Memoirs of a Naijamerican Bride I: Love In The Time Of Bella Naija
“Are you sure you’re excited about getting married?” My friend’s question completely threw me off guard.
“What do you mean? Of course I am excited!” I replied.
“Well, you never post about your fiancé or your engagement on Instagram- but I always see you posting about your friends…”
I was shocked. I had made a decision to keep my relationship off social media for the most part, until our wedding. My then fiancé-now husband- doesn’t even have any social media accounts. I never imagined that the legitimacy of my love would be questioned because of my decision to avoid digitally documenting it for some time.
Alas, we live in the era of #PicsOrItDidntHappen, and the Internet is changing the ways we express and celebrate love. This is true in Nigeria, as much as anywhere in the world. Nigerian society places immense pressure on women to get married- preferably before 30, but better late than never. For a single woman above a certain age in Nigeria, marriage is the constant and inevitable ‘but.’
“Oh, you graduated from medical school? Congratulations. But when are you getting married?!”
“She started a business? That’s nice- but is she married?”
With the popularity of Nigerian wedding and lifestyle blogs-none more popular than Bella Naija- it is no longer enough for a Nigerian woman to become a member of the Mrs. Club. One must arrive in style. A wedding has become the quintessential coming out ball for Nigerian socialites, and many Nigerian brides-to-be plan their weddings with the social media gaze in mind. #BellaNaijaPostOrItDoesntMatter.
Listen, I am here for this Bella Naija culture. Pre-wedding, it became a ritual for me to spend my Saturday mornings scrolling through pictures of trending wedding hashtags as popularized by Bella Naija and the ‘it’ vendors; and discussing them with my sister and best friends. I also combed through every Aisle Perfect blog post to get a head start on planning. After I while, I pretty much became a walking wedding encyclopedia. And yes, having Bella Naija and my dress designer post pictures of my wedding dress on Instagram was nice.
I am here for all of it. Well, for most of it. What sometimes gives me pause is the effect this new culture is having on Nigerian women.
The Bella Naija culture is affecting us economically. When I began to contact prospective vendors- a lot of whom I had become aware of through Bella Naija and the like- some of the quotes I received nearly made me choke. Even by New York (where I live) standards, some of the prices were ridiculous. Most of these vendors of Bella Naija fame, were not interested in bargaining- and hey, I cannot knock their hustle. If there are several brides-to-be willing to pay me top naira, why waste time bargaining with another? A lot of brides choose vendors they see on Bella Naija because they think they are the best. I can totally understand this because planning my wedding outside Nigeria, I couldn’t sample vendors on the ground, and Bella Naija served as a vendor directory. The greater the exposure vendors get from Bella Naija and the like, the greater the demand for them, and the higher their prices. As a result, we are left with inflated prices, often based more on popularity than quality. In reality there are several amazing vendors in Nigeria that are simply not on social media. The more Nigerian vendors become social media savvy, the broader the playing field, and hopefully, the better the pricing.
More importantly, the Bella Naija culture is affecting Nigerian women emotionally. I can’t help but wonder: how many Nigerian women are rushing into bad decisions because they are desperate for the B hashtags: #Bae, #Bling, #Bride, #BabyBump, and of course- #BellaNaija? Are we taking the time to hash out situations before we hashtag them? With all the pomp and circumstance of these society weddings, we are missing out on a lot of backdoor narratives. What about the women quietly exiting marriage a few months after the wedding that got that Bella Naija feature? And how many stories of infidelity and abuse are hiding behind perfect #selfies? A face that is #beatforthegods, might have just been beaten by the #boo first. Unfortunately, Nigerian society as a whole has perpetuated the idea that a woman in a bad marriage is in a better position than a single woman who is happy. What we neglect is the struggles that bling can’t hide, and the facts that filters can’t make pretty.
I am grateful for websites like Bella Naija & Aisle Perfect because they provided me with a plethora of information and ideas when I was planning my wedding. I am proud of the brains behind these brands that are being used to celebrate the richness of Nigerian culture.
I just worry about a culture in which marriage is increasingly becoming a competitive race where a ring is a trophy, and an Instagram post is the glory.