By Jennifer O’Connell
On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle wearing a simply cut, floor length, ivory silk dress, a pair of sublime five inch strappy cream sandals, and a fat, swollen eye.
The dress was adapted from a design I’d seen Kate Hudson wear in a movie, the shoes were by Jimmy Choo and cost about the same as a small, secondhand car, and the black eye came courtesy of a particularly thirsty mosquito.
The eye didn’t spoil my wedding day – if anything it reminded me how lucky I was, as one of my best friends rushed off to her hotel room to get me a pair of shades; another tailed me all day with a pot of concealer, and a packet of Zirtek; and my husband gallantly pretended he didn’t notice.
Eight years on, I can laugh about it. Just. But it took me a very long time (like, years) to look properly at my wedding pictures. And, in hindsight, I could probably have done without the jokes about my being the fastest new wife in history to acquire a black eye.
That’s the thing about girls and our wedding days.
When you’ve spent months dividing your time between wrapping sugared almonds in tulle and masterminding the formula for a seating plan so complex that would leave a Fields medallist exhausted (if aunt x can’t sit beside cousin y who recently broke up with friend j, and uncle f has that body odour problem which means I can’t put him beside employer a etc?), your tolerance for other people’s hilarious quips or catty observations about your special day tends to be slightly diminished.
Which is why I felt so much sympathy for Sinead O’Connor’s outburst - which was published in another newspaper last weekend to a chorus of mean-spirited sniggering from various radio commentators.
O’Connor is angry about some of the less generous media coverage of her recent wedding, her third, to Australian musician Steve Cooney. I saw the pictures and thought she looked exactly like herself – beautiful, bursting with happiness, resolutely unconventional and gorgeously real.
So it was distressing to read her view that “every newspaper that covered my marriage bullied and abused me to the point where at a time when I should have been happy, instead I was extremely distraught, traumatised and heartbroken.”
O’Connor writes that she has contacted the Press Ombudsman about one of the articles, adding that “it is despicable and horrifying that my marriage was used as a chance to stamp on me.” She reveals how she found herself “sobbing in [her father’s] arms after reading a particular piece which sank to the level of heavily implying that I had lied about my experience of abuse growing up”, before rather magnificently concluding that the negative articles – most of them, she says, penned by female journalists – were written by people who “envy my freedom, my courage, my talent and my arse.”
Some observers suggested last week that O’Connor may have been overreacting to what were, in fact, rounded pieces of journalism. And perhaps she was – but if a woman isn’t allowed to overreact about her wedding, then no bride of my acquaintance seems to have got the memo.
There are perhaps three non-negotiable rules of etiquette which have crossed continents and survived centuries of social upheaval. You treat others as you would like to be treated. You don’t eat with your mouth open. And you never criticise a bride on her wedding day.
Take the furious reaction which erupted in the United States to the New York Times’s unflattering comments about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding dress.
The Times commissioned a stylist, Cathy Horyn, to deconstruct Clinton’s gown. Perhaps predictably, since she was being paid to infer as much, the stylist concluded that “her dress told a lot.”
Despite being designed by Vera Wang, “it was not an especially high-styled choice,” Horyn wrote, before comparing Clinton’s choice to that of Ivanka Trump, “which reflected a sophisticated taste”.
Even Clinton’s hair and accessories came under fire. The hair, Horyn added, somewhat grandiosely, “betrayed the Clinton women’s complicated hair history. Her minimal jewelry — a small bracelet, earrings — seemed closer to her personality.”
In the worst kind of backhanded compliment, she went on to suggest that Chelsea Clinton’s “pretty dress… reflects a woman whose focus is not directed in that way, and maybe is not that vain.” Of all the compliments a bride would be pleased to hear on her wedding day, it’s probably safe to say that “you’re obviously not very vain” ranks in the bottom 10,000.
O’Connor’s theory that women journalists are especially vicious when it comes to writing about other women carries more than a ring of truth.
In a bizarre piece published in the Daily Mail in June, journalist Liz Thomas deconstructed the changes O’Connor’s appearance has undergone in the 22 years since she recorded Nothing Compares 2U – and found that (Shock! Horror!) O’Connor appeared to have actually aged 22 years. “O’Connor is almost unrecognisable,” she wrote, “her androgynous allure replaced by an altogether dowdier look; The 43-year-old looked frumpy in grey top, long grey cardigan, baggy black trousers, grey trainers – and surprisingly - thick dark hair.”
I can’t think of many women – at least not outside of Hollywood - who would like to undergo a ‘before’ and ‘after’ 22 years and four children apart.
There’s an acute irony in the fact that this piece of invective was published in the Mirror, which is part of a tabloid industry that regularly ‘exposes’ celebrities perceived to have undergone plastic surgery, while simultaneously pretending to campaign for the use of ‘real size models’.
So here’s a recap for the bewildered. You’re damned if you decide to grow old gracefully. And you’re damned if you don’t. You’re damned if you’re too thin. And you’re damned if you’re too fat. You’re damned like Chelsea if you try too hard on your wedding day. And you’re damned if, like Sinead, you decide to be yourself.
There’s probably only one truly safe approach for women in the public eye who want to avoid this kind of vicious invective. Be a man.
This column first appeared in The Sunday Business Post on August 22, 2010