How Instagram Turned Weddings Into A Competition

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Binding your life to another’s in holy matrimony? Do it for the Insta! You might think I’m kidding—I’m not.

Okay, sort of, I am. But it’s hard to deny that there exists a unique brand of performance in weddings today, facilitated largely by the photo-sharing app that allows you to show all of your friends, family, and every distant stranger who happens upon your wedding hashtag, that your matrimonial celebration is The Best Wedding, The Most Wedding.

Of course, people are still getting married for the same reasons they always have—good ones and bad ones—and presumably, there is equal variety of both in the weddings that perform well on Instagram. Some are more heart, some are more performance, some are heart and performance. But all that appear on Instagram are, willingly or not, entering into some unspoken competition.

So, how has Instagram facilitated the rise of the performative wedding? Through a slight shift in priorities. We’re already familiar with “thou shalt not commit adultery” and “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” but in order to make it as a paragon of #WeddingGoals, there’s an entirely new set of commandments.

Thou Shalt Have The Perfect Wedding Hashtag

Have you ever spent way too long trying to figure out why a particular wedding hashtag works? The ones you have to squint and think about probably aren’t the best. At the same time, a wedding hashtag should be clever enough to make you go “Oh!” at least once. Finding the middle ground between experimental-poetry-esoteric and so-obvious-it’s-boring can be difficult.

That’s why some, like Happily Ever #Hashtagged founder and CEO Marielle Wakim, have found unexpected success spitting out custom-made hashtags for couples tying the knot.

Happily Ever #Hashtagged

Wakim’s full-time job is as arts and culture editor at Los Angeles magazine, but her passions drove her to a pretty neat side hustle that turned into an in-demand service.

“If there are two things I love, it’s weddings and wordplay. So when wedding hashtags became a thing, it felt natural to marry those two loves (see what I did there?),” she wrote on her website.

In 2015, I went to five weddings; I have 14 this year. I come up with personalized hashtags for all of my friends who’ll let me, most of which tend to delight the couple and their guests. Seeing as there’s no such thing as a punny hashtag generator on the internet, I felt it was time to bring my services to the masses.

The company’s persuasion game is strong. “You Are What You Post, So Post Something Clever,” warns the headline on the landing page. “If brevity is the soul of wit, then hashtags are tiny canvases for genius,” the words below it read. “We’ll help you come up with a savvy way to keep your photos organized on social media while showing off your personality as a couple.”

Photo by Marielle Wakim (via In Style)

It’s $50 for a single wedding hashtag, $95 for three (but why three?), and $125 for a wedding + bachelor/bachelorette party combo. Scrolling through some of her example hashtags is fun. You get a nice sampling of the kind of puns that have made Wakim’s business so successful that there’s a waiting list for her services—puns like #CharMagweddon for Maggie Gottlieb + Charlie Madsen and #SharrahTysTheKnot for Sharrah Robeson + Tyler Stevens.

Thou Shalt Have The Perfect Wedding Dress

Some women have spent their entire lives dreaming of the perfect wedding dress—there are even reality television shows dedicated to the drama of finding, or not finding, it. This was true long before Instagram, but imagine how intensified, even frantic, that search becomes when you have at your fingertips infinite wedding dress options, a view of all the wedding dresses that have gone viral, and the notion that you, too, must find the best dress, one maybe even worthy of internet adulation.


Lacy Pool, who has worked as a bridal stylist, buyer, and blogger in Austin, Texas for the past 10 years, has seen the confusion and disappointment that can bubble up when consumers are inundated with so many dress options from social media influencers. Especially when those dress options aren’t even really options.

When a bride-to-be has fallen in love a dress her favorite blogger posted from New York Bridal Fashion Week, “it is not until she contacts her local boutique [that she finds out] that her wedding date will have come and gone before a sample of this piece is even produced,” she says. “Add four-to-six months to that date for her special order, and we are looking at the time of her first anniversary.”

While, Pool says, she would rather encourage women to look their most unique on their wedding days, “designers, boutiques, and industry bloggers create a huge buzz over their best-selling dresses.”

