Presented in partnership with Penny Appeal USA.
I mean, there I was, just 22 years old and about to marry the love of my life.
The moment I got engaged, I was ecstatic.
We had been together for almost six years, and life was as sweet as could be. The two of us couldn’t take our eyes off one another as flashbulbs burst before us. My mother cried, while my father smiled like he never had before. It was a moment straight out of a Gary Marshall film.
But that’s when it hit: society’s wedding expectations.
Before I knew it, I was being told that I needed wedding colors, bridesmaids dresses, centerpieces, flower arrangements, wedding favors, photo-booths, chalkboard signs… the list was endless.
Pinterest was my nightmare.
And the whole time I couldn’t help but wonder what all this money was really being spent on. Sure, it felt great to be planning a giant party for our family and friends to celebrate this new, important step in our relationship. But thousands spent on a photographer could go so far for someone else. I found myself closing Pinterest down, and began researching other ways to help those in need.
I live in South Africa and the problems we face in terms of education, economic disparity, gender-based violence, and so many other issues are dire. We’ve come a long way since apartheid, but the economic and social struggles my country faces are insurmountable. So when I found Penny Appeal USA, an NGO focused on addressing the root cause of poverty (among their many other initiatives!), I knew that I’d found the perfect alternative to an event that would only make a select group of people happy for a select period of time.
Because why plan a wedding that won’t help anyone but yourself, when we could work to support the efforts of Penny Appeal USA?
I regularly see calls for aid coming from people in my community, and my family does what we can to pitch in. So when it came time to fork over thousands for food for a few hours at my wedding, I just couldn’t do it.
That’s when my family and I had to have the talk. I’d made up my mind: sustainable giving to help those in need rolled better off my tongue than a Pinterest-perfect floral decoration.
Of course, my parents were both frustrated and confused. Why on earth would their daughter, who just moments ago had donned her rose-tinted glasses, be pulling them off and demanding a redo of the entire wedding? I still remember the look on my mother’s face when I told her that I would be doing my makeup and hair myself: death.
But the more I explained Penny Appeal USA’s work to them, the more they softened to the idea of our making a real difference with a reputable NGO.
My mother is an active member of a women’s community group in an impoverished area near our home. She works day and night organizing events that bring awareness to health issues. My father also does his part, conducting free business management classes for uneducated, young people to give them the tools to move upward in life.
So when I explained to my parents that the money we were spending on the wedding could be better used for the positive empowerment of people around the world, they began to understand that we had forgotten about what our family stands for.
My partner and I decided that, instead of spending exorbitant amounts of money on designer clothes, jewelry, shoes and bags, we’d instead use the money that would have gone towards those things to uplift people who were in need of life’s basic necessities: food, clean water, and sustainable income. Being able to do so with such a progressive organization was incredible, and I made sure my friends understood just how possible it was for them to do it, too.
We committed ourselves to planning our wedding in a way that we knew would empower the world, simply because we had the opportunity to do it.
Instead of giving in to societal expectations of the perfect wedding with extravagant spending (which distracts us from its true purpose, love), we decided to share our big day with Penny Appeal USA by supporting some of their numerous programs. It doesn’t take much to contribute to a cause that helps thousands of lives around the world.
Because, really, where would my soon-to-be-husband and I be without organizations like Penny Appeal USA who work so hard to create a safer space for all of us?
My wedding won’t be the lavish event that we originally intended it to be. It won’t be at an expensive establishment, with hundreds of guests, and handmade flower wreaths decorating the stage.
Instead, my wedding will be a celebration of the things we can achieve when we marry our lives with social justice.
It’ll be a celebration of a better world- and it’s something that you can do for your special event, too.