, etc.

It’s an unfortunate fact of the job that the uniform will be almost in direct opposition to the physical requirements. Will you be on your feet for the bulk of an approximately twelve hour shift? Absolutely. Will you be wearing high heels anywhere between three and five inches long for the duration of that time? Hell yeah. Will these heels want to snag the dragging hem of your dress or dig into the soft earth of park grounds or burrow into the gaps between moveable steps? Naturally. Again, you are well advised pre-book a post-contract tuneup or full repair with your health care provider of choice. Do the expected dance moves require extreme and constant physical exertion so that you remain in constant risk of busting out of your uniform? For sure. But please refer back to your contract for the clause regarding what’s considered acceptable ‘showcasing’.

In direct opposition to the inevitable slowing down of brain function that will come with the repeat late/overnight shifts, and mandatory consumption of mood-adjusting substances, is the other job requirement. Namely, that your brain be in tiptop shape to either retrieve the lyrics to many a traditional wedding song/dance, or learn and memorize them on the spot. Such songs and dances are very necessary to the authentic feel of the whole affair, the responsibility for which sits squarely on your glittering shoulders.

The client will also require that you be mobile. None of the functions contained in each contract, and definitely not the main event, will be in the same place. Distances may range from crosstown to cross-country to cross-ocean. Maybe not in the early days, but the closer you get to the main event the more likely that you will find yourself having to curl up for the night in unfamiliar locations (which could change from day to day) and uncomfortable sleeping surfaces. If you develop no other skill in this line of work, you’ll at least learn how to fall asleep just about anywhere, with just about anyone breathing in your face. Also you will learn to identify, separate and pack your personal belongings from out of a roomful of total chaos with a speed and precision that you didn’t think yourself capable.

The need for bachelorette, bridal shower, etc. parties will not go away because you refuse to think about them. Someone has to do it, and yes that means you. This ushers in the matter of your colleagues, of course. Unless you’re all from the same agency, it’s likely you are meeting and mingling for the first time. Tact and diplomacy are key. Actually, that also applies even if you’re all from the same agency. An hierarchy will quickly emerge and you are best advised to let matters be. Even if there initially appears to be some confusion as to who’s whose what, just play dumb and stand where you get told to stand. In the long run, it’s for best. Maybe one day this industry will finally get some oversight and start making actual number tags, but for now just remember that at the end of the day everyone wears the same uniform anyway. Same zen attitude goes with regards to handling your partner, who will definitely be an import. Not even cops get to choose their partners. So all you can do is hope the chemistry is right. Even if it’s not, you must carry on, because neither of you has a gun. There’s no other hell than having to smile and swoon next to someone you’d rather do other things to.

If that turns out to be the case, it is very important that you keep it together, because sooner or later somebody else out there won’t be. Some guest or other is bound to get rowdy, a little bottle-happy. When that happens, medical insurance or no medical insurance, it’s up to you to get in the line of fire. Yes, you have to put yourself directly in the face of the undesirable, potentially dangerous party and put all that uniform and beauty treatment and dance moves to use to diffuse the situation. The only real tool of the job that you might have on you is a bunch of flowers, which is more than can be said for the groom, who can’t even be counted on to have his single wilted stem on him by that late stage in the contract, and neither of those tools will be any good for wiping away sweat, much less flies from the cake icing, so to speak.

No worries, by that point in the evening of the main event, you’ll have developed enough of a thick skin to deflect unsavoury, rubber-legged wedding crashers. Because by then it’s likely that you’ll have endured your fair share of sleazy dressmakers, photographers, hairdressers and makeup “artists” who have somehow retained their overinflated machismo behaviour while simultaneously carrying out their very feminine trade on your captive body. (You’ll never get called [insert mildly-to-severely sexist term of endearment] so many times over the span of a single day.)

But no matter what happens, never lose sight of your sole priority: the client. You want to be a triple-A bridesmaid: one who can Appreciate, Anticipate and Alleviate. Following up not too long after the end of your contract is a good career move. You never know when you might be up for a next job. On the day itself, however, the happiness of your client is paramount. Remember, they have a contract too, and it’s forever. Come morning, the most you’ll have to worry about is finding closet space for one more uniform.

2 thoughts on “21 Short

  1. This is brilliant! Do you literally have a notebook during every second of every day to record these laser-sharp observations of yours?? Bicha, love love it. I almost feel like this should be a subscription service – there is no way I should be getting this much good journalism+op-ed+literature for free 🙂

    • Haha no I don’t literally have a notebook, honest! I just relive the experience and the best stuff just surfaces by itself. What can I say, I’m Spongebobette SquareKemis. Thank you betam betam. And just for the record, partner, you weren’t one of the pumpkins 😉

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