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Bridal Diaries: Between Stress and Social Pressure in Egypt

December 2, 2021
Photo via OneWed
Photo via OneWed

“I have curly hair, do I need to do any treatments before my wedding, like a protein or botox treatment?” “How many pieces of lingerie should I buy? How much is enough?”

These are the kinds of questions many brides, on social media groups, ask. Despite being helpful at times, with fellow brides giving advice on the best places to buy, usually household or fashion items, or the best services that they’ve tried, these bridal groups can also be quite stressful.

A woman’s journey to her wedding day should be memorable. It should also be an unforgettable experience because of how enjoyable it is. But, for many brides in Egypt, it happens to be an unforgettable experience for all the wrong reasons.

As a collective society, Egyptians like to voice their opinions on everything, even if it doesn’t concern them, and often give themselves the right to force these opinions on others. There is a typical mainstream narrative which most are expected to abide by.

Amina Zaineldine, 28, Sandra Thomas, 27, and Nadine A, 26, are three young Egyptian women who struggled from societal pressure prior to their wedding day. While Amina and Sandra are happily married now, they relish the fact that they had managed to enforce their own views instead of what society asked of them. Nadine, however, is still going through the hurdles of being a bride who is deviating from “the norm” in Egypt.

“I want my wedding dress to have some color, not just be white, and when I showed that to my friends they were all surprised and dismissed the whole idea, claiming that ‘it’s not a wedding dress and it’s not bridal at all,” says Nadine.

It wasn’t just the dress that she was questioned on, her hairdresser questioned her sanity when she admitted to wanting to keep her curls on her wedding day. Hairstylists make an insane amount of money from bridal hairstyles, a bridal hairstyle can cost more than EGP 7,000.

Although she is confident that she will pursue a comfort-based decision, there are times when other people’s opinions make her doubtful of her own choices, and she begins questioning if she should instead stick to what everyone else does.

“I was breaking the rules of society because I’m a very practical person,” says Sandra, a Cairo-based marketeer.

As she deems herself extremely practical in her life and in her decisions, Sandra was determined to be practical in her wedding decisions as well.

“One of my biggest problems was ‘el seeny’. I did not want to buy it because to me, my guests can eat on the same set of plates that I eat in,” she said laughingly, joking about the way society makes it seem like these are essential items that brides cannot get married without.

*el seeny refers to a set of expensive dinnerware usually kept only for guests that, traditionally, brides have to buy.

‘el seeny’
Photo via fdevlincpa

Married since May, Summer Hassan, a 28-year-old teacher who grew up in Ireland, echoed Sandra’s sentiment as she faced a similar situation around the same issue ‘el seeny’ when she was getting married in Egypt.

“For 15 years, my parents weren’t living in Egypt, so they weren’t in touch with the culture and tradition. I’m not the typical bride because I wasn’t pressured to that extent, but sometimes my mom was. My mom was pressured into buying ‘el seeny’ because the moms around her were doing this. However, in the end, I did have the freedom and we didn’t buy it,” she recalls.

Beauty standards

A few days before her wedding night, Sandra tells Egyptian Streets how some of her friends obsessed over the bridal packages at multiple spas, expressing their concern when she did not intend to book one, prior to her own special day. She recalls some of her friends trying to imagine her husband’s reaction.

“If I need a facial, I’ll do it. But the huge list of services that spas market as “bridal”, with a Moroccan bath, a spa, and so much more, are a scam in my opinion.”

Photo via WordPress

Sandra believes that her lifetime partner is expected to accept her the way she is, and that this should be how most women feel towards their significant other.

“There are girls who normally don’t apply makeup, and go to buy makeup, so they can wear it on their honeymoon, and others who decide to buy a hair straightener right before their weddings. God forbid he sees your natural hair!” she chuckles.

