Media Matters

Here Comes the Bride… zilla

Glossy marriage mags help turn blushing brides into monstrous narcissists.

By 4.7.08

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Were a Messiah to walk the earth today, sermonizing on mounts and attending the occasional wedding, He would do well to ask before turning water into wine whether the bride prefers cabernet sauvignon or merlot or pinot noir, and whether it ought to be poured by bartenders or served by waiters from bottles or decanters or carafes, for the bride's every whim has the force of a religious diktat at the modern wedding. It is "her big day," you see. She cloaks herself in white, washes her hands of usual etiquette and tongue-lashes any heretic who crosses her.

The rise of Bridezillas is troublesome precisely because most women are considerate, reasonable and humble as anyone else prior to their betrothal -- so many behave worse as their wedding day nears because the very culture that surrounds marriage is flawed. The typical bride is lovable enough to inspire a man to kneel before her, offering to tie his fate to hers. Imagine her thrilled "yes," her endearing tears, the giddiness she feels come morning when she awakes and remembers that she is engaged, and the impulse, when she next patronizes a supermarket or passes a magazine stand, to snap up a half-dozen bridal magazines, publications like In Style Weddings, For the Bride, Bridal Guide, Modern Bride and Bride.

So begins her tragic transformation.

Take a recent In Style Weddings, which happens to top her stack, and subject it to a close reading. "Make It Your Dream Day!" the cover proclaims -- "How to put your personal stamp on every detail."

Says Sarah Gray Miller in her "Editor's Note":

Just as we began dreaming up this issue of In Style Weddings, one of my dearest friends became engaged (congratulations, Landsdale!). Suddenly I wasn't just a bridal editor, but a bridesmaid too -- giggling over the phone about the proposal, surfing the Internet in search of adorable attendants dresses, and pressing my pal about what, exactly, a bona fide bride-to-be hoped to see in our pages. Her answer? Gowns, of course. And flowers. And cakes. And, well, anything that would make her day uniquely and utterly hers. As a result, you'll find the magazine packed with ideas for personalizing every detail, from boutonnieres to bouquets, makeup to music.

An alien reading that passage would never guess that weddings involve a groom, never mind that his lifelong pledge to the bride occasioned the event. Allow me, at least, to congratulate Landsdale's fiance, and to insist that their day is the appropriate locution.

The modern bride is taught since girlhood that every detail is her prerogative; the groom, having never expected a say, rarely objects. It is the bride who suffers for her sense of entitlement: invitations must be addressed, sealed and stamped. Mothers-in-law must be consulted and appeased. Consider poor Landsdale, curled up on her sofa reading a bridal magazine that foists certain expectations upon her that she simply cannot meet.

Acquire those most traditional bridal accessories, she is told, the cake and gown and flowers that are standard at civilization's oldest genre of celebration. And choose carefully, she is made to understand, for everyone expects these traditional objects to reflect her essence "uniquely and utterly."

SURVEYING THIS LANDSCAPE, it's hard to fault those who fret that marriage is becoming a selfish indulgence, rather than a covenant that confers responsibilities to family and community. These culture warriors err when they focus on celebrity divorce and same sex unions, for these are too rare to influence heterosexual couples much for good or ill -- compare their negligible influence to magazines sold at every supermarket that nearly every bride-to-be peruses, specifically hoping to glean ideas and advice about how to get married.

Some even consult these publications prior to getting engaged. "You've decided on the groom," In Style Weddings notes. "Now for the hard part: settling on a single, ideal engagement ring."

Having assigned brides responsibility even for that one chore traditionally given the bridegroom, one almost expects an editor's tip advising the bride to dispense with her fiance entirely -- he can sign the marriage license, of course, but surely a body double could be found whose features complement her blue eyes better for the photographs. Does a wedding so conceived truly celebrate the union of two souls?

