In Love and War

Rethinking the way we treat ourselves.

You Are Not a Bridezilla

Why wedding planning is more stressful than it should be.

The word "bridezilla" was reportedly first used in the mid-1990s to refer to the bride-to-be who turned into a monster while planning her wedding, throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way and making ridiculous demands on her friends and family. But in recent years the derogatory term, a reference to a giant mutant dinosaur-like creature who goes on crazed killing sprees (i.e., Godzilla), has almost become synonymous with "bride," encompassing behaviors that are almost impossible to avoid.

Brides who take the lead in planning their weddings may find themselves caught between opposing pressures. The ideals of femininity wrapped up in the traditional bridal role--innocence, submissiveness, sweetness--are not very compatible with the demands of being an effective wedding planner. Successfully navigating the sometimes ruthless wedding industry requires assertiveness, tough negotiation skills, and the ability to make decisions that won't necessarily please everyone. Behaviors such as these that deviate from the feminine ideal can brush dangerously close to the "bridezilla" stereotype. Brides may feel torn between wanting to appear pleasantly agreeable and wanting to stand up for themselves on important issues, such as budgetary concerns. 

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Demonstrating this double bind, research suggests that women who express emotions like anger are seen more negatively than men since these emotions violate feminine norms. In this research, angry men were viewed as more competent and given more status in the workplace than angry women. In addition, anger expressed by a woman was more likely to be seen as being reflective of that woman's angry nature rather than as a reaction to external anger-eliciting circumstances. When it comes to wedding planning, anger may at times be an appropriate--or at least understandable--response to unfair treatment (for example, when a vendor breaks a contract without warning), but it is also a surefire way to be slapped with the "bridezilla" label and not be taken seriously. 

It's hard to avoid being called a "bridezilla" not only because wedding planning demands or elicits bridezilla-like qualities at times, but also because wedding planning can be extremely stressful, and under stress none of us are at our best. For one, weddings are expensive, and many couples end up going beyond their budget and even going into debt. When the cost of getting married is the same as that of putting a down payment on a house, making sure that things go right becomes a little more important than if you were just throwing a casual party for your friends. I remember hearing years ago about a girl who burst into tears when the photographer didn't show up in time for the scheduled formal photo session at her wedding. At the time, I have to admit that I was a little judgmental of her dramatic reaction, but now, having been through the wedding planning process myself, her behavior makes a lot more sense to me. 

In addition to the stress created by spending an unspeakable amount of money, and the expectations that go along with that (i.e., that the photographer will arrive on time), weddings can bring up a lot of family-related stress. The bride and groom's families may have very different visions for what they want to happen and not happen at the wedding, based on their personal preferences, values, religious beliefs, and even political orientations. There may also be within-family disagreements, and the bride and groom themselves are not going to agree on everything. Working through these challenges and learning to compromise can benefit relationships in the long run, but in the moment they can be very unsettling.

Money and family conflicts aside, perhaps the most stressful aspect of wedding planning, and the one most likely to fuel "bridezilla" moments, has to do with the pressure to be a beautiful bride and to look flawless on your big day. This pressure can lead women to starve themselves for months before the wedding so that they can fit into their too small dress, to spend countless hours and dollars on hair and make-up products and services, to overdo sun or tanning bed exposure, to worry so much about whether their skin will break-out that it breaks out worse than ever, and to feel chronically dissatisfied with their appearance. 

Kjerstin Gruys, a Ph.D. student in sociology, decided to forego mirrors for the entire year before her wedding day because she found that the pressure to look perfect was so strong and so destructive. She blogged about it and then published a book describing her experience, Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year. She describes how avoiding mirrors helped her shift her focus from her appearance to the things that mattered more to her, like her work and her relationships, and helped her enjoy her wedding day more. While it may not be practical to take such extreme measures as avoiding all reflective surfaces, there is value in recognizing how harmful the extreme focus on appearance can be and in remembering that what makes you beautiful on your wedding day is the joy and love you feel more than it is your dress, hair, and make-up. But this shift in focus doesn't mean you won't care about how you look or try to look nice. Unless your wedding has a pajama party theme (which actually sounds kind of amazing), it's probably unavoidable. 

So what can you do to reduce the stress involved in wedding planning, and the fear of turning into a bridezilla? First and foremost, you can give yourself permission to be imperfect, to get upset sometimes, to obsess, without worrying that this makes you a bridezilla. With everything you're likely already dealing with, the fear of coming across as a bridezilla does not need to be added to the list. At the same time, however, you can take an honest look at yourself and your behavior and figure out if it's what you want--and try to change it if it's not. Giving yourself a break doesn't mean giving yourself permission to boss everyone around and refuse to compromise on anything. And don't forget about the groom--the more involved he is, the less pressure there is on you to pull together a huge event without any major hitches. Finally, if you're feeling like wedding planning is taking over your life, take action: do something that will help you gain perspective on the process and refocus on the things that matter most to you, like the fact that you'll be marrying the love of your life in the company of your closest friends and family. In the end, these are the memories that will stick with you most. 

Juliana Breines, Ph.D. is a doctoral candidate in Social and Personality Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

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