It's incredibly easy to dismiss the Bridget Jones movies as a series of old fashioned jokes about becoming a spinster and not fitting into your skinny jeans — a cruel perpetuation of the societal fears women are told they're "supposed" to have as they head into their 30s and 40s. But I'd argue that this reading of Ms. Jones isn't quite fair. While she certainly shouldn't be anyone's poster child for how to be a woman in the world, she is the poster child for accepting that sometimes, our innermost thoughts don't always line up with our feminist philosophies.
Bridget certainly lambasts herself with some of the cruelest language one can use towards themselves. In this month's long-awaited third film, Bridget Jones's Baby , Bridge calls herself a "slut" and a "lardass" for sleeping with a random guy at a festival and for gaining weight while pregnant, respectively (not exactly a body positive or sex positive message). In the diary that made her so famous, she focuses her interests almost entirely in obtaining a relationship with a man, losing weight, and how much alcohol she's consumed (with a side of guilt for each and every beverage). These pages aren't exactly the image of feminist triumph, I'll admit. But it's important to remember one thing, as Bridget says to Mark Darcy when he snoops on her private thoughts in Bridget Jones's Diary, "It's just a bloody diary." Bridget isn't spouting this problematic language in her daily life — we're getting an unfiltered look into this woman's innermost thoughts, and ones that so many of us have when no one else is listening.
"If we were all privy to one another’s inner dialogue, we would recognize that we are so very much alike."
"I think that that’s why she’s such a beloved character because we recognize ourselves in her struggles and not just her challenges she faces in her life, but in her, you know, her struggles toward self-acceptance," says Bridget Jones herself, Renee Zellweger, at a roundtable with reporters in New York. "She sort of represents the truth of who we are versus who it is that we aspire to be."
As a feminist, raised by a feminist mother, I constantly feel the pressure that I'm not "supposed" to be OK with feeling these things. If I find myself worrying about being lonely (see: finding a man), or letting my health go (see: obsessing over my weight and drinking too much), or the fact that none of this is solved as I approach age 30, the thoughts involuntarily flying around my head aren't going to be eloquent feminist prose. They pop up, uninvited and against my own progressive creedos, ready to criticize my belly or beg me to wonder why my ex-boyfriend thrice removed broke up with me and if that's the reason I will be alone forever. I don't relish these thoughts. I don't welcome them. They aren't the words that I want in my brain, but they're there regardless. Sometimes I even journal (or write in a diary, if you will) just to get them the hell out of my head so I can move on with my day and my life. And the single element that makes those persistent brainworms so much worse is the subsequent pressure I feel to have never thought them at all.
But then along comes Bridge. She thinks those thoughts. She dwells on those things in moments of weakness. She's sometimes involuntarily ruled by those thoughts when no one else is looking. At the same time, especially in Bridget Jones's Baby, she gets back up and gives life her all — she has her sex positive romp at a music festival, shirks the ageism that plagues rituals such as said music festival, and she kicks ass at work. She doesn't do any of this perfectly, as after all she is the heroine of a goofy comedy series, so mistakes are necessary for a few good laughs. But through all the successes, failures, and thoughts that accompany both, she gives a sense of community to women everywhere who think those self-doubting thoughts and feel guilty about it.
"If we were all privy to one another’s inner dialogue, we would recognize that we are so very much alike. We all feel the same pressures to measure up, and we all share the same fears that we won’t," says Zellweger. "And we all put the same pressures on ourselves. We’re all self-deprecating."
But there's another issue: much of the plots of these films focus on which guy Bridget will end up with, as she careens towards that happy ending focused on a big, romantic kiss, often with no professional triumph in sight. I admit, this is also not, on the surface, all that empowering. But for Bridget Jones's Baby director Sharon Maguire, much of Bridget's journey isn't really about nabbing a man or keeping off calories, or whatever superficially decorates our heroine's diary. "I think there’s the valid thing that we all have a fear of loneliness," she says alongside Zellweger at the New York roundtable.
Because, while women do not actually need romantic partners to survive or even thrive, it is OK to live life championing that assertion and to still feel lonely or to fear loneliness. The concept is something the third film really brings out in Bridget's journey. At the outset of Bridget Jones's Baby, we find Bridge, still single at 43, singing in her living room with a glass of wine on her birthday — alone. The context is that her friends are married with children, they've all grown in a different direction and the result is, well, a lonely one. It's something Zellweger says she relates to, and one that any woman whose friends' lives are moving in a different direction than their own can understand.
"It’s very strange, and it is a very unique kind of loneliness ... because then it means defining your growth in a different way and insisting that it happen despite the absence of this thing that makes it happen naturally," the actress says.
And that's exactly what Bridget Jones champions: "defining your growth" for yourself, whether that process falls in line with how you think it should happen or not. That growth generally takes Bridge a while. She usually gets derailed by romantic storylines and recipes for physical comedy, but at the heart of this character is that unsure feeling every woman can understand. And with a little help from dear Bridge, thankfully, that feeling isn't so hard to handle.
Image: Universal (2)