The advice column penned by Peggy Post redeems the publication for a few pages, restraining certain reader impulses toward bridal excess. At the same time, merely printing a question lends normalcy to its bizarre assumptions. "My fiance's father died many years ago, and his mother has not remarried," one bride writes. "She's insistent that we include her late husband's name on the invitation, a notion that greatly concerns me. Isn't there some other way to tastefully honor his memory?"

Another questioner illustrates what happens when every detail is thought to be subservient to, obsessed over by, and thus a reflection upon the bride. "I love my mother dearly, but I'm often mortified by the things she wears," she writes, "so I'd like to steer her choice of wedding-day attire without offending her."

It is natural, if beside the point, that bride and groom should want to look their best on their wedding day, but has there ever been a groom who fretted about the suit worn by his father or the wrist watch on his best man? And might that change, were the groom given dictatorial power over the event, and made to feel that its aesthetic stands in for his essence and its every flaw reflects upon him?

Our bride has weightier worries, of course. Literature, couples counselors, and even television sitcoms assure us events as significant as weddings trigger cold feet, questions about how best to begin a marriage and other stressors that concern the day's substance rather than its style. In Style Weddings's exclusively stylistic focus sells ads, but it hardly serves the bride, a realization that, for one jarring moment, occurred to its editors: "What with the hectic schedule of menu tastings, dress fittings and florist appointments, it's easy to lose perspective on why you're getting hitched in the first place."

The helpful tip-as-solution? De-emphasize the material aspects of the wedding, and refocus the engagement around strengthening the marital relationshi -- ha! Just kidding. The magazine actually advises that "Whether for yourself or as a gift to your groom, Other People's Love Letters, a new collection of real-life missives, offers a fun way to refocus on the love part of 'love and marriage.'"

EDITOR SARAH GRAY MILLER'S magazine is neither better nor worse than most of its competitors. None invented the worst aspects of our wedding culture, though all transmit and magnify them unnecessarily. Lest brides-to-be hungry for reading material call me a spoil-sport, however, I might add that Brides Noir, "the fashionable choice for brides of color," published a recent issue that proves a less flawed bridal magazine is possible.

The cover story, noting that "weddings often are all about the bride," hopefully suggests that men take "a more active role in the planning process," and gives tips for "the Guy's Big Day." Says Editor-In-Chief Dana Powell in her letter, "As for this issue, you asked for more plus-size fashions, menswear and real weddings -- and you got it." (Did I fail to mention that In Style Brides displays dress styles beyond the metabolism, and weddings beyond the price range, of its readers? But you knew that.)

How refreshing to read the questions submitted to the Brides Noir advice columnist, for none seeks a well-mannered way to be rude. "I am overjoyed to have found not only the perfect man, but also the perfect pair of shoes for my wedding," a representative bride writes. "I wonder how my dress will look once it's hemmed. Will you even see my fabulous shoes?"

Though celebrity weddings are featured, so are the celebrations of regular couples, each offering earnest advice. Says Accounting Manager Candice Lockhart, "Know that things may not be perfect and some things are out of your control. Just enjoy the day and most of all enjoy each other." The advice of Karla Evans: "Spend more time making sure the foundation of your relationship is set, than worrying about minor wedding day details."

Most radical is Jacqueline Cofield's advice. "Let your fiance help with some creative aspect of the wedding planning. It's much more romantic to realize the vision together on your wedding day," she says.

Brides Noir has a feature on environmentally conscious weddings, reminds readers not to buy a conflict diamond and even offers advice for strengthening ties between families prior to new unions (a feature that begins by noting that "whoever said the wedding is just about the newlyweds must have eloped").

Yes, the magazine gears itself primarily to women, and offers plenty of photos of gowns and cakes and flowers. But most pages are conscious that the wedding isn't all about the bride, or the spectacle, so that were a Messiah to appear at the nuptials of its readers, multiplying sea bass and dinner rolls and pairing them with a Chardonnay or Sancerre, one suspects these brides would feel blessed and grateful, even for a miracle not of their making.

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