Bridget Jones Might Have Its Flaws, But 20 Years On It’s Still Refreshingly Relatable
There are a handful of films I return to year after year, for their comforting nature and because – despite the smooth sheen of Hollywood gloss – they contain something real and lovely and authentic.
I was still a bit young to watch the original Bridget Jones adaptation when it first came out, but I remember the posters plastered on every bus and billboard at the time. Bridget twinkling naughtily over her famous diary, the end of a pen resting on the edge of her lip.
I didn’t know exactly what it was about at the time, having been far too young to relate to the generation of women laughing over Helen Fielding’s side-splitting novel during dull commutes. But I could tell that it contained something grown-up and a bit cheeky – a fizzy sip of what adult life might hold.
When I did finally watch Bridget Jones in my early teens, I saw so much in it that I wanted for my own future adulthood. Friends to share blue soup with, a love life eventful enough for documentation, and a regular sprinkling of funny moments to keep me cackling through the boring bits.
Even in the spritely years of my early twenties, I never saw Bridget as a figure to be pitied, the spinster found ‘half-eaten by Alsatians’ that haunts her wilder musings. I never saw her penchant for ice cream spooned straight from the tub as somehow entwined with deep loneliness and dissatisfaction.
On the contrary, I saw somebody far more fun and aspirational than the ‘smug married couples’ who berate her at dinner parties; someone far worthier of love and respect than the caddish slimeball Daniel Cleaver, for all his confidence and social standing.
Here was a positive portrayal of an independent, witty and desirable single woman in her thirties, at a time when such a status would have made you a bit of an outlier. A rebel in the face of social norms and the dutiful, and not always suitable, expectations of marriage and family life in the suburbs.
In 1996, the year the book was published, the average age for a woman to get married was 24.8, as per The Spruce. By 2001, when the smash hit film adaptation hit cinemas, this had risen slightly to 25.1.
When bearing such statistics in mind, it makes more sense why Bridget – at a relatively young 32 – would be so jumpy over Victorian notions of spinsterhood, and why the meddlesome match-making of her more traditional mother would get under her skin.
Throughout the books and the films, Bridget is shown to have a full and interesting life despite – and indeed perhaps partly because of – her famously single status. In another sort of story, we’d have perhaps left her still single and happily pouring a vodka ahead of another night out.
Having broken into the competitive fields of publishing and television journalism, Bridget also lives an appealingly spontaneous sort of life where her friends might well whisk her away to Paris with just a ‘passport. And pants’.
Perhaps Bridget would have felt less pressure in 2021, with the goal posts traditionally associated with adulthood and personal fulfilment having been moved forward significantly.
As per the most recent statistics published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the average age for a heterosexual woman in the UK to wed – as of 2017 – was 35.7, with marriage between opposite sex couples seeing a gradual decline.
At 32, a contemporary Bridget may have felt less panic about ending up like the desperate, ultimately villainous Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction. But her anxieties about the path ahead will be still be familiar to millennials juggling life and work amid impossible social expectations.
Indeed, in a world of social media comparisons and edited realities, Bridget’s constant pursuit of self-improvement – as immortalised in the following classic New Year’s resolutions list – feels particularly relevant:
Resolution number one: Obviously will lose 20lbs. Number two: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket.
Equally important, will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, peeping-toms, megalomaniacs, emotional f*ckwits or perverts. And especially will not fantasise about a particular person who embodies all these things.
As a woman working in the media who is quite partial to ‘life-changing’ self-help books, wellbeing magazine articles and making endless, grandly ambitious to-do lists, I can relate all too well to Bridget’s niggling imposter syndrome.
I understand what it’s like to feel surrounded by people with far greater accomplishments; to feel suddenly at a loss over my opinion on a pressing current affairs issue because I spent the evening before binge watching Married At First Sight Australia.
No doubt many people can also relate to the moments when Bridget realises that she does indeed have plenty of potential. A knack for interviews and getting a good story, a natural likeability that shines through every clanger, and – most importantly – a cracking sense of humour.
