Brides have been taking some serious flack recently from disgruntled bridesmaids (we’re looking at you, Jennifer Lawrence). But as she prepares to be a bridesmaid for the fifth time, Aoife Stuart-Madge explains why it’s an honour to be the best woman…
I watched in horror as the best man thrust a can of baked beans and an empty jerry can in the air triumphantly, as he waited for applause. Intended as props to illustrate his speech about my sister’s perceived flaws (that she can’t cook and is in the habit of running out of petrol mid-journey), the ‘hilarious’ gag went down about as well as salmonella at a wedding breakfast. Shifting uncomfortably in my seat, I looked around at the sea of familiar faces. Most of the guests looked as awkward as I felt. Some looked confused, some embarrassed, some angry; while my aunt looked like she was ready to stab the best man in the eye with her cake fork.
In that moment, I wanted to stand up and correct him. To tell him that actually my sister might not be Nigella Lawson (though she makes a mean curry), and, yes, topping up her unleaded is pretty far down her list of priorities, but she is a million times sharper than the rented suit he was wearing. She’s also a beautiful, courageous, self-sufficient firecracker of a woman who is passionate, opinionated and funny as hell.
And so I took the microphone off him and I told him so. You see, as bridesmaid it was my duty to have the bride’s back. What’s more, I enjoyed telling the room how much my sister kicks butt, especially after the best man’s painfully unfunny and extremely reductive comments. It was an honour – and exactly what being a bridesmaid is all about.
Of course, not every woman feels the same way about being bridesmaid. Take Jennifer Lawrence, a four-time bridesmaid. She recently said, “Weddings rock, but I will never be a bridesmaid again. There needs to be a bridesmaids’ union. It’s horrendous. If anyone asks me again, I’m going to say, ‘No. That part of my life is over. I appreciate the ask’.” Cue a slew of opinion pieces backing up Jen over her claims and insisting that being a bridesmaid is a hellish, expensive and stressful waste of time. But, as I prepare to be a bridesmaid for the fifth time, I can’t help but disagree.
Sure, we all know someone with a bridesmaid horror story (one friend was asked to wear less makeup on the day to make the bride look better), and there’s no doubt that a good ‘bridezilla’ tale makes for internet gold. Who didn’t relish reading about the red-headed bridesmaid who had been asked to dye her hair brown for the wedding; the bridesmaids who were asked to chip in for the bride’s $10,500 (Dh38,500) dress because she’d blown her budget; the bride who made her bridesmaids take part in a weekly weigh-in in the lead-up to the wedding… But these viral stories are very much the exception, not the norm.
A label of oppression?
Unfortunately, this kind of wedding folklore has created the myth that inside every bride-to-be lurks a monstrous, tantrum-throwing diva just waiting to emerge from beneath the tulle the moment the date is set. In fact, the thought of being branded ‘bridezilla’ can cause some brides to go the opposite way and become doormats to pacify other, more demanding members of the bridal party (hello, monster-in-law). “I’m getting married soon and after reading so many stories of mean and demanding brides, I have tried hard to be extra nice to all involved with my wedding,” one flustered bride-to-be recently confessed on the forum Confessionsofabrideszilla. “I let the bridesmaids choose what style dress they want to wear; I make a point of only talking about the wedding on one day of the week – I don’t want to bore people with wedding details all the time! I always hear friends say ‘Oh that girl – she talks about her wedding non-stop’, I don’t want people to be saying that about me!” She adds, “My future mother-in-law asked what colour I was thinking of having for my bridesmaids. I said I was considering black because I wouldn’t have to worry about matching colours or upsetting bridesmaids with colour tones that may not suit them. She snapped at me! She said no! It wasn’t allowed. I didn’t say anything because I was worried about seeming like a bridezilla. I don’t like being bossed around, but I also don’t want to be called a bridezilla or upset anyone.”
But here’s the rub: planning a wedding is a stressful, crazy and emotionally charged time. Yet women are now expected to plan the most important day of their lives without so much as breaking a sweat for fear of being labelled a ‘bridezilla’. In reality, most ‘bridezillas’ are perfectly sane women who happen to know what they want. As a grown woman, being decisive, being clear about it and sticking to your guns makes you confident and capable, not a bridezilla.
Guys can be equally resolute in what they want on their big day (I know one groom who insisted on three separate stag dos on three continents), and they can get equally stressed and frazzled inside the wedding-planning pressure cooker, but you rarely hear men described, in the same derogatory way, as a ‘groomzilla’. Along with ‘nag’, ‘high-maintenance’ and ‘bossy, ‘bridezilla’ has become another word in the arsenal against strong, assertive women. And we also don’t whip up false tension between grooms and their best men in quite the same way as we do with a bride and her bridesmaids. Why? Because people delight in a good girl-on-girl scrap. The sad truth is we love stories about female rivalry and we love to pit women against each other. It’s the same type of insidious sexism that portrays and pushes female competitiveness (Taylor Swift versus Katy Perry; Angelina versus Jen; Madonna versus Lady Gaga.) The media has crafted a narrative that women can’t possibly support one another. But it’s time to dispel the myth that women can’t work together without it descending into a cat fight.
What you don’t read about so much are the lovely bridesmaid stories. But they happen every day. Like the bridesmaids who made up a song to the tune of Backstreet Boys all about the bride’s life; the bridesmaid who sent clues to the bride about her surprise hen weekend every week for six months, or the bridesmaid who organised the entire wedding while the bride was living 4,000 miles away (that last one was my sister and the wedding was mine).
Sure, being a bridesmaid can be a stressful, not to mention pricey, experience. Over the years, I’ve probably spent Dh45,000 on airfares and hotels for hen parties, afternoon teas, dance lessons, bride’s gifts and novelty hen party items (including a fetching gold ‘Team Bride’ temporary tattoo). It’s so much like hard work, it’s a travesty. Learning a dance routine, memorising speeches and poems, fielding complaints on the hen WhatsApp group, fitting into dresses, dealing with an endless stream of mini-dramas and meltdowns (The cake! The veil! The cars!)... But it is so worth it. Far from being a thankless task, getting to stand beside and support one of the awesome females in your life on such an important day is a privilege. What’s really sad is that a growing number of women are now opting out of having bridesmaids altogether for fear that the duty has become a poisoned chalice. But robbing brides of having their best women by their side on their big day is the real travesty.
Beware of Groomzilla!
Brides usually take the rap for freaking out over weddings, but these stories prove guys lose it too (or maybe weddings are just stressful for everyone!)
“I was DJ-ing at a wedding where the groom thought of himself as a muso. He vetoed anything he thought was too ‘mainstream’ or ‘cheesy’ – anything that gets people dancing at weddings, basically. On the day, the dance floor was empty and the only one who appeared to be enjoying the odd underground indie music was the groom.” – Adam
“At one wedding I went to the best man’s speech was getting a few laughs at the groom’s expense – which he obviously didn’t like – so he grabbed the mic and took over. His ‘humour’ involved insulting the bride’s father (who paid for the wedding) and he didn’t even mention his lovely bride. But the worst was when he broke into ‘The Robot’ during the first dance, leaving his new wife standing alone looking on.” – Anna
“I was at a wedding where the groom insisted on having three best men and 15 ushers. The bride only had one bridesmaid and the budget was blown on suits, but he apparently needed his ‘bros’ there.” – Eleanor
Photos by Istock/Shutterstock