I always know exactly what people are going to say when I tell them what I do for a living. I explain that I’m a wedding coordinator and, nine times out of ten, they ask if I work with a lot of bridezillas.
When I first started getting this question, I wish I could say that I knew enough to call these people out. I should have said: “Did you seriously just use the word ‘bridezilla’? Do you frequently equate women to literal monsters?”
But I never did because, at the time, I didn’t think that they’d done anything wrong. The word bugged me, true, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I thought it was because “bridezilla” smacked of bad reality TV. It was a lazy portmanteau used to drive up ratings.
It was only after I met Fiona* that I realized just how problematic—and how wrong—the myth of the “bridezilla” really is.
Fiona was the first bride who ever yelled at me. It was for 45 minutes about her rehearsal dinner.
And that wasn’t even the worst part.
In the two weeks leading up to her wedding, Fiona sent me 65 emails. During the rehearsal, she yelled at her jet-legged mom about a veil. Minutes before the ceremony, she enforced a “no talking to Fiona” rule that included her partner.
When I tell people about Fiona, they tell me that she was “crazy.” They roll their eyes and make a joke. Often, they use the “b” word (I’ll let you decide which one).
I understand why people react this way. Thanks to a lifetime of WE television reruns and badly written rom-coms, it’s second nature for us to assume that whatever it is, it’s the girl’s fault. Unfortunately for Fiona — and really, for all womxn — the word “bridezilla” hides what’s really going on.
What I’ve Seen
As a wedding coordinator, it’s quite literally my job to plan weddings. As such, I know what my clients spend on catering and how much they tip the DJ. I know which relatives they think will drink too much and which to keep separate during the reception. I even mail the marriage license.
Thanks to my job, I’ve learned a lot about modern wedding planning. One of the most important lessons? Bridezillas are not born. They are created.
What do I mean by this fortune cookie message of a phrase? I mean that there is nothing inherent about a woman that makes her more or less likely than a man—or another woman—to become a “bridezilla.” In fact, bridezillas as we know them don’t exist at all.
That’s a tough pill for people to swallow. They hear “bridezilla” and think of a screaming woman with mascara running down her face, of a lipstick-wearing lizard dressed in a veil, or of a bride holding a gun and saying “I just wanted to be a Kardashian for a day and live my life like normal.” (I am not, by the way, making these examples up. They are literally in the first two rows of Google Images when you search “bridezilla.”)
I’ve worked with a lot of brides and I’m here to tell you: It’s all a lie. The so-called “bridezilla” doesn’t exist. What does exist is an overworked human being.
Let’s Talk About Work
One of the most problematic ironies about weddings is that nobody thinks they’re work. Because a wedding is pretty and fun and about looove, we seem to forget that it is also often a multi-thousand dollar affair with a team of ten to twelve paid professionals and more than 100 guests. It’s not just a wedding. It’s an event.
And events take work. How much work exactly? Ten hours a week, give or take.
I got that stat from one of the very few surveys available about the wedding industry. My industry is woefully under-researched, which means that this rare legitimate survey also comes from one of the biggest players in the wedding space.
The Knot conducted the survey in 2010 (please see my earlier statement about the sad state of good, timely research in the wedding industry). In it, they asked 1,055 women—74 percent of whom were engaged and planning a wedding—how much time they spent every week on wedding planning. Almost half said at least five hours. Nearly a fifth said ten.
That’s ten hours spent on wedding planning every. single. week.
These are not “crazy” weddings, either, by which I mean, 500-person affairs with five-course dinners and hand-carved marble tables. This is ten hours a week to plan every wedding you’ve ever been to, maybe even the wedding you’re planning right now. The one with 100 to 150 guests, a buffet line, and, if you can swing it, a photo booth.
Planning a wedding is an (unpaid) part-time job and yet we’re surprised when the people planning these things get stressed, which brings me back to Fiona.
What’s Really Going On
Fiona was a normal human adult, which is to say that she didn’t have ten extra hours in her week to do anything, let alone plan a major event. But unfortunately for her, finding an extra ten hours a week was exactly what the world expected of Fiona when she had the audacity to fall in love and get engaged.
Fiona’s reaction to wedding planning — the obsessive emailing, the constant worrying, the yelling—wasn’t some crazy phenomenon that happens to a bride because, you know, womxn. It was the natural response of a person who had simply had enough.
I know this because people really liked Fiona.
During her reception, so many guests insisted on giving impromptu toasts in Fiona’s honor that I had to physically take the mic away so we could move on to dances. One woman was so overcome by her love for the bride that she couldn’t finish her toast. She was crying too hard.
All night long, guests told me that Fiona was the most patient, thoughtful, and generous person they had ever met. Many even had examples. Fiona had taught them how to cook so they could feed an aging relative. Fiona had put them up for weeks when they were in-between apartments. Fiona donated to charity, cared for orphans, walked on water.
Even if only half of these stories were true—and really, why lie to the wedding planner?—the Fiona they knew was radically different from the Fiona I knew. What was going on?
Ten hours a week, that’s what.
Imagine if Fiona had started acting like she did in any context outside of her own wedding. What would we have done? Called HR. Encouraged her to see a therapist. At least asked if she was feeling OK. But because Fiona was a bride and because the work she was doing was planning her wedding, we didn’t do any of this. Instead, it was simpler to call her a nasty name. It was easier to laugh.
These days, when people ask me if I work with a lot of bridezillas, I look them dead in the eyes and tell them the truth.
“Bridezillas don’t exist.”
It’s a real conversation-stopper.
It’s also true. A woman who plans her wedding is not destined to become a “bridezilla.” There’s nothing about her—or her mom or her sister or anyone who happens to identify as female and also happens to be involved in a wedding—that makes her inherently more likely to “freak out,” “act crazy,” or “be hysterical.”
Rather, a “bridezilla” is the very natural, very rational response to the very unnatural, very irrational amount of time and effort that it takes to plan a modern wedding. Now, tell me: Why isn’t there a cute little pejorative for that reality?
*Name has been changed.