Open any wedding magazine and you'll find the perfect bride: blonde, skinny, and with enough cash to drape herself in Monique Lhuillier and spring for those must-have crystal tablescapes.
Yes, the wedding industry is like the Kardashians—living in an over-the-top fantasy world that most of us, mere mortals, can never enter. But a new magazine wants to change that.
Welcome to Catalyst, funded by Kickstarter and launching later this month. The nontraditional mag aims to bring weddings back to reality, to recognize that brides and grooms come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexual orientations, and that the Big Day is more about love than Pinterest dreams.
"The wedding industry still enforces the idea that those eligible to marry are young, white, heterosexual, thin, and have at least $35,000 if not more to prove just how in love they are," says editor-in-chief Liz Susong, who co-founded the magazine with photographer Carly Romeo.
Susong, who previously worked as a wedding coordinator, met Romero after publishing a piece in OffBeat Bride about the tensions she felt planning her own wedding.
"I certainly felt conflicted about the inherently patriarchal, heteronormative history of marriage, which is deeply engrained in the way weddings are celebrated," she says. "Not to mention the over-the-top consumerist expectations of the modern wedding industry."
Romero read it, reached out, and they both realized they were passionate about disrupting the current system.
"Our story is this: Love cuts across difference and it's beautiful. Our magazine does not sacrifice visual integrity but rather shows just how beautiful all sorts of people are when they are happy and in love."
Reality over fantasy
Catalyst promises to showcase real weddings designed for real budgets—which may not sound that revolutionary, but it is.
Until now, even when magazines have featured "real weddings"—rather than models in designer dresses—they've hand picked the cream of the crop, says Susong, turning down photos that represent actual reality.
"Pinterest and the media tell you you need more details and more personal, customized touches to have a good wedding," says Susong. While studies have shown that cheaper is better, these portrayals push couples to overspend.
In 2014, the average U.S. wedding cost $31,213—but that number varies based on the state. In New York, for example, it soars to $76,328. In Los Angeles it's $37,317, and in Utah it's only $15, 257. (Bear in mind that these averages come from The Knot's annual survey of nearly 16,000 brides who have a membership with the site, and may be particularly into weddings.)
But most couples don't have $30,000 to drop on one day, and most "average cost" surveys (Brides has one too) aren't reflective of everyone—they're reflective of couples who buy into the wedding fantasy.
"There is a fine line between hiring the right number of vendors to help make the wedding experience joyful, personal, and less stressful, and hiring vendors who provide all sorts of extraneous bells and whistles," says Susong.
Caring about couples
Of course, there's a huge incentive for bridal magazines to write about over-the-top expensive weddings: The coverage lures wedding companies to buy ads. (You can't just unsee that gorgeous al fresco dinner arrangement.)
"Ads usually consume over 50 percent of the content in a magazine," says Susong.
But not in Catalyst. "We have three pages of ads in an 80-page magazine. We want the businesses who advertise with us to be framed as businesses we believe in that will enhance rather than overtake a couple's wedding experience."
The magazine already raised enough money through Kickstarter to create a second volume, which Susong says will publish in January 2016. Print and digital ad funding along with sales of the magazine will help with costs for now.
Along with their business model, Catalyst's content aims to support couples, too.
"We also seek to challenge the gendered expectations of weddings—that women will diet, that weddings are the bride's big day, that men provide the stoic, supportive role, while the women get weepy over every little detail—with our editorial content," she says. "The tone of our written pieces varies from deeply authentic to sarcastic and sassy."
The takeaway for brides and grooms?
"Treat your wedding like a love party because that's what it is! It shouldn't break the bank, cause panic attacks, or strain relationships with loved ones," says Susong. (Adding, "taste test all possible desserts—doughnuts, ice cream, pastries—before deciding!")
See more sneak-peek pages from their inaugural issue, which prove you can take a grounded approach without sacrificing beauty.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.