Bridezilla (UK, North America and Australia)

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Bridezilla 🌎
World map.png
Location: UK, North America and Australia
Definition: Labelling for a bride, striving for perfection and power in an aggressive but also victimised fashion, moulded and targeted by the wedding industry and media
Keywords: UK North America Australia Europe Women Gender Wedding Marriage Consumption Identity Family Kinship Patriarchy Domestic labour
Clusters: Market Self-care
Author: Julia Carter
Affiliation: University of the West of England, UK
Website: Profile page at UWE

By Julia Carter, University of the West of England, UK

The term bridezilla was coined by Diane White in a 1995 Boston Globe newspaper article to refer to ‘out of control’ brides (Moorhead 2018). The term caught on and has become part of a common wedding language used throughout Anglophone countries. Bridezilla is a portmanteau of ‘bride’ and ‘Godzilla’, the latter being a Japanese fictional monster originating in a series of Ishirô Honda films starting in 1954 (Engstrom 2012: 122). In Western media discourse in the UK, North America and Australia, bridezilla came to signify a monstrous version of a demure, virginal, and hyperfeminized bride. She is ‘out-of-control’ as well as ‘controlling’ in the entitlement and demand for perfection on ‘her day’: vulnerable and over-emotional, while being fierce, stubborn and military-like (Engstrom 2012: 171). Interpreted at face value, this role could be seen as the epitome of feminist independence, autonomy and power. However, the connotation is not one of empowerment but rather of derision, emerging from hetero-patriarchal anxiety (Samek 2014: 11).
Sample wedding cakes at a national wedding show, UK. Source: Author. © Julia Carter.

In Britain, wedding work – planning, organising and managing usually large wedding events – tends to be essentially the domain of women. This work is traditionally treated by heterosexual couples as an extension of domestic labour, and one in which women have far more invested than men (Carter and Duncan 2017). The work required to organise a traditional white wedding can be substantial, involving complex budgeting, hiring and liaising with multiple suppliers, managing guest lists, mediating between family members, negotiating with venues and much more. In interviews about weddings, grooms-to-be tend to report taking a background role in the wedding preparation, often stating that the wedding was for or about their bride-to-be (Carter and Duncan 2017; 2018). Similar views are expressed by the majority of women, some of whom would want more input from their male partners, but also accept the burden, even if reluctantly. These women commonly convey a fear of being seen as bridezillas. Like other forms of domestic labour in Britain and elsewhere, wedding work is overlooked as a form of feminized labour (Akorsu 2016), despite the fact that it is well-remunerated when outsourced and certainly meeting the national average wage in England (Indeed.co.uk, 2019). As such, ‘wedding work serves as a voluntary means by which women themselves continue to do domestic, unpaid work that prevents their own progress in the wider world, […] outside the realm of the feminine’ (Engstrom 2012: 186-7, emphasis in original).

Heavy responsibility for the wedding work, alongside the demand for perfection in weddings (driven by the wedding industry and media), have created a superbride phenomenon in Britain (Boden 2003). The superbride is a singular bridal consumer identity created (and targeted) by the wedding media, in particular bridal magazines. It combines two contrasting types of a ‘childish fantasizer’ and a ‘project manager.’ Under this consumer identity, brides are expected to have developed fantasies about their weddings (often harboured since childhood) and to fulfil their expectations through ‘managing’ the event, with the help of bridal consumer goods and services. Thus, the bridal identity – whether the superbride or bridezilla – is enabled, or disabled, by acts of consumption (Ingraham 1999; Illouz 1997). In other words, the bridezilla identity emerges from the ‘wedding ideological complex’ – a cultural obsession with white weddings which uphold some particular class-based, gendered and racial hierarchies and inequalities – which in turn supports the ‘wedding-industrial complex’ – a transnational wedding industry intent on maintaining and growing this cultural obsession with white weddings. For example, there are four National Wedding Shows in England every year and countless local exhibitions; since 2017 Lux Life magazine have hosted global wedding awards for those working in the wedding industry; and there are almost infinite resources for wedding couples online from Instagram and Pinterest (156,643,683 posts for #wedding on Instagram) to online magazines such as Brides.com, and local, national and international wedding planners, venues, honeymoon destinations, and so on.

Through consumption practices becoming an essential part of most big white weddings from the 1980s onwards, women are able to construct a bridal identity that encompasses core features of white femininity: demure, soft, feminine, and disciplined in bodily appearance and behaviour (Boden 2003; Carter 2018). That is, she must be disciplined in her self-care – dieting, taking care of her skin and hair, beauty regimes – and she must comply with the discipline imposed by outside sources, such as bridal magazines, wedding dress fitters, wedding shows, bridesmaids and so on. Thus, the bride becomes weighted down by expectations of behaviour: to be ultra-feminine, but also super-organised (women often organise wedding events alongside full-time work); excited, but also in control of her emotions and body. The clash of such expectations inevitably creates an additional source of stress. Moreover, when a woman fails to meet such expectations or otherwise deviates from appropriate female-gendered bride-to-be behaviour, she is met with the disciplinary labels of a bridezilla. The narrative of bridezilla, perpetuated by wedding media, becomes internalised for women who subject themselves to self-surveillance in efforts to avoid becoming monstrous.

Wedding dresses on display at a national wedding show, UK. Source: Author. © Julia Carter.