I spoke with 26-year-old Miranda, a ‘Bridget Jones superfan’ who first watched the film on a VHS tape at her grandma’s Hampshire home, back when she was about seven or eight:
My nana kept saying, ‘This is too old for you,’ but I was fascinated – and not by the swearing, smoking or the sex, but just how funny and charming Bridget and her friends were.
My nana would have been in her late sixties at this point, and she and I watched this film together many, many times over the years.
She would laugh gutturally throughout the film – looking back at her reaction I think of my nana and how she had a fairly filthy sense of humour sometimes, but only got to see a mainstream heroine like Bridget when she was in her 60s, whereas I was introduced to Bridget when I was seven or eight and have based a healthy amount of my personality and certainly writing style (v.g.) on her.
My nana loved Bridget Jones and it must have meant a lot to her. I think it truly felt quite radical, while also being a brilliant rom-com in its own right. Helen Fielding is a genius.
You can absolutely see Bridget’s influence on today’s young women, from the way Fielding’s use of language has infiltrated contemporary ‘chick lit’ and female-fronted comedies, to the way so many of us will still curl up for a rewatch after the graceless departure of some ’emotional f*ckwit’.
Unlike the sort of cringe-comedies that give me stomach ache, Bridget’s various mortifications feel curiously reassuring. Who, after all, hasn’t shrieked their heart out on karaoke or turned up to a family party when they should really be at home with their ‘head in a toilet like all normal people’?
Bridget makes these inevitable moments feel okay, and lets her legions of fans know that it’s perfectly fine and perfectly normal to sometimes feel as if you’re ‘no good at anything. Not men. Not social skills. Not work. Nothing’.
Miranda told UNILAD:
Ultimately, Bridget Jones is someone who’s trying to be a better version of herself and always ends up cocking it up a bit.
The enduring love I have for Bridget Jones is precisely how relatable she is. And while the books and films are incredibly funny, at the heart of it, the fears Bridget faces are real: she wants to find love; she wants to be comfortable in who she is; she wants to be empowered by her work.
Despite being a glamorous Hollywood actor from Texas, Renée Zellweger embodies the character of Bridget – so very British and self-deprecating – with uncanny perfection, from her spot-on facial expressions to the way she gazes pensively from a window while eating Branston Pickle.
Even those who had never read the books of newspaper column felt like they knew Bridget from Renée’s inimitable performance, her wry inner dialogue revealing someone they’d happily share a fag and a gossip with. Her cosy pyjamas and soft work cardigans so very like their own.
I spoke with digital marketer and blogger Emma, who first read the book when she was 14. She saw the hit film adaptation with her friends when it first came out, an experience I admittedly envy.
Emma told UNILAD:
Both times I loved it and related to it in some ways, but mainly I saw it as an honest depiction of what to expect as I grew into womanhood.
I was at that age where it was around the corner for me and I was both excited and delighted by Bridget. I wanted to work in the media and move to London, so I found that side really exciting and romantic.
I was also knee-deep in the ’00s toxic diet culture so connected very well with her counting calories and cigarettes – I was doing the same even at that young age.
There is so much about Bridget and her big knickers that feels quintessentially ’90s upon a rewatch, with all the glorious nostalgia and hopeful aspiration you’d expect, plus a few jarring moments.
Let’s face it, Bridget’s enviably-situated Borough Market apartment makes Monica Geller’s New York loft look almost feasible, while her constant pursuit of thinness – so very much in sync with the Kate Moss aesthetic of the day – doesn’t exactly make her an icon of body positivity.
Indeed, in a world where a bodacious behind is a highly desirable asset, Bridget’s fretting over the size of her supposedly ample bottom at times feels like tuning in to an alien language.
But of course, whichever decade we find ourselves in, there will always be something that single people fixate on when preparing to catch the attention of their crush, or indeed to show them that you’re 100% over them.
For example, in recent years, I have found myself focusing a little too much on how unfashionably thin and bloodless my lips look when I spread them into a smile.
