Of Brides and Zillas

Guestpost by channamasala on Jan. 19th
01 - Bridezilla and Groomera

Thanks to Hibryd for submitting this shot to the Offbeat Bride pool!

A while back Offbeat Bride featured an article on why your wedding is tacky…and how that's really OK. A lot of us took that idea to heart, to the point where "don't worry about it, no matter what you do, someone is going to think it's tacky" bandied about on Offbeat Bride Tribe. I think that acted as not only a shake to the shoulders to a lot of us ("someone will find it tacky!") but also as a salve ("…so don't worry about it.") It hit a nerve in this community of people who are doing things differently, and so are more likely to be judged as 'tacky' for it.

I'm starting to feel the same way about the term "bridezilla". It's overused – it is its own cliche at this point – and yet hasn't hit that saturation point where it's acknowledged as being overused (see: Just Not That Into You, He's). How many TV shows, websites, videos, articles, Internet comments (always a bastion of intellectual thought and sensitivity, those are) march out the term "tacky" in a snobbish, "I am so much better than that" way that is just…tacky?

Well, "Bridezilla" is the new tacky.

I began to feel this way months ago, when I was home to visit family, something I get to do only once per year at most. I was in the car with my mother, and we were talking about the general mood and theme for my wedding. She mentioned something I "had" to do – get a professional photographer and make a big thing out of cutting the cake – and some people I "had" to invite. I replied that I wasn't down with that and was going to have a more active role in planning despite geographic distance, and that my fiance and I would have final say over things like this.

"Whatever, Bridezilla," she shoots back.

Whatever? I saw it as drawing clear, reasonable boundaries and taking a leadership role in something that is ours to lead. She saw a dissonance in my attitude about what she felt we "must" do to be an indicator of a dyspeptic control freak.

Basically, you're a Bridezilla no matter what the hell you do. And this is only true for brides – few would rag on a groom no matter how much of the decision-making is his doing.

If you want a big wedding with all of your family and friends there, and want to be inclusive rather than exclusive, you're a Bridezilla because "you want a huge, overblown wedding" to, I dunno, get presents and show off how much money you spent. If you want a small, intimate wedding with only closest confidantes and immediate family, you're a Bridezilla because you "didn't invite Aunt Clytemnestra who sold your great great uncle a goat in 1923" and you are so stuffy, snobby and exclusive that you'd shun your loved ones.

If you spend a lot of money, you're foolish and immature to want to throw it away on a party that encompasses just one day. Don't you know that you should spend that on a down payment for a house? That's what we grown-ups do, you Bridezilla! If you don't spend a lot of money, whatever you do is…here's that word again: tacky. Are your parents paying? Daddy's Girl Bridezilla! Paying for it yourselves? Too immature to know that there are better uses for that money!

If you want a white dress, you're a Bridezilla who caves to the Wedding Industrial Complex, who "needs" to be married in an overpriced cream satin monstrosity, who is blindly tethered to a false tradition. If you don't want a white dress, you're 'tacky' and you 'have no taste' and 'no sense of tradition'. If you dare to enter a second marriage in a white dress…o, get me my fainting couch and smelling salts!

47 - The awesome cake, with Bridezilla and Groomera on topIf you find that dress and it's a bargain, you're "cheap" and therefore a tacky Bridezilla. If your dream dress is expensive, you're a snobby, spoiled Bridezilla. If you don't get a custom dress, you lack originality, but if you do, you're obsessive and demanding. If you don't care about the dress you're "bitter" but if you do, you're shallow.

What about ceremonies and receptions? If you have a traditional-style setup, you aren't creative. If you do something funky (say, bowling instead of a catered dinner) you're forcing people to partake in activities you like and demanding that they go along. Let's say you do something outlandish, like a skydiving ceremony. Even if that means a lot to you, you're "just doing it to get attention…or even get on TV". Of course, if your ceremony is religious you're a brainwashed drone, but if it's secular or self-written you're a heathen whose ceremony "is weird and makes no sense" (that's a quote from a family member).

