'Momzilla' Berates Bride-to-Be

When an overbearing mother berates her daughter, will anyone try to stop it?

March 10, 2009— -- Searching for the perfect wedding dress is supposed to be a magical experience that women fantasize about from a young age. But when the bride is receiving insults from an overbearing mother, the dream becomes a nightmare.

Bridezillas, please step aside -- "Momzilla" is on the loose.

Watch the story on "What Would You Do?" Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

Tensions can run high during the often-stressful time before a wedding, leading to clashes between mothers and daughters, and Momzillas are not an uncommon sight, according to Ronnie Rothstein, CEO and owner of Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan.

"We get Momzilla here every week," Rothstein said. "When a mother comes in with a bride, you see all of the good and bad in the relationships."

ABC News wanted to see how people would react to an over-the-top Momzilla berating her thin daughter in one of Manhattan's exclusive wedding salons. As a bride-to-be modeled her dream dress, Momzilla went on a verbal rampage.

In the middle of the salon at Kleinfeld Bridal, Maria Regina, an actress hired by ABC News, yelled at another actress who played the part of her bride-to-be daughter.

"I'm paying for the dress, I think I have a right to tell you what this dress looks like!" Regina shouted. "Is that understood? I'm just telling you the truth. Don't you want to hear what I have to say?"

The reactions to the mother and daughter were varied, with most people showing sympathies to the bride while unwilling to confront the overbearing mom.

According to Colgate University psychology professor Carrie Keating, emotional outbursts are the core makings of a true Momzilla.

"It's an over-controlling, overly anxious, overly narcissistic, demanding mother of the bride who seems for some reason determined to ruin her daughter's day," said Keating.

According to Keating, change is the primary cause of the discord.

"There is oftentimes conflict because the relationship between mothers and daughters is changing," said Keating. "And the moms themselves are requiring some attention -- what about them? They, in fact, are the ones in a sense, being left behind."

'You're So Pretty, Don't Cry'

"The back just shows your bones. You look anorexic in this dress," Regina ranted. "If grandma saw you, she'd think you looked like a slut. It's disgusting the way you look in this dress."

At first, our Momzilla got some horrified looks as other mothers and daughters in the bridal salon couldn't help but stare, her cruel comments sparking concern. But it wasn't until she exited the salon area and left the distressed bride alone, that fellow customers felt compelled to act.

Many customers attempted to comfort and support the verbally abused bride, but no one dared to say a word to the Momzilla -- some even seemed to stick up for their peer.

So what should you do if you come across a Momzilla?

According to Paula Cohen, a mother who stepped in when Regina left the scene, it's simple:

"You should mediate, and you tell the mother, please be a bit softer," said Cohen. "Because this is a very emotional time, you cannot tell her the truth in her face, tell her: Give me three or four [dress] choices -- mothers know best."

But not everyone agrees that mothers know best. While Momzilla continued to berate her daughter publicly, people like Jennifer Green felt compelled to get involved and say something.

"Stick to your guns, honey," Green encouraged the bride. "You're marrying the man that you love, stick to your guns."

'A Saving Grace'

In the midst of all the tension, an angel appeared in the form of Loulie Walker, a New York City wedding planner who felt for the distressed bride and offered her encouraging advice.

"You should be in heaven," said Walker. "I can't imagine how she's made you feel, but you should write her off and get the dress that you want to get."

Walker left, only to return moments later.

"Here's my card. You have a single question about your entire wedding, you call me, because this should be the most fun six months of your life and you don't need any of that," Walker said. "I'm serious. Just e-mail, a cup of coffee, whatever you would like, I am more than happy to help."

To the distressed bride, played by actress Liz Holtan, Walker's reaction was more than just a kind gesture. In her interview, Holtan said Walker's behavior "was a saving grace."

The Plus-Size Bride

But what if the bride was played by a plus-size actress, instead of a thin one? Would the customers' reactions toward Momzilla, or the bride, be any different.

"Oh, gosh, I think this dress looks terrible on you. Just terrible," Regina said. "Why? Because you look fat in this dress, that's why."

Jennifer Ponton, an actress hired to play the role of the bride, stood alone recovering from the insults.

Cheryl Egan, a mother shopping at Kleinfeld with her daughter, rushed to Ponton's side.

"You look beautiful," said Egan. "What's the matter? Look how gorgeous you look."

As Egan continued to comfort the distressed plus-size bride, Regina returned to the scene. Egan wasn't afraid to share her point of view with Regina.

"My opinion is if she's happy, and she's the bride, it's her day," said Egan. "All brides are beautiful. This kid is happy, it's her day, you got to support her -- look at her. She's beautiful."

Regina's words were harsh, but nearly 100 bystanders avoided confronting her one on one, except for one mother, who heard Regina say, "I'm not crazy about this dress. I think she looks like a fat pig in this dress."

Those words sparked a reaction from Tola Ige, a mother from London who was at Kleinfeld with her daughter. Immediately, Ige pulled Regina aside to have a heart-to-heart.

'Tell Her Something Nice'

"Don't call her fat," Ige advised. "You are her mom. Don't call her fat, please."

Regina asked, "What would you say if you were her mother and if she looked really ugly?"

Ige quickly put Regina in her place.

"I would never, ever call my child ugly -- never, no matter how big that child is, because today is her important day, you know, just use wisdom, tell her something nice," she said. "Please, use another word, but not 'fat.'"

When ABC's John Quinones revealed that the scenario had been staged, he spoke with Ige's daughter, Yewande, about her mother's intervention.

Yewande said proudly, "That's her. That's really her. That's kind of how she raised us, you know, when you see somebody hurting like that, you just step in there. That's her completely."

Quinones asked, when it really comes down to it, whose day is the wedding day, anyway -- the mother's or the daughter's?

Both mother and daughter Ige responded in unison: "It's the daughter's."