I have no doubt at all that this fixation stems from the importance placed on a plump pair of lips – which really wouldn’t suit me anyway in all honesty – championed by the likes of Kylie Jenner and countless Instagram imitators.
Bridget Jones’ Diary taps into such enduring anxieties and, in my view, satirises and reflects such concerns in a way that is arguably still very timely today. This is, after all, a story of self-acceptance.
For all her cycling thoughts and daft fretting, I find Bridget’s story far more interesting and above all relatable than I would have done had she been a completely sensible, self-assured woman navigating the world around her with wisdom and ease.
As Miranda put it:
She’s not quite a heroine – she’s more like a chain-smoking, calorie-obsessed, anxious anti-heroine. She means so much to us because it’s an incredibly honest portrayal of someone who in 2021 we would call ‘problematic’ and who’s always falling slightly short.
Emma still reads the book every few years and will watch ‘all of the films at least once a year’. She’ll watch the first film more than the others, remarking that it’s often ‘repeated on tv and I just catch it and am instantly seduced to watch it all over again’.
As an adult, Emma does still find Bridget to be a very relatable character, although she does ‘differ from her massively’ now that she’s older:
I do work in the media and live in London but I’m childfree by choice and a career woman, so to be in relationships can get in the way of my ambitions so they take a back seat.
I certainly know a lot of my peers who are very focused on these life goals, and I see her concerns reflected in them. I guess I’ve grown into my other hero I discovered at the same time I discovered Bridget – Samantha from Sex and the City.
Reflecting on what Bridget might be like had she been written today, Emma suggested:
Firstly, self-help books would be replaced with TED Talks and YouTubers. She’d stalk Instagram influencer accounts and judge herself against them secretly and full of guilt (while posting body positivity content on her own!).
She’d be all over green smoothies and no carbs but still get p*ssed and order pizza and feel guilty about it. I imagine her goals around marriage would have changed as well – she’d be more focused on getting a business partner or trying a side hustle but still dream of a romantic hero to save her.
She’d also be so worried about turning 40 etc, I think she’d freeze her eggs rather than worry about meeting Mr Right now. Oh, and I imagine she’d have a lil’ bi-curious moment or two.
In a 2013 article for The Guardian, feminist writer Suzanne Moore blasted Bridget for being a ‘vapid, consumerist and self-obsessed’ person ‘obsessed with three of the most boring things in the entire world: dieting, trying to get a bloke and drinking and feeling bad about it’.
However, I do feel that this is quite a reductive view of one of the most iconic comedic characters of all time. Bridget is far from a perfect person – with perfection rarely being funny – and she is as comically introspective as many people are when trying to muddle their way through their life goals.
However, she’s also a smart, driven character with the strength to admit when she’s wrong and the courage to stick up for herself at work. Qualities that will never date, in my opinion.
Bridget may not be exactly a role model, but so many modern women will still cheer in solidarity after she marches out of the publishing house to the sound of Aretha Franklin’s Respect.
As for the idea that the idea that Bridget is ‘obsessed’ with ‘trying to get a bloke’, I truly believe this assessment couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bridget is far from the desperate spinster society so often mistakes her for, so much more than the ‘tik tok, tik tok’ of her biological clock. Like the Jane Austen character she is based on, she won’t be rushed into an unhappy union where her intelligence and wit aren’t appreciated.
Indeed, Bridget has high expectations for a relationship, and won’t settle for less. As she tells Daniel after his less-than-flattering romantic offer, ‘I’m still looking for something more extraordinary than that.’
Ultimately, Bridget falls for Mark Darcy, a thoroughly decent and supportive man who ‘likes her very much, just the way she is’. A fantastic, timeless lesson in love for anyone preparing to hop back on the dating app merry-go-round once everything opens back up.
So let’s raise a glass of Chardonnay to Bridget. We wouldn’t have her any other way.
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CreditsThe Spruce and 2 others
Office for National Statistics (ONS)