Much is made of the moment a man first sees his bride, and for good reason; for one thing, it’s fun to take wagers on whether or not there will be tears.
But what about the moment a bride first sees herself as a bride?
I’m always in the room when my brides take that first look in the mirror, but there’s usually so much going on, with family members and bridesmaids coming and going, talking, laughing, scrambling to get dressed, and of course, fussing over the star of the show, the moment passes unexamined.
With Hilary, I got a rare chance to witness and capture the exact second this beautiful woman and dear friend faced herself in the mirror for the first time as a bride. Watching her expression transition through surprise, awe, delight, wonder, nervousness and giddy anticipation was a true joy and ultimately one of my favorite parts of the day.
I may have been more awake to her experience of that moment because three weeks earlier, I stood in her place. My wedding day was no less chaotic than any I’ve shot, but I ended up with a few precious minutes alone in between putting on my dress and the arrival of our photographer. I spent them studying myself in the floor-length mirror in the honeymoon suite.
It’s difficult to distill the complex of emotions that washed over me down to a few concrete statements, but there was certainly surprise (“That’s me?”); awe (“I look beautiful”); delight (“I love this dress. I love this dress!”); and above all wonder that all of it was made possible through love.
I contemplated the woman beneath the expensive dress and professionally-applied makeup, the imperfect woman about to place all her gifts, her fears and her flaws into the care of her husband and accept his in return. I thought about the forks in my personal road that led me to my partner, and the path we’ve walked together since, each of us shedding layers of our old selves along the way, trying on new identities, challenging each other and ourselves to be and do more. I thought about the unknowable road ahead and the comfort of unconditional love. I reveled in the tension between the knowledge of being unfinished and the feeling of being complete.
The rest of my wedding day passed in a blur of hugs and kisses and congratulations, so in hindsight, I’m grateful for that time alone with my thoughts. A woman gets to be a bride for only a short time before she becomes a wife; it’s worth giving yourself a lingering first – and last – look.