Having a big day to make the most of your milestone? Spendy Bridezilla. Eloping? Bridezilla who feels she needs to go out of town and "get away" from her family, a family that she is hurting so much because they aren't allowed to be there.

It's everywhere, too. My personal pet peeve are comments, mostly online, that rant a bit about this or that Bridezilla thing they hate, and then go on to give "advice" in the form of imperative statements:

  • "Keep it small."
  • "Don't spend so much on details."
  • "Use traditional vows."
  • "Don't try to make it so unique."
  • "Don't give in to X, Y or Z."

I don't know what it is about the Internet that allows people to issue orders to the world at large, directed at people they have never met.

Let's not forget that there's an entire TV show that not only uses the Bridezilla as their entire marketing campaign, but even appropriates it as the show's title? And then, in making fun of those brides, twists it around into some kind of dystopian, Orwellian horror where if you want to watch women – always women – acting that way, you are one of those women? Only Bridezillas watch "Bridezillas", right? Of course. And that's so tacky.

In the end, however, it's all false. The Bridezilla was invented by our collective subconscious – sit down, shut up, behave, orthis is what you are. I've seen a similar attitude pop up around the idea of a "nag" and again of a "bitch" – and more recently, even more sadly, "feminist": a word that should never, ever be derogatory. The very special (Mircea Eliade would call it "sacred", I think) period of betrothal adds "Bridezilla" to that arsenal of threatening words and serves mostly as a backlash against assertive women. You have to care about your day – the day you tie yourself to a man – but not too much.

None of the above makes you a Bridezilla: arguably the only thing that can get you into that territory is your attitude while planning and executing it. How many people you invite, what kind of dress you wear, whether or not you care about that dress, how you are structuring the day, which vendors you splurge on and what you DIY, where you have it or how you have it – none of that is even remotely Bridezilla material, and yet we as a society like to think that it is.

At it's worst it's sexism in an insidious form, the catty women-against-women incarnation.

In real life, how many Bridezillas do you know? I don't know any. People say that Bridezillas are everywhere, but when pressed, few of them can name a personal acquaintance who actually acts like the crazed harpies – and not all of them are crazed or harpies – on Bridezillas, which is, honestly, a compilation of wannabe-actresses and fame seekers participating in a compendium of short fiction.

Under the veneer of Bridezilla, we may find a truly rotten person, but if we really seek the truth, and do so not just to validate our own preconceptions and judgements, we are more likely to find women who are simply trying to plan a big day which society has told them is both very, very important, but at the same time shouldn't be important at all, dealing with the expectations piled on women as well as the expectations of other women on them, their own expectations and those of their families. It's stressful, but behind that stress, even behind that meltdown or temper tantrum, you are likely to find kind, decent, reasonable women who just want people to stop judging.

The point of all this is that there are a few lessons we can take away from the Bridezilla phenomenon.