Photo via Sayidaty

Unfortunately, many brides feel the pressure to look perfect for their wedding, from having a clear face, to whitening dark areas in their bodies, and having soft and silky hair. Whether it’s the advertisements that target these women’s insecurities, or society that has built in their systems that as brides they should be flawless, the amount of stress put on every bride in Egypt is indescribable.

After her simple makeup was done, as per her request, Amina’s hairdresser asked her to cover her facial hyperpigmentation with more makeup because it was going to show in her wedding photos.

In the same context, Sandra reflects back on her preparation phase and the time before her wedding; she had deemed the bouquet toss and the wedding cake unnecessary wedding traditions.

Photo via Cairo Gossip

“Breaking the norms in Egypt is not easy because people judge you. After a while, it gets to you,” she explains.

Price increases

On the other hand, Marlyn Sherif, a 26-year-old banker and bride-to-be, is currently living in the frenzy of pre-marriage nerves due to the advice to “buy everything before the prices increase.”

“Whether you have 8 months left or 3 months left, everyone keeps making you feel like you’re late or you’re running out of time or that you have to finish everything early on. Why can’t things just be simple?” she asks.

Since November is a month of sales, and there have been rumors across the country that prices will spike by December or beginning of 2022, many young couples are facing the same struggles that Marlyn and her fiance are going through. Whether it’s electrical appliances or most of their furniture, couples are encouraged, or more like pushed, to rush into buying most of the costly items, in fear that prices would spike.

Most brides are expected to buy almost everything before getting married. In many communities in Egypt, the family of the bride and the bride herself is looked down upon if she is not “well-prepared” before getting married. Instead of preparing to buy the essentials, and buying the rest whenever possible, it becomes a task for couples to have everything bought early on.

Many young women have long lists of checklists that are almost never completed because of how unrealistic they are. These lists include cups, mugs, glasses, flat plates, round plates, bowls for dessert, bowls for soup, tea set, coffee set, more than one set of cookware, towels of different sizes, plain bed sheets, patterned bed sheets, and the list goes on.

The wedding day

Sometimes, the well-being of the guests comes before the well-being of the bride and groom.

Though she has been married for more than five months, Amina remembers how infuriating it was to be met with attempts to dissuade her decision to walk into the venue with both her parents simultaneously, rather than just her father.

“I don’t like the idea of being “given away” – I didn’t belong to my dad, and I’m not going to belong to my husband, and my mom and dad had equal roles in my life, so I just knew I wanted that. My DJ, whose work this did not affect in the slightest, kept trying to convince me to change my mind, and kept telling me that it didn’t make sense,” says Amina, elaborating on how pushy the DJ, who was keen on maintaining the typical bride entrance at her wedding, was.

Similarly, Summer was pushed into having a grand wedding instead of an intimate one, out of mere social obligation.

“My parents gave us the freedom and were flexible in case we did not want to have a big wedding. But my husband’s family was not, they insisted they have to give back to the people who previously invited them. My parents did not have the same social pressure. If I could have chosen on my own, I would have done it more discreetly. I did not know half the people.”

Photo via Identity Magazine

Summer explains the social pressure that comes with living in Egypt, and having to invite distant relatives, as well as couples who previously invited them or their families to their wedding.

In many cases, the social pressure continues even after the wedding, with guests visiting daily to congratulate the newly-wedded couple. With the couple still learning to settle in, it becomes a struggle to keep up, especially since most people think it’s only appropriate to visit so early, otherwise they’re considered late.

“You feel like you have to focus more on them than on your own self,” Summer concludes disappointedly.

The bridal journey in Egypt starts very early on. Before getting engaged, there are multiple opinions on who the woman decides to marry, and after she gets engaged, the days to her wedding are filled with opinions on what she should and should not do, and it does not end on her wedding night; it continues with people expressing their views on wanting her to have children.

Although the community aspect in Egyptian culture offers a spirit of warmth that is uncommon in other cultures, it can sometimes be too intrusive and unwelcome.

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