There is a beast that haunts modern folklore with a rigid rule. She is the Medusa of romantic comedies. She is the Cruella De Vil of reality TV—rivaling the nastiness of toddler beauty queens and real housewives.
She is Bridezilla.
The stomping, thrashing, bristling ogre that is the blushing bride has become a common sight in pop-culturedom. But in reality? Well, I have yet to witness such a monster in real life. And frankly, I don’t know a woman who would go all Bride Wars on a friend. Which has left me wondering: Is Bridezilla just a figment of Hollywood’s imagination? Is it some mass manipulation to malign the bridal race. Or is she an archetype based on the fanatical, yet real, “It’s my wedding, and I’ll cry if I want to” bride?
I set out on a quest to answer those questions. Because I’ve never spotted Bridezilla in her natural element, I went to a few experts. Several Colorado wedding industry professionals said most brides are more sugar than spice. Mary Spicer of Spicer Events in Boulder says there is no such thing as Bridezilla.
“There are, however, a number of brides who are stressed-out perfectionists who do not accept what their budget really is,” Spicer said. “I think that all girls dream of their ‘perfect’ day. They do not dream that it will rain. They do not dream that the limousine will be late, lost or broken down. The reality is that life happens. I have worked with what you would call ‘Bridezilla perfectionists,’ but if a bride cannot come to terms with her budget or is a micro manager, I can’t help her.”
Both stress and narcissism usually contribute, she says.
I asked Spicer if she thinks TV has ruined the image of brides. No, she said frankly.
“It is what it is. Girls really can get that crazy, but let’s not negate how important this day is,” she said. “We should be looking at it as the one big day, not the first big day. There are no re-dos and the bride is making one of the biggest decisions in her life. …I do hope that these TV shows will help make girls take a second look at themselves and realize that their behavior is not only ugly but unacceptable.”
I polled a few recent brides about the matter. What came forth, as soon as the topic was breached, were little confessions of wickedness. It seems monstrous moments can happen to good women, especially when the pressure is on, when the budget is stretched, when mom is looking over your shoulder or when the groom is nowhere to be found.
“Most of the madness and unnecessary stress came from dealing with other people’s expectations and ideas being forced upon us (mainly my mother),” a friend told me over e-mail.
Another recent bride, the usually nice and stable Emily Freeman, a media buyer from Fort Collins, told me a story about her wedding day. She had booked hair, make-up and manicures at a salon for herself, four bridesmaids, one aunt, two moms and a grandma.
“Everything was going great until the shop owner realized that time was running out and they hadn’t done my nails yet,” Freeman recalled. “So they decided to let the hair washer/floor sweeper do my manicure. She was definitely not practiced in the art of nail painting, and with each finger, I was slowly losing my patience. Finally, after watching her remove and re-try painting for the fourth time—I lost it. I grabbed the polish and started painting my own nails. The owner came over and told me I was not allowed to do it myself and I lost it on her.”
She requested that the salon owner finish her nails and then pay for a cab to shuttle her back to the hotel, so at least the bridal party could leave and make it to the wedding on time.
“I was also saying something like, ‘We’ve just spent hundreds of dollars here and you’re going to let the floor-sweeper do the bride’s nails? Are you insane?’ I was livid. I am usually pretty easy-going,” she said. “…It was so simple a task and the girl just couldn’t do it.”
And then, as the bride stormed out, she smudged her wet thumbnail on the door handle. Cue the tears.
“We got back to the hotel and gathered in the bridal room. It was then that I noticed my sister had been crying too. She hated her hair; she should have, it was awful,” Freeman continued. “So we all gathered around and helped fix it. And I forgot all about my silly little nails, which were hardly even noticeable.”
So, I asked Freeman, are Bridezillas simply mean girls whose crappy personalities just extend into their wedding planning? Or are they perfectly nice women who are pushed to extremes?
“In the early planning stages of wedding planning, Bridezillas are control freaks who have personality defects, and they are probably ’zillas in other areas of their lives, too,” she theorized. “Bride-day-zillas are the nice women who were pushed by crazy expectations.”
That’s something I realized during my own mother’s wedding day a few years ago. My mom married her second husband Barry in July of 2008. With her one and only daughter by her side, Ruth Long planned a nice outdoor wedding at the quaint Flower House in Northern Colorado. When the wedding day came, the one thing we had not expected happened: rain. And because I agreed to handle all of the details come reception time, I was in charge of making sure the guests could actually enjoy the rain-soaked tables, chairs and dance floor.
Long story short, I turned militant: ordering around the elderly couple that owned and ran the beautiful home. Not my finest moment.
But because I took the brunt of the stress, my mom could keep her cool and take pleasure in the day. Still, when I asked her about it recently, she said there was still a lot of pressure. She may have not let her inner Bridezilla show, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have reared its ugly head.
“The bride is expected to pull off the perfect event, because even if you have a wedding planner, etc., your wedding reflects who you are. You have made all the decisions that resulted in this event, and if it turns out badly, who is really to blame? The bride!” she said. “So whether you are 60 or 16, you are going to be experiencing pressure.”
A bride can become Bridezilla because of the societal pressure of crafting that perfect day. And in this economy, the stresses of paying for a perfect wedding surely can exacerbate the anxiety.
“…A young bride may not even have to consider finances because Daddy is going to pay for the big day, but many modern brides and grooms pay for their own weddings or at least part of it and money is a huge issue,” my mom told me. “Barry and I tried to cut corners in every way, and it was still a lot of money.”
My mom’s first wedding was even simpler: she wore a navy blue pants suit and my dad wore a brown corduroy blazer; they had two witnesses and that’s it. That was in 1969. Almost 40 years later, her second time around was a totally different shindig.
“Most of us—well, 50 percent to be honest—don’t get to practice planning a wedding. You just get one chance to get it right,” she said. “I can’t go back and get the coffee cups ordered that I didn’t think people would want, not thinking it was going to be cool and rainy in early July. And who can control the weather? No matter how well you plan, something is going to go wrong.”
In my survey of wedding professionals, that’s the one tip consistently given to brides- and Bridezillas-to-be: Things will go wrong, so try not to freak out when they do. And if you do freak out, try not to project your wrath on bystanders or innocent victims. Or even better, assign the job to someone else. A bride’s aid, wedding planner or a bridesmaid (though, they are usually pretty busy as well) can take over the day-of details: They can make sure the flowers are delivered and the tables are set up, that the band knows when to play your song and ensure the DJ doesn’t do the running man.
Surrendering to the idea of imperfection might be the biggest challenge. Still, it might mean the difference between wedding-day bliss and an embarrassing, regrettable tantrum. As mom says, “Happy is the bride who can slough it off and move on, or better yet laugh at the faux pas. Unhappy is the Bridezilla who just can’t let it go.”