Content Note: This article contains mention of unhealthy weight loss, calorie counting, and disordered eating.

As a fan of the romantic comedy genre, I absolutely adore Bridget Jones’ Diary and I am far from alone. A record smashing hit when it came out in 2001, it remains one of the most successful rom-coms of all time. Nonetheless, it is common consensus that Bridget Jones’ Diary could never be made today, and pretty much everyone (myself included) thinks that’s a sign of progress. So, why is it that a movie full of fatphobic and sexist moments is still my go-to comfort film?

The ubiquity of unquestioned sexual harassment in Bridget’s world has aged extremely poorly. Predatory men, like Bridget’s lecherous boss Mr. Fitzherbert (Paul Brooke) whom she cheekily nicknames Mr Titspervert, are often the butt of the joke. Today, it’s difficult to laugh along at the normalisation of their behaviour. The predators in Bridget Jones, however, aren’t always laughed away as pathetic creeps. The film also romanticises harassment as an acceptable way to initiate a relationship. When Bridget’s other boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) sends her ‘flirtatious’ messages, she immediately imagines their wedding. The message prompting the daydream? “Mortified to have caused offense. Will avoid all non-PC overtones in the future, PS like your tits in that top.” Yikes. Later, Cleaver goes even further, groping Bridget’s bum in the lift. Played by someone less attractive, Daniel Cleaver would be plain pervy. Instead, he became an enduring sex symbol.

A modern viewer might also cringe at Bridget’s obsession with losing her – as she puts it – ‘singleton’ status. After all, Bridget’s diary is born of her fear that “unless something changed soon, […] I was going to die fat and alone.” The opening credits unforgettably play over Bridget drunkenly singing “Don’t want to be all by myself!” The message she’s sending becomes painfully clear: the only route to happiness lies in finding a man and this, naturally, can only be achieved through the loss of weight.

Bridget Jones remains something rare: a film aimed at female audiences, about a woman, directed by a woman, based on a book written by a woman”

Each of Bridget’s diary entries begins with a meticulous record of her weight and calorie intake for the day. This disordered eating masked as self-improvement is almost unwatchable. Constant references to the gorgeous Renée Zellweger’s ‘chubbiness’ are all the more disturbing since she’s a size 10 or 12 at most; whereas in 2020 the average UK woman’s size was 16. Ultimately, Bridget’s belief in the necessity of this type of self-improvement is revealed as deluded. Love interest number two, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), declares: “I like you very much. Just as you are.” Her friends receive this news with total shock: “Just as you are? Not thinner?” Inadvertently, they provide a delicious satire of the absurdity of unattainable beauty standards. Yes, this message comes from male validation and, as in every romcom, the film’s happy ending comes with finding heteronormative love. However, the film’s portrayal of coupledom isn’t unequivocally positive. Faced with ‘smug marrieds’ who remind her that time’s running out to ‘get sprogged up’, a deadpan Bridget asks: “Is it one in four marriages that end in divorce now, or one in three?”

Ultimately, Bridget Jones doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should we. Despite its very real flaws, the film is a feminist parody, and not regressively sexist. Bridget isn’t supposed to be aspirational or an everywoman. Instead, she is closer to a ‘tragicomic sister’ – an exaggerated sketch of the absurdities that stem from being a woman trying to have it all. Her insecurities and problems might be larger than life, but the film’s popularity today shows they’re still relevant to many women. The sexual harassment in Bridget Jones is based on workplace experiences of author Helen Fielding in the ’90s. Asked why the film couldn’t be made today, she gracefully replied, “Thank you, #MeToo”. However, the scale of #MeToo and body positivity movement and the film’s continued fame indicate that women still relate all too well to Bridget’s experiences. They’re just less resigned than her to harassment and the pressure to have a perfect body.


Mountain View

Sex/Life': plenty of sex and not a lot of life

Bridget Jones remains something rare: a film aimed at female audiences, about a woman, directed by a woman, based on a book written by a woman, which itself was inspired by Jane Austen’s all-time classic Pride and Prejudice. It’s estimated that on the film’s release 60% of the viewing public was female. 20 years on there are still few onscreen depictions of female lust as frank and joyous as that of the self-proclaimed ‘wanton sex goddess’ Bridget Jones. The film unabashedly caters to female desire, with the nation’s crush Colin Firth reprising his role as Mr. Darcy. One of the top-liked reviews on Letterboxd is the hilarious, albeit heteronormative: “Hugh Grant rowing a boat saying “F**k me I love Keats” and then emerging from a pond in a wet button-up shirt with a wilted cigarette in his mouth is the Female Gaze.”

But none of this is why I keep returning to Bridget Jones. I love her because she’s not just another ‘quirky’ romcom heroine. She’s a chaotic mess, who falls out of taxis, sings terribly at karaoke, and is appallingly bad at public speaking. The endearing Bridget never quite becomes who she wants to be, but nevertheless, she joyfully blunders her way to a fairy-tale ending. She reminds us that the real joke is demanding the impossible of ourselves. When I feel like my life is a shambles, Bridget Jones’ Diary reminds me to laugh at my public embarrassments and to love myself. Just as I am.