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I was heartbroken when I saw my wedding photos — a decade later, I fixed them

What I refer to today as “our wedding picture” is actually fake, but I love it anyway. 

My sister peered stealthily down the hotel hallway like she was leading a prison break and then turned back to us and said: “All clear! Go! Now!”

Greg and I raced down the staircase I had descended gracefully with my father a decade before. We posed awkwardly as she tried to find a good angle to snap some shots with my phone. Our son came screaming into the lobby seconds later and photobombed us. He wanted Dada. Immediately. My husband scooped him up and that’s when we took the photo I refer to as “our wedding picture” today.

Liz Brown and her husband.
Our "wedding photo" isn't perfect — it wasn't even taken on our wedding day. But it's what I've wanted for years.Courtesy Liz Brown

Other hotel guests were now shuffling up and down the staircase. “Oh, a wedding,” one murmured. “How lovely. Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” I said graciously over the din of my screaming child, an “unwed mother” no more.

Greg and I changed back into our travel clothes. I handed my dress over to my mother to put back in my childhood closet next to the Glamour Gals cruise ship playset. We returned my husband’s suit for a full refund at the mall near the airport. 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I wasn’t supposed to be faking my wedding photos a month after my 10th anniversary. My husband and I were supposed to have a picture of the two of us perfectly posed like cake toppers, showing our good sides in the best light.

When we got our wedding photos back 10 years earlier, we were thrilled the photographer had caught so many fun candid shots of our friends and family. Less thrilling was the realization that he’d forgotten to take the one photo that mattered most: the traditional portrait of husband and wife as a newly married couple.

Instead of launching into a bridezilla meltdown, I immediately sent the photographer an effusive email thanking him for his incredible work. I was careful not to mention the lack of shots of the bride and groom for fear of seeming ungrateful, reminding myself I was lucky that I’d gotten married at all. 

I never dreamed about my wedding day like other women say they did growing up. I assumed I would never have one. Growing up with a severe lazy eye, I was taunted about my looks for most of my childhood and adolescence. I couldn’t imagine someone who looked like me getting married, so I really never thought about it.  

I ended up as the first of my friends to get married. I didn’t know how weddings worked and I had zero money to pay for one. I bought an ill-fitting wedding dress off eBay for $25. My mother cried when she saw it and begged me to let her take out a loan against her retirement savings to buy me a real dress. Eventually I said yes. My cousin did my hair and makeup. My husband’s Aunt Linda did my nails. My shoes were from Payless. 

When a friend offered to take our wedding photos free of charge, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. We actually got more than we paid for: some great shots of me walking down the aisle with my dad, a hilarious one of my mean grandma scolding me for not keeping time with the music as I danced in my gigantic dress, and a precious shot of bridesmaids cooing over my cathedral train like ladies-in-waiting. We even got a great group shot, which was the only one where Greg and I were standing side by side — in the middle of all our wedding guests.

I tried to crop other people out of group photos and pretend it was just the two of us. That didn't work, of course.
I tried to crop other people out of group photos and pretend it was just the two of us. That didn't work, of course.Courtesy Liz Brown

“I can fix this,” I told Greg, rising to the challenge. I cropped and zoomed the large group shot over and over until our two faces looked like impressionist water lilies surrounded by unidentified shoulders and elbows.

It did not look good. 

I told myself it was fine. I didn’t need the perfect wedding portrait. I was lucky to have gotten married at all.

I told myself it was fine. I didn’t need the perfect wedding portrait. I was lucky to have gotten married at all.

Over time, it felt less fine. I went to the weddings of friends and family members and saw them all carefully posing together with their new spouses in just the right light, at the right angle, uncropped, unzoomed, free of random shoulders and elbows. I felt like I’d missed out. I saw how people did it now. I wanted a do-over. I was changing from a sweet, young and passive newlywed to a bitter, middle-aged, assertive adult with an 8x10 sized chip on my shoulder.