All the unrealistic expectations and unfulfillable desires can quickly turn finding the ‘perfect’ dress into a frenzied, stressful task. But, with an appropriate approach, you can still find the wedding dress of your dreams without a crippling headache. According to Glamour‘s “DOs and DON’Ts of Choosing Your Wedding Dress,” the key to receiving the best assistance is to arrive early:

The early bird gets the worm—er, in this case, the early bride gets an energetic, fresh bridal store staff that hasn’t dealt with the concerns of a million clients already.

Another, slightly less expected hack? Wear the right brassiere when you’re trying on dresses. “On wedding dress try-on day, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your skivvies,” advised Glamour. “Admiring your pretty new bra between gowns will make you feel much more positive than catching a glimpse of the ratty old gray one you’ve had for years.”

Thou Shalt Have An Exotic Wedding Destination

The Knot has been tracking wedding spending trends for over a decade. According to their 2016 Real Weddings Study, which surveyed almost 13,000 brides and grooms across the United States, the average cost of a wedding is $35,329, not including the honeymoon.

This, though, varies dramatically by location, as The Knot points out; while a wedding in my home state of Arkansas might cost something like $19,522, one where I currently live, in Manhattan, could put me out a staggering $78,464. I probably won’t get married in either of these places—or ever, as long as I’m still having nightmares about not wanting to get married at my own wedding—but you can imagine which I’d choose if pressed.


Some folks choose not to marry in either the place where they grew up or the place that they’ve made their home. They want somewhere altogether different: a destination wedding. When considering the amazing photo op that comes along with this, and the fact that a destination wedding is often less expensive than a traditional one, the motivation can be even higher, particularly for the Instagram-minded.

The artist in Katelyn Wollet, a Michigan-based wedding photographer, loves Instagram. “An online visual diary… It really is cool,” she says. “However, when it comes to weddings… It [can become] about who can get to the most incredible national park. Who can hire the best drone or helicopter. Or find the best beach.”

I feel like we are inundated with insane images that actually don’t portray the couple as much as they could.

Wollet’s goal when shooting a wedding is to capture “the intimate moments created between a couple, no matter where we are.” While she’s aware of the ways that garnering social-media attention can benefit her as a photographer, she’s careful not to lose sight of her values as an artist and a photo journalist.

Never create only for social media.

Thou Shalt Have A Viral Wedding Pic

Some take the destination wedding concept to an entirely new level, like the couple who decided to ditch the Ohio town where they were from and get hitched in…Iceland. Josh and Sarah Walk, both 20 at the time, had originally planned to get married in Waynesville, but at the last minute they eloped to Reykjavik “after wedding planning became too hectic,” reports the Daily Mail.

Pics or it didn’t happen, naturally. And, boy, were there pics.

junebug weddings

The wedding photographs, as Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon puts it, “look like a cross between a Radox advert and a scene from Game of Thrones.” The Walks posted the images on social media the day after the ceremony, and they soon went viral and were shared throughout the world.

In her column, Gordon reflects on the strangeness of it all.

Here we have “a very normal couple from Ohio, and their very abnormal wedding photographs,” which have gone viral, “a term that just 10 years ago, nobody in their right minds would want associated with their wedding day,” she points out.

“There was a time when a few pictures of them grinning like love-struck loons outside the church was all a bride and groom needed as souvenirs from their wedding day,” Gordon writes. “Now nothing short of a video, digital memory book and a photo booth picture of every single one of your guests wearing a wacky hat and playing a blow-up guitar will do. A bonus would be a music video featuring your friends in all their wedding finery, miming to a song like Pharell’s ‘Happy.’”

It’s true! This shift is real, and it’s strange. But does it mean what we think it means, or what we want it to mean for the sake of Cultural Criticisms On The Internet or Nostalgia, Et Al—that humanity is devolving, tradition dissolving, and that only superficiality and narcissism exist where there was once love and commitment?

Of course not. Human nature doesn’t shift that drastically because of cultural or technological advancements and setbacks. If we’re being generous, we might just say that folks who post their wedding photos on Instagram, or any other social media platform, just want to extend the experience, or share an intense feeling with others.

After scrolling through the images, even I am feeling moved. The photos’ effect truly is stunning. They stir some yearning deep within me—not for a wedding, but for a trip to a faraway place where I can be some ethereal, breathstealing version of myself.

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