Bring Back The Bridezilla

Why I stopped trying to play it cool about my wedding

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If you or someone you know got married recently, it's possible you've already met the Cool Bride. The Cool Bride is the wedding version of the Cool Girl, from Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. The Cool Bride is super chill. She knows a wedding is "just a day." The Cool Bride sends e-mails like, "not to be a total bridezilla (LOL), but do you think you could send me your home address?" The Cool Bride knows from articles like this, this, and this, that being a bridesmaid is akin to jury duty or possibly even standing trial for murder itself, so she's determined to make the experience, as horrible as it is, vaguely bearable. She's "totally cool" with whatever her bridesmaids want to wear (she trusts them!) and insists there's no need for a bachelorette party or bridal shower. She doesn't want any of her bridesmaids to spend their hard-earned dollars on her, but she'll get them a present at the end of it all for their trouble. The Cool Bride is the opposite of "one of those brides." She isn't stressed about silly things like flowers, or her dress, or the fact that she's spending a sizeable chunk of money to treat everyone she knows (and some plus ones she doesn't) to dinner and an open bar. All the Cool Bride wants is for you, the guest, to have fun. Because that's really what the wedding is about: the guests.

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Because The Cool Bride developed as a reaction to the Bridezilla—the one who insists on bridesmaid weigh ins (no one can be skinnier than her on her big day!)and seven different bridal showers, all with different themes, of course—it's easy to mistake the Cool Bride for the more evolved and feminist of the two. But what the Cool Bride actually embodies is our paradoxical expectations of brides (and women in general), who are expected to meet certain society-enforced ideals, but are ridiculed for publicly pursuing them.

Here's how it plays out: The Cool Bride won't go on a pre-wedding diet, but she's still expected to look flawless and svelte on her wedding day. The Cool Bride isn't going to devote her weekends and weeknights to researching DJs and going over seating plans, but she's still expected to put on a fantastic event. (In fact, a recent survey from The Knot found that couples are spending more than ever on their big day, and, thanks in part to social media's influence, there's more pressure than ever to create a one-of-a-kind experience for guests.) All the Cool Bride has done is add a new dimension of pressure for brides. Because the Cool Bride is expected to accomplish everything a Bridezilla does—only she has to do it effortlessly and with a smile on her face.

I know this in part because for most of my engagement I was the Cool Bride. While my husband proudly declared he would be a "groomzilla" practically from the moment we got engaged (my soon-to-be-brother-in-law has since upgraded the term to "groominator"), I felt conflicted about my status as a bride. Part of this was completely genuine: growing up, I never fantasised about my wedding day, and I honestly felt uncomfortable envisioning myself as the centre of attention. The other part of it, though, was that I really didn't want to be a Bridezilla. And I really didn't want to be a Bridezilla because, besides being a pill, the Bridezilla is also a bad feminist. Or so I thought. As feminist scholar Alena Amato Ruggerio points out in her book Media Depictions of Brides, Wives and Mothers, the Bridezilla is a "sexist representation of women that undermines efforts to show their fierce power and clear capability to get what they want." Like calling an assertive businesswoman a "bitch," the term "Bridezilla" is a sneaky way of shaming women for aggressively pursuing their goals. (Ruggerio, by the way, fully cops to being a "Bridezilla" when she got engaged).

Unfortunately, the media continues to portray women who care deeply about their own weddings as shallow, selfish, and silly, with the apotheosis being the incredibly offensive Bride Wars, in which two best friends viciously sabotage each other's weddings. But even in Sex and the City, at least part of the moral of the story seems to be that Carrie should have just gone to City Hall to get married—if she'd forgone the lavish dress and venue, maybe Big wouldn't have left her at the altar. It's not surprising that, given such recurring representations in the media, brides-to-be have swung in the opposite direction. We don't want to be branded as bridezillas—which Ruggerio points out is an unquantifiable and irrefutable term, much like bitch—and risk losing everyone we love.

But here's the thing: Planning a wedding is hard. It requires a lot of effort and attention to detail. It also requires a lot of money. And whereas in the past, the bridal couple relied heavily on their parents to organise and pay for the wedding, more couples today are doing it themselves. As the stakes get even higher, it's no wonder that some brides crack under pressure. The question is: Why are we so outraged when they do?

I probably only had one real Bridezilla moment during my engagement. A week before my wedding, the upmarket designer store I had bought my dress from called to tell me they had found a small mark on my dress while they were dry-cleaning it. I remained calm on the phone. I asked the saleslady to send me pictures so I could survey the damage. When the pictures loaded, a wave of relief washed over me: the mark was about a quarter of an inch and very thin, practically unnoticeable. "Oh, it's really a tiny mark," I said to the woman on the other line.
<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="4" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"></div></div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://instagram.com/p/sD-YGPGtUO/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top">Beautiful bride!!! #hayleyandchrisnyc</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A photo posted by jennenphelan (@jennenphelan) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2014-08-24T01:11:08+00:00">Aug 23, 2014 at 6:11pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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"Yes," she said, relieved. "I knew you wouldn't be a Bridezilla about it." We agreed to have the dress messengered to the hotel I was getting married at in a few days and hung up. But for some reason I couldn't relax. I had spent more money on that dress than I had—or ever will—on any item of clothing. Yes, it was only a dress, and yes, the mark was barely visible and, of course, in the grand scheme of things it didn't matter. Still. It was my wedding day, my money spent...why was I bending over backwards to make this saleslady feel better? I called her back and demanded in even tones, that she give me 20 percent off.

And she did. Whether she thought I was a "bitch" or a "Bridezilla" about it, I don't know, but I also don't care. Because as a bride or just any female out there, sometimes you should insist (politely, calmly) on getting what you want and deserve—"coolness" be damned.

Written by Hayley Phelan for ELLE.com