While the ‘monstrous’ behaviour of the bridezilla could be interpreted as a rational response to taking on a project management job on top of existing responsibilities and inequalities in work and gender, the label bridezilla gains traction in a society which is considered ‘postfeminist’ (McRobbie 2009). Postfeminist societies exist where sexism and gendered inequalities are allowed to continue and even flourish because gender equality has supposedly been achieved and feminism no longer needed or relevant: one can practice so-called ‘enlightened sexism’ (Douglas 2010). In such societies, the double standards towards women’s allegedly volunteer labour in wedding work seem non-problematic. On the one hand, it is normal for women to undertake unequal (unpaid) labour in wedding-work (as with other forms of domestic labour). On the other hand, it is acceptable for them to be morally judged when exhibiting supposedly inappropriately-gendered behaviour in carrying out this work. Without a feminist ideology, women are not only loaded with resolving these conflicting constraints while lacking a language of inequality, but they are also led to believe this is what they ‘want’.

The bridezilla, therefore, operates to uphold ‘binary gender constructs to discipline women while thinly disguising the hegemonic hetero-patriarchal structures undergirding […] wedding culture’ (Samek 2014: 11). It is the wedding culture, through the wedding media, that produces the ideal bridal identity coupled with its monstrous double – the bridezilla. This identity is recreated and reproduced by US films and TV shows such as: Bridezillas (2004-present), The Wedding Planner (2001) or Bride Wars (2009) to name a few. The bridezilla is the monstrous feminine, or uncontrollable femininity, posing a threat to male power in her strength and deviance. An autonomous and powerful bride ‘crystallizes the fears associated with feminine sexual, economic, and political power’; she both ‘defies and reinforces sexist notions of femininity’ (Samek 2014: 15). In a hetero-patriarchal society, brides and bridezillas are allowed to reign over their weddings because it is a temporary position, which is ‘resolved and domesticated through the wedding ritual’ (2014: 19). After her wedding day, a woman ‘must rejoin the still-patriarchal world where she returns to the secondary status her gender still holds’ (Engstrom 2012: 180). The bridezilla identity is both disciplinary (warning women against behaviour inappropriate to their normative gender identity) and temporary- it liberates women for a time, allowing them power, control and decision-making, the outcome of which – the wedding – returns them to the feminine realm where their short-lived power is relinquished. Bridezilla women are thus ‘tamed’ through both imposed norms of the temporary, wedding-related, consumption and their subsequent domestication.

While the ideal bride is an object of domination, the bridezilla is overly autonomous, breaking the codes of femininity twice, in her role as a ‘woman’ and as a ‘bride.’ For bridal women are expected to become event organisers, planners, managers, but they are warned not to take this too far – not to step outside the bounds of acceptable femininity. Once they start to exhibit ‘unacceptable’ behaviours (such as demanding excessive perfection), they are labelled as monsters. As Samek notes, ‘the bridezilla becomes monstrous by crossing or threatening to cross boundaries between human and nonhuman, normal and supernatural, properly gendered and gender-deviant’ (2012: 15). In being unable to fulfil both roles of autonomous subject, project manager and working woman on the one hand, and feminine subordination, demureness and passivity on the other, the female subject is caught in a vortex of desire and repulsion, conscience and narcissism: she is ‘beside herself’ (Kristeva 1982:1). The paradox of bridezilla is the abject horror mirror image of the blushing bride.

References

Akorsu, A. D. 2016. ʻFeminization of Laborʼ, in Wong, A. et al. (eds.). The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies

Boden, S. 2003. Consumerism, romance and the wedding experience. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Carter, J. 2018. ʻWhite weddings and the reproduction of white femininity.ʼ Families Relationships and Societies, 7 (3): 515-520

Carter, J. and Duncan, S. 2016. ʻWedding paradoxes: individualized conformity and the ‘perfect day’ʼ, The Sociological Review, 65 (1): 3-20

Carter, J. and Duncan, S. 2018. Reinventing couples: Tradition, agency and bricolage. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Douglas, S.J. 2010. Enlightened sexism: The seductive message that feminism’s work is done. New York: Henry Holt & Co

Engstrom, E. 2012. The bride factory: Mass media portrayals of women and weddings. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Illouz, E. 1997. Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. London: University of California Press

Indeed.co.uk. 2019. ʻWedding planner salaries in Englandʼ, https://www.indeed.co.uk/salaries/Wedding-Planner-Salaries,-England

Ingraham, C. 1999. White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture. New York: Routledge

Kristeva, J. 1982. Powers of horror: An essay on abjection. New York: Columbia University Press

Lux Life Magazine. 2019. ‘Global wedding awards’, https://www.lux-review.com/lux_awards/wedding-awards/

McRobbie, A. 2009. The aftermath of feminism: Gender, culture and social change. London: Sage

Moorhead, L. 2018. ‘Devil in a white dress: Brides are too afraid of becoming “bridezilla” to ask for what they want’, Washington Post, September 14, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/09/14/feature/brides-are-too-afraid-of-becoming-bridezilla-to-ask-for-what-they-want/

Samek, A.A. 2014. ʻDomesticating matrimonial monstrosity: Bridezillas and narratives of feminine containmentʼ, in Ruggerio, A. (ed.). Media depictions of brides, wives, and mothers. Plymouth: Lexington Books

The National Wedding Show. 2019. https://nationalweddingshow.co.uk/