The agony aunt letter about an "unsightly" maid of honour that received the perfect response.

It was a letter to Slate’s ‘agony aunt’ column Dear Prudence and it started innocently enough – a daughter getting married and her best friend invited to be a part of the bridal party.

Soon, however, it turned ugly: The letter-writer was concerned their daughter’s wedding day would be ruined because the best friend in question has a walking impediment.

Finally, it turned into a lesson for all of us. Writer Mallory Ortberg (Prudence) schooled the parent on what it means to have empathy, show compassion and be an all-round decent human being. In one scathing – but smart – reply, Ortberg smashed through the stigma that is so often faced by people living with a disability because of what others think of their place in society – in this case in a bridal party.

This is how it went down:

“My 27-year-old daughter and her best friend, Katie, have been best friends since they were four,” the letter writer begins. “Katie practically grew up in our house and is like a daughter to me.”

(What a preface, considering what’s to come.)

“My daughter recently got engaged and announced that Katie would be the maid of honor. The problem is that Katie walks with a pretty severe limp due to a birth defect (not an underlying medical issue). She has no problem wearing high heels and has already been fitted for the dress, but I still think it will look unsightly if she’s in the wedding procession limping ahead of my daughter.”

(Yes, the word used was “unsightly”.)

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The mother or father writing the letter (we don’t know which) helpfully provided a solution; suggesting Katie might be better suited “taking video or handing out programs (while sitting) so she doesn’t ruin the aesthetic aspect of the wedding”.


Unsurprisingly, the bride-to-be has stopped talking to the letter-writing parent. “My daughter is no longer speaking to me (we were never that close), but this is her big wedding and I want it to be perfect.”

And then Ortberg begins. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this,” (aren’t we all).

She suggests the reader ask themselves the “time-honoured” question: “Do I sound like a villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie?” (YES, the answer is most definitely YES).

And then there was this:

“Your daughter’s wedding will be perfect with Katie as a full and honored member of the bridal party. A limp is not a fly in the ointment; it’s a part of Katie’s life,” Ortberg writes. “This is ableist, and cruel, and it speaks to a massive failure of empathy, compassion, and grace on your part. You must and should apologise to your daughter immediately, and I encourage you to profoundly reconsider the orientation of your heart.”

Image: iStock

The exchange has been picked up by several news publications, likely because it shows us the worst and best of humanity.

It shows us how carried away we can become with "aesthetics", particularly when weddings are involved.

It shows us how discriminatory people can be, while mistakingly believing they are doing good for the people around them.

It shows how tone-deaf so many of us are when it comes to talking about people who live with disabilities.

It shows how very far we have to go in becoming a more accepting, compassionate society.

But it also shows us how one woman - in this case Ortberg - can stand up against the bigotry that comes from misunderstanding and narrow-mindedness.

And how a kinder, more compassionate, more inclusive way forward can be discussed in a way that brings people together - as opposed to yelling at each other from opposite sides of the picket line.

One person, albeit misguided, opened a conversation. Another finished it with class and an explanation. Surely, that's a step in the right direction.


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