  1. Unless your attitude is truly heinous, you are not a Bridezilla. If you are clear about what you want, budget what you feel comfortable with and can afford, and own your decisions, none of those decisions can possibly put you into Bridezilla territory – regardless of whether your dress is white or red, you toast with champagne or don't toast at all, or whether your attendants match, don't match, or don't exist. The only thing that can make you a Bridezilla is how you treat others. So own your decisions and don't be afraid to tell those "Bridezilla" whisperers to cut it out. Like those things – that is, everything – that some people will inevitably find "tacky", it doesn't matter what you do. Someone will snicker. Feel free to do it anyway. A good phrase to use: "I don't see how [doing X] makes me a Bridezilla."
  2. You are not a master diplomat, nor are you a politician, and that's OK. You are probably going to crack at some point. You will snap at your mother or piss off an Aunt. You'll annoy your colleagues. People you thought of as friendly acquaintances or close family members will probably whisper "Bridezilla" at least once. You are bound to lose your temper at least once. Unless you have the diplomatic skills of an ambassador to a particularly problem-plagued nation or the smiling veneer of a Senator, it will happen. For whatever reason, humanity (not America, because this is a worldwide phenomenon) has decided that women need to smile and maintain their composure no matter what stresses are piled on them – if you crack and throw a hissy, you're a bitch or a baby. Except you're not. You're human. It's time women forcefully threw off that expectation of perfection, that societal mandate of a fake smile hiding real unhappiness. If you do completely lose it and people start in with the "…such a Bridezilla" talk, you can counter with "No, I am under a lot of stress and I am not perfect. I admit that I lost my temper and I regret it, but weddings are difficult and I am only human. Please don't call me names."
  3. "You're a Bridezilla" = "You are not submitting enough to what I deem you need to do for your wedding" – Honestly, I've come to see this whole thing as yet another arena where women are pushed into a corner. Smile and submit. If you don't, you're a lizardlike gargantuan monster. The solution is simple: don't. Own your decisions. If people continue to push even after seeing where your line is drawn, don't be afraid to call them on it. "Why are you demanding that I do this?" and "Why is it that all of these demands are piled on me? Please explain why my fiance is not under similar pressure."
  4. Draw your boundaries and don't be afraid to defend them. Every advice columnist will tell you likewise. You'll get called a Bridezilla. Don't cave. In fact, push back. "Knowing what I want, being clear about it and sticking to a reasonable decision does not make me a Bridezilla. It makes me mature and capable. Please stop calling me names." This has become my favorite mantra. It works.
  5. Being assertive, clear and reasonable doesn't mean you shouldn't listen. Hearing out your loved ones' suggestions and incorporating them wherever you feel comfortable is a fine thing to do.
  6. Take the wind out of the Bridezilla phenomenon. As mentioned above, there are so few real Bridezillas in the world, and those that exist were probably spoiled, demanding or snobby to begin with, and their attitude during wedding planning is merely a reflection of that. So when someone starts up, go ahead and pop that pompous balloon. "Honestly, Aunt Hilda, that's the exception, not the rule. Most brides are just under tremendous and unfair pressure. They're reasonable women who are clear about what they want. Actual Bridezillas are few and far between."
  7. Only a very few things are genuinely tacky and Bridezilla-ish, and those vary by region. The only thing that is a constant around the world is that a bad attitude is the hallmark of being a Bridezilla, and a tacky one at that. All the others are variable (except thank you cards). In my region, dollar dances, registry cards in invitations, honeymoon registries, asking for money and open bars are all very tacky. In other areas, they are acceptable. I wouldn't dream of doing any of them, but some couples would. A good way to figure out what etiquette rules you should adhere to is to ask lots of people in our area what they did and draw a general guideline for that. If you mess up, who cares? It's just one day. Gossiping about a faux pas you may have committed after the fact reflects badly on the gossiper – it's poor form around the world to harp on another's mistakes long after they're made. A kind person would let it go.
  8. We as a society are so obsessed with Bridezillas because, let's face it, weddings are larger than life. They are symbolic – they are supposed to be a reflection of you, except bigger, more public, more theatrical and more expensive. And…they're supposed to be palatable to all in attendance. Every person has a bit of the sacred and the profane in their nature, and weddings are only supposed to celebrate the sacred; that which is acceptable and loveable to your parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, officiant, caterer and everyone else. As such, if you dare to incorporate something they don't like and have trouble accepting, if you let a little bit of that profane side of you sneak in – the profane side being the more fun, unique you in so many cases – the Bridezilla whispers start.

What's more, weddings reflect mostly on the bride. The groom gets a free pass, because weddings have become such a feminine thing. They used to be family affairs – you might not have even gotten to choose who you married, let alone what you wore and who attended – but when they stopped being about politics and started being about love, they also became more feminine. As such, all of this great symbolism and "This is YOU, except bigger than YOU, on stage, and we as the audience all get to vote like in American Idol whether we approve of not" is heaved on one set of shoulders. And of course, we all have an id, an ego or a superego (whatever you may think of Freud). The ego accepts the invitation and the superego congratulates the bride, but that nasty id is lurking in the background, full of expectation and judgement, waiting to pounce, whether the prey deserves it or not.

There is no solution to this as yet, except to set appropriate expectations and boundaries, and to have reasonable expectations of yourself…and hope that we, as brides (and grooms) who may have children who may become brides and grooms, can change things and put Bridezilla to rest.