Liz Brown and her husband.
We got plenty of candid photos like this, but I was heartbroken that we didn't have just one nice portrait of the two us, standing side by side. Courtesy Liz Brown

As the years wore on, we had a lot more to worry about than a missing wedding photo. About 6 years into our marriage, I fell into the worst depression of my life and lost my job. Around that time, I thought that starting a family might be the cure to my despondency. I ditched my antidepressants way too fast and got pregnant on our first try. I tried to white-knuckle my way through pregnancy without medication and I couldn’t make it. I sobbed so loudly at the OB/GYN’s office they started sending me into a separate waiting room. 

We went broke paying for therapy that didn’t even help me. We had the baby and crammed his crib into our one tiny bedroom, 14 inches away from our own bed. There were rats in the walls and the shower was rotted out, but it was rent-controlled and all we could afford. 

It wasn’t how I had pictured my life working out at all. When I got married at age 30, my future looked amazing. I had friends and cats and a dog and a cheap place to live while I launched my writing career in Hollywood. By 40, I had lost most of the friends due to my depression; the cats and dog had died; my writing career wasn’t working out; and the cheap place to live was literally crumbling around us.

I tried to find something positive to hold on to. The month after our 10th anniversary, we were flying to Vermont to visit my parents. For nostalgia, we always stayed at the inn where we got married. We hadn’t been there in years. I saw an opportunity to reframe the picture fiasco. A week before our trip east, I hatched a plan and announced it to Greg.

I would squeeze back into however much of my dress I could. He’d rent a tux. We’d stand on the hotel staircase and take the photo we should have taken all those years ago. Nobody would know it wasn’t real … and who would see it anyway, except us?

“Sure!” he said.

I felt renewed. I had the chance to take action. From our home in Los Angeles, I called ahead to the one tuxedo shop in Vermont and let them know we’d need a sharp, custom-fit tux the following week. Immediately, I hit a snag. In Vermont, the market for custom-fit tuxedos on demand was low. And by low, I mean nonexistent.

I told my husband we’d buy him a suit. I then Googled how much suits cost. “We’ll buy one and then return right after,” I restated a few minutes later.

My wedding dress, miraculously, still fit. 

We spent our five-day visit to Vermont busy with a million other things to do. Other hotel guests traipsed up and down my staircase while I juggled the inherent stress of an annual family visit, an infant and working remotely for my job back in L.A. The week flew by. There had been no time for a photo and the two local photographers I’d contacted to take them professionally never returned my call. We were packing up our room to head to the airport when Greg said: “Let’s do it right now.”

We dressed quickly, side by side — no need to hide my gown from him this time. I took off the Mother’s Day necklace he bought me a few months after our son was born and swapped it for a dead ringer of my original wedding necklace that I snagged at Claire’s boutique for $5.99. He carefully tucked the price tag for his suit coat into his sleeve and peeled the “Medium/Large” sticker off his dress shirt. And down the stairs we went.

Suddenly, there we were in the moment I’d been fuming about missing out on for 10 years. I felt unprepared and overwhelmed with emotion — just like I had on my real wedding day. I turned to my husband and joked, “Pretend you’re 32 and blissfully ignorant about what the future holds!”

Liz Brown and her husband.
Our son photobombing us as my sister took our "fake" wedding photos.Courtesy Liz Brown

The photos we got still didn’t look professional. They were awkward and fuzzy and candid and real and I loved them. I could never recapture the actual moment from our wedding day, but I think what we got was even better: a testament to how hard we’d worked for over a decade to hold our relationship together in spite of all the chaos. 

My favorite photo from that day lives in our bedroom. Whenever a guest happens to see it, they compliment how beautiful I looked on my wedding day. “Thank you,” I say, feeling like I’m pulling a perpetual prank. But mostly, the photo is just for me. It’s the picture that helps me get out of bed every morning and keep going, remembering that perfection is for fakers and real love is messy but full of tiny, joyful moments that are rarely caught on camera.