Does anyone else remember Flat Stanley? For those of you who don’t, or who need a refresher: Flat Stanley was a childhood fictional character, a boy who is flat like a sheet of paper; the book series spawned a widespread letter-writing project where children sent their own paper Stanleys around the world visiting pen-pals, who would take pictures of Flat Stanley in various places around their hometown.
Okay, cool project for kids.
Lately I have noticed a rapidly accelerating trend in LDS weddings.
The “Flat Missionary” trend.
Brides and grooms who have a sibling serving a mission elsewhere in the world are having life-size cardboard cut-outs made of said missionary to tag along on their wedding day. They bring it to the temple and put it in all the family photos, having guests pose with it. (I even saw one group shot where the dad – who really should be situated by the bride for photos – was off in the corner with his arm around that cardboard cut-out, pointing to it. Dude! Put your arm around your newly-married daughter!) They “walk” it down the aisle during ring ceremonies. They place it in the receiving line with the rest of the wedding party – even if other siblings are NOT a part of the line. I have even seen people go so far as to physically dress their cardboard missionary in an actual suit and tie. It seems they’ll do anything they can to pretend that person is there.
But here’s the thing: THEY’RE NOT!
I get that people wish everyone in their family could attend their wedding, and of course they miss their missionary, often serving in foreign countries. But the fact is, that person is not there, and pretending they are is just awkward.
And in this case – the case of Flat Missionary – I find it just plain tacky. Posing with a cardboard cut-out of something should be reserved for carnivals, not weddings. These giant paper dolls stick out like a sore thumb. This day is about the bride and groom and the start of their new life together. It isn’t ABOUT the missionary. Yet that’s all I can look at. By putting so much emphasis on this absent individual, you are drawing attention away from the happy couple. And it just looks ridiculous.
As a photographer...well, this is just nightmares for me. There’s just NO way to make this look elegant and lovely, rather than cheesy and silly. And when people insist on sticking this thing into as many photos as possible – I have honestly seen weddings where Flat Missionary was in more photos than the actual wedding party – well, there goes all the opportunities for artistic and meaningful art that the photographer tries so hard to achieve for their bride and groom. No joke, I have seen cardboard "photobombs" during moments between the bride and groom that should be tender and sweet, but people just couldn't resist shoving that thing into as many shots as possible. I just want to go, "Knock it OFF, people! Let them have some classy shots that don't include paper doll voyeurs." This is the kind of thing that ruins your wedding photos. Seriously, tone it down.
I have no problem with people paying some small tribute. In fact, let’s CELEBRATE the fact that one of your family members is selflessly serving the Lord! Not by acting like he’s still there, but by remembering where he is and what he’s doing. Have him write a letter to the bride and groom, put it on nice stationery, read it aloud at some point during the wedding toasts. Request photos of him (or her, as the case may be) at a couple of known places in their mission holding up written messages to the bride and groom – to be included in the wedding album later. Wear a CTR ring in the language of that mission. I worked with one bride whose brother had passed away, and she had a tiny framed photo of him as a trinket in her bouquet – try something like that!
But in all cases, PLEASE, for the love of all things holy...be SUBTLE. Remember that this is a beautiful wedding and should have an element of class. Remember it as the day it is, not what you wish it could be in an ideal world. A wedding day is about two people and their love for each other. Anything that detracts from that needs to be set aside.