What do we all love about Bridget Jones? We love that we could all be her; that we are her. That we say stupid things, that we’re constantly trying to lose those 5-10 pounds, that we’re trying to quit one vice or another, whether it’s smoking, drinking, or bad choices in men. When she gives that speech to the ever so sexy Mark Darcy (my total celebrity crush!), it is the culmination of her character, and it’s that speech that really makes us all fall in love with her forever.
“First off, I embarrass you. I can’t ski, I can’t ride, I can’t speak Latin, my legs only come up to here and yes I will always be just a little bit fat…It feels like you’re waiting to find someone in the VIP room who’s—who’s so fantastic, just the way she is, that you don’t need to fix her.”
She is just a little bit awkward. She’s not perfect. She’s a bit of a hot mess. And we identified with that. We loved that. And we loved that Mark Darcy fell for her…just the way she was.
Well, now Bridget Jones is having a baby. And she’s new and improved. She’s thinner and has had a bit of work done on her face. Does this matter? Maybe it wouldn’t normally matter, but in the case of Bridget Jones, where most of the jokes centered on body image, it may be too far fetched to imagine a “new and improved” Bridget Jones. Or is it? Take a look at the trailer.
So far, even though the trailer is adorable and stays true to concocted and disastrous Bridget Jones style, it is being criticized. Why? Because, as film critic Owen Gleiberman put it, “watching the trailer, I didn’t stare at the actress and think: She doesn’t look like Renée Zellweger. I thought: She doesn’t look like Bridget Jones! Oddly, that made it matter more.”
Why does it matter? Because we want to see Bridget Jones the way we remember her. But that’s impossible. It’s been about ten years! And, in case we have forgotten, Bridget Jones is a fictional character. So, if the actress who portrays her has had some work done or lost some weight, or both, we, as the audience, have to suspend our disbelief and go along with the new Bridget Jones. And, of course, Bridget Jones would have grown older. (Funny, I remember similar criticisms when Sex and the City 2 was released, as if the actresses had no right to age!)
But Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) looks great! So maybe it’s not about how you actually look, but how you’re expected to look. Perhaps it’s okay to age, but if they look “too” good, critics (often male) wonder why. Did they have work done? Probably. Who cares. Did they drop weight? Probably. Who cares? Men care. Women have to fall into their prescribed notion of what we should look like as we age. And at age 47, it should be wrinkles and frumpy clothes. Right? Cute is no longer an option?
Rose McGowan, in a counter piece, had something say about that. “How dare you use her as a punching bag in your mistaken attempt to make a mark at your new job. How dare you bully a woman who has done nothing but try to entertain people like you. Her crime, according to you, is growing older in a way you don’t approve of. Who are you to approve of anything? What you are doing is vile, damaging, stupid and cruel. It also reeks of status quo white-male privilege.”
We, as women, get to decide how we age. Whether that’s naturally, with plastic surgery, with personal trainers, or weight loss surgeries. We set the standard. We rewrite the expectation. And if that’s confusing to the opposite gender, that’s just too bad.
For the record, I actually think Bridget Jones does look like herself in the trailer for the upcoming film. Thinner yes, and happier, but the core of her character is still there. The question is, can Bridget Jones be the awkward, silly character when the body jokes and “wobbly bits” one liners are no longer relevant? Is Bridget Jones actually really all about body image?
If so, we’re in much bigger trouble than we think.