Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

Study Finds African-American Women Are Not Equally Represented in Bridal Magazines

By Katherine Kostiuk
MU News Bureau

Columbia, Mo. (Dec. 5, 2006) — Bridal magazines are filled with images of the fairytale wedding – long white dresses, champagne, flowers and kisses. But a study by a Missouri School of Journalism researcher has found that magazine portrayals of fairytale weddings are missing a key element: African-American brides.

Cynthia M. Frisby
Cynthia M. Frisby

“The dominant image of today’s bride is that she is white, blond, blue-eyed and thin,” said Cynthia Frisby, associate professor of advertising at the School. “We would expect advertisements and images to reflect a multicultural value, but mainstream bridal magazines show predominantly white brides and a few black bridesmaids.”

Frisby and Erika Engstrom, professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, studied mainstream bridal magazines published from 2000 to 2004. Their study was a follow-up to Chrys Ingraham’s study of bridal magazines from 1959 to 1999, published in Ingraham’s book “White Weddings,” that found few African-American brides in the magazines. Frisby and Engstrom wanted to determine if recent trends toward multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity had led to changes since 1999.

The covers and advertisements of 57 randomly selected issues of Bride’s Magazine, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride published from 2000 to 2004 were analyzed. Frisby and Engstrom did not find a significant improvement in the portrayal of African-American women: fewer than 2 percent of the advertisements featured African-American brides, and not a single magazine analyzed had an African-American bride on the cover. Images of African-American bridesmaids were more common.

“Our data seem to support the idea that the phrase ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’ was actually meant for how women of color are represented in bridal magazines,” Frisby said. “Such portrayals of African-American women as bridesmaids may communicate a negative assumption that it’s better for African Americans to stay in background roles as opposed to positions of equal status or power. Various forms of bias in bridal advertisements not only harm African-American women’s sense of identity, but also derail attempts to show that our society is multicultural and accepting of people of color. Interracial settings and frequent portrayal of African Americans as main characters may help break down cultural and racial barriers and increase communication among people of all colors and ethnicities.”

Frisby hopes this study will raise awareness and increase the number of images of African-Americans brides in mainstream magazines.

“It’s possible that advertisers are simply unaware of the pattern developing in portrayals of African-American women as brides. Hopefully this study will call that to their attention,” Frisby said. “A principle to remember: unequal status breeds prejudice.”

The study was published in the fall 2006 issue of the journal Media Report to Women.

Updated: April 15, 2020

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