In the Western world, bridesmaids are also known as maids of honor, but in China, they are more like maids of dishonor. From drinking large quantities of alcohol on behalf of the bride to putting up with groping and other forms of harassment, bridesmaids often take part in traditional customs that most people would consider extremely vulgar. And as fewer women are willing to serve as bridesmaids for their friends and relatives, professional bridesmaid rental services are a booming business.
In medieval times, Chinese bridesmaids would dress up as the bride to act as decoys for rival clans and hooligans looking to kidnap her. As centuries past and legal protections for marriages were established, this particular role was no longer required, but maids of honor still retained their protective functions, and their ‘job’ remained as dangerous as ever. Even today, women who take on this responsibility are humiliated, physically or sexually harassed and some end up losing their lives in their attempt to best fulfill their tasks at a wedding. It sounds absurd that an honorary position at what is supposed to be a joyous celebration involve such risks, but in China, it is a harsh reality.
For example, it is customary for Chinese newlyweds to toast bottoms up to every wedding guest, and at big weddings that adds up to a lot of alcohol. In order to protect the honor of the bride, it falls on the bridesmaids to fend off drinking requests and in most cases drink on the bride’s behalf. This often results in alcohol poisoning, and in extreme cases, death. Just last month, it was reported that a 28-year-old maid of honor in Wenchang, Hainan province, lost her life after getting pressured into consuming a large amount of alcohol.
But having to drink with every one of the guests is just a small part of the bridesmaid experience in China. Since they act as symbolic ‘hurdles’ before the groom can enter the bridal room and consummate the marriage, bridesmaid sometimes have to endure verbal and physical harassment from groomsmen and other male guests, and when alcohol is involved, things can get out of hand really fast. In more civilized cases, bridesmaids are targets of sexual innuendos or have to go through degrading rituals like licking a banana, but in extreme cases they are stripped of their clothes, molested or even attacked. In 2015, a video shot at a wedding in Hainan showed a bridesmaid being groped by male guests against her will. As she tries to stop their attempts, some of the men can be seen pulling her hands away to allow others free access to her body. And in 2013, a bridesmaid was reportedly raped by two groomsmen at a wedding in Zhejiang.
With all these risks involved, not to mention the more common responsibilities of entertaining guests, welcoming them when they arrive and acting as a makeup artist for the bride, it’s no wonder that few women accept their friends’ requests to be a bridesmaid at their weddings. It’s simply too dangerous. That’s why people are now renting bridesmaid for anywhere between 200 yuan or $30 and 800 yuan or $118 per wedding.
Professional bridesmaid have become a common feature at Chinese weddings, and they are currently offered by more than 50 wedding planning firms in China. Most of them work only on weekends, in addition to their regular jobs, to earn extra revenue. While many consider them to be fake bridesmaids, professionals claims they are much better equipped to deal with hazing than amateurs. “Professional bridesmaids like me are tougher than amateurs,” one bridesmaid-for-hire told The Financial Times. “Some best men will tease bridesmaids or be fresh with them. Professionals like me can solve the embarrassment easily and quickly. That’s one reason I think why people hire me, to protect their friends.”
Despite its popularity, hiring professional bridesmaids is frowned upon by a lot people for reinforcing the idea that the female body can be an objectified commodity for sale.
via TIME Magazine