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The Agonizing Wedding Expectations Behind the Sexist 'Bridezilla' Stereotype

The trope of the bride's ugly transformation is actually about other people's narcissism and entitlement.

by Foram Mehta
Jun 25 2018, 7:17pm

Photo by T Rex and Flower, via Stocksy. 

A Google search of the term “bridezilla” populates nearly 3.2 million results in the US. The top pages read like tabloid headlines. One sensationally teases a roundup of the most “horrifying bridezilla moments.” Another forewarns a bride-to-be of signs that she might be turning into the dreaded monster of wedding lore. Urban Dictionary defines bridezilla so crudely, I won’t even repeat it. There is even a WE tv reality show dedicated to the sexist caricature. The description for season 11 of the show: “The craziest, most over-the-top brides wreaking wedding day hell…they vow no one will get in the way of their 'perfect' day!”

Somewhere between the reality TV boom and our obsession with perceived perfection that’s fueled by social media, the archetype of the bride has evolved from fairytale princess to vicious beast. But if you’ve ever been that bride, you know painfully well that this trope of the bride’s ugly transformation is rarely actually about narcissism and princess-like entitlement, as implied. Rather, it's the result of ridiculous expectations, sexist double standards, and a cultural tendency to infantilize women for knowing what they want.

Planning nightmares

A recent survey found that the average cost of weddings in 2017 was a staggering $33,391. The spend-per-guest also rose to $268 from $194 in 2009, while the guest count decreased, indicating a focus on each attendee’s personal experience. Considering the unforgiving spotlight of social media, who can blame a bride for stressing over all the little details? And heaven forbid a guest submits a story about your wedding to Hell of a Wedding, where others can vote on exactly how tragic and embarrassing your ceremony was.

Wedding planning is the ultimate challenge in project management. The sheer magnitude of coordinating timelines, balancing budgets, catering to everyone’s needs and wants—not to mention trying to inject some semblance of yourself and your fiancé into the event—is in itself enough to send you over the edge. So, yes, when it’s been a long day at work, the to-do list is never-ending, the venue won’t return your emails and calls, and your “good friend” bails last-minute because there’s no seat for her new girlfriend (true story), you might just snap at the slightest dissent.

“Before I got engaged, I always thought of a ‘bridezilla’ as a high-maintenance, extremely demanding type… who wouldn't ever compromise on anything,” admits San Diego bride-to-be Katie Rucke. “Now I wonder every day how someone like me, who has been told ad-nauseum how nice I am, screamed at my younger sister, also my maid of honor, at my nephew's third birthday because she and another sister told me they didn't like the flower girl dress I picked.”

The issue is, unless you are the person planning the wedding, you never know the full story. You wouldn’t know, for instance, that when one of my friends had a severe anxiety attack in the midst of planning her wedding, it was largely because, on top of everything, she was caught in the middle of her feuding father and brother at the same time that her mother was being admitted to the hospital for a major surgery, and her fiancé couldn’t help because he was living in a different state.

At another friend’s wedding, the caterer screwed up the vegan meals and her wedding coordinator forgot ceremony programs, leaving guests to sit through an hour-long Vietnamese wedding without understanding a word. Months later, she’s still seething. Not because of those hiccups, though—because, like so many other brides, despite all the things she let go, she was still slammed with that infamous b-word for openly expressing frustration.

Infantilizing family

Weeks after my own rollercoaster of an engagement culminated in a successful wedding, I couldn’t believe the physical and mental weight that had been lifted from my shoulders. The three-day Indian affair had been utterly beautiful. We were showered with love by our friends and families, and we had been spared the ultimate bad fate: Hurricane Harvey hit Houston exactly one week later. For the first time in nearly a year, I felt at peace again—except for one thing. Nearly two weeks after the event (including four heavenly days on the beach of Puerto Vallarta), I thought I could return to normal life. Instead, I was suffering from body aches and unshakable fatigue, rendering me physically incapable of sitting upright at work. The doctor confirmed I wasn’t pregnant, nor infected with the flu or Zika (minor scare). Diagnosis: My baseline stress level had been so high for so long, my body was crashing now that it wasn’t in constant “fight or flight” mode. Tens of thousands of dollars later for a big, fat Indian wedding, and I was still paying for it.

But it wasn’t the burden of finances or responsibility of project management that did me in. I’ve worked high-stress jobs before and have always been good with money, so these weren’t new challenges. Never in my life, though, had I been tasked with maintaining the happiness of so many family members—both mine and my fiancé’s—and to an extent that was literally impossible. No matter how many concessions I made nor how sweetly I followed up with incomplete tasks, I was met with inconsiderate resistance and a lack of urgency at every turn.

Though I became increasingly intolerant of taking the bullshit, I maintained composure, speaking in measured tones, all the while making clear: I was no doormat. Secretly, though, I had spiraled into total despair, trapped by the fact that the bridezilla stereotype had made it so that any personal agency or anger I expressed could be so easily—almost inevitably—flipped around and used against me. Even though I had all but completely lost sight of my own wishes to please everyone else, I was made to feel selfish for the occasional executive decision I did make because I justified it with the hated, “It’s my wedding.” It literally was my wedding, but of course the statement is always understood as a signal of a tantrum—part of our incessant tendency to infantilize women, rendering them whiney little girls.

This tendency becomes glaringly obvious when you consider the experiences of professional wedding planners—who make these kinds of decisions for a living, and yet often still get treated as if they’re being unreasonable when they make clear they know exactly what they want.

“My breaking points recently have just been about making sure both families are happy... I still weigh the options and consider all perspectives, but sometimes the bridal vote just outweighs the majority,” says bride-to-be and wedding planner Amy Patel.

Fellow planner Michelle Fernie-Oley says of her own experience, which was televised on Say Yes to the Dress: “I got slammed on the internet for having a five-second freak out. When I watched my reaction to a missing detail, I just saw myself as going into boss/wedding planner mode...but others saw a crazed lunatic panicked over picture frames that they’d assumed meant nothing.”

Sexist double standards

Normal, everyday women don’t morph into fanged monsters simply because the table linens aren’t impeccably pressed, or their bridesmaids are two minutes late to hair and makeup. Plenty of said women, however, might lose their shit at any one of these insignificant details because they’re human. And that’s what humans do when they’ve been tested in every emotional, mental, and physical manner—by everyone and their mother. And the fact that they're called names for doing so, reveals a double standard: These strong-minded, self-respecting women who stand their ground when they’d otherwise be steamrolled over by vendors, in-laws, siblings, and crappy friends? They’d get a rallying cry from both women and men (the good ones, anyway) if they exhibited the same fierceness in a boardroom, or a Wednesday night spoken word performance. “Lean in!” they’d say.

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On top of that trap, women are pressured their whole lives to achieve a perfectly orchestrated, ridiculously elaborate wedding replete with show-stopping decor, dress, food, and more—and to do it all with a smile on her face, as she also juggles a million other things in her life. Do it all, and do it flawlessly, but don’t you dare crack under the pressure—it’s unbecoming of a lady.

To be clear: The solution to the “bridezilla” issue isn’t to tell women to avoid having elaborate weddings, or that it’s their fault for having a wedding at all. It’s actually just to stop being condescending toward women for simply wanting what we’ve told them to want since they were little girls, and make a little space for female frustration.

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