By refusing to airbrush the truth, Bridget Jones has encouraged a generation of women to open up about their less-than perfect lives.
BRIDGET Jones was a human comfort blanket to me during my 20s.
She embodied every anxiety-ridden worry; every night spent eating myself into a food coma and crucially, every heartrending break-up.
When I was 22 and in the midst of my first major break-up, life imitated art as I found myself crying along to the song All By Myself in the back of a taxi on the way home from a party as winter rain fell softly against the windows.
It was prolific and mortifying in equal measures.
Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third and hugely anticipated instalment of the Bridget Jones movie franchise, is set to take screens by storm on September 16.
The film follows wildly successful adaptations of Helen Fielding’s novels (Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) and stars Renée Zellweger as hapless but loveable Bridget Jones, the self-described singleton who captured the heart of women the world over in the mid-1990s when we first met her in print.
Bridget embodied a sensibility that many of us felt, but hardly any gave voice to: not being good enough.
She was a breath of fresh air at a time when films, television shows, and books were filled with characters that bore no relevance to women of the time.
As Helen Fielding told The Guardian in 2013, “Back in the mid-1990s the way single women in their 30s were presented socially — and certainly in books and films — hadn’t caught up with reality. The air of Miss Havisham and the tragic barren spinster left on the shelf was still hanging around us.”
The landscape of female protagonists became vastly different around the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary in 1996.
Authors like Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella were creating characters like Claire Walsh of Watermelon and Becky Bloomwood of the Shopaholic series.
These sometimes gormless but utterly charming women were often unlucky in love, and indeed life, craving that illustrious relationship that would allow them to settle down with The One.
Today’s bookshelves are packed with women to whom conniving is second nature.
While Helen Fielding points to Bridget’s relationship with white wine as a symptom of life as a single woman, Paula Hawkins portrays Rachel in Girl On A Train as a hopeless, unemployed drunk who obsesses over a couple she believes are living her dream life.
Television shows like Game of Thrones and films like Gone Girl showcase women who are calculating and, at times, heartless.
There is no doubt they are fearsome, but they are hugely lacking in vulnerability and, occasionally, humanity.
Bridget Jones’s Diary was written two decades before social media took centre stage in our lives.
Now pre-date conversations are carried out on WhatsApp or entire relationships documented on Instagram.
If Bridget Jones had been given access to Tinder in the early 2000s, she would have been propelled into full-scale stalker mode.
Her confidence in finding The One veered between dying alone, only to be ‘found three-and-a-half weeks later eaten by Alsatians’, and turning into Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.
Bridget Jones wears her heart on her sleeve, and her absolute inability to hide her emotions means she would have been eaten alive in the age of social media.
There is no way Bridget would have been able to concoct a life worthy of Instagram, or Snapchat her way through dates — she would be too busy batting her eyelashes at her would-be husband and imagining 2.4 children and life in a country pile.
So, does the bumbling loveliness of Bridget still have relevance in today’s world? Will the famed millennial generation ‘get’ her charm?
Jennifer Stevens, editor of Irish Country Magazine is not so sure.
“This film probably won’t resonate with millennials, who seem way cooler and far more together than I ever was in my 20s,” she says.
“Bridget’s fumbling ways and panicked date nights were way more my thing — I think that there are a lot of women like me in their late 30s who feel the same.”
Even though Bridget may not display the panache that women in their 20s today require in their leading women, Stevens believes she is still exploring a theme that is universal, and as a result — timeless.
“Bridget Jones will always want to find The One. She may have found it and lost it, or be seeking The One Part Two, but the search for true love is something that every woman can relate to — no matter their age or social media status.”
Jeanne Sutton, deputy editor of Stellar magazine, which targets females aged 18 to 34, says Bridget will resonate with millennials because she is the quintessential modern woman.
“I think the documentation of her weight, calories consumed, and units drank at the beginning of every diary entry in the novel was transgressive — it was cutting to the core of what we’ve made womanhood into being,” she says.
Pointing to the young women of today, and their obsessive need to document their every thought via social media, Sutton says women have not changed as much as we might think.
“Instagramming your avocado toast and then later posting a photo of a doughnut with a caption about guilty treats — Bridget Jones is the 1984 of the social media age,” she says.
“Also, writing down every inane thought that comes into her head? Every embarrassing incident of her life? If you’re following millennial women on Twitter, this is happening in real time. Bridget is relevant to the young women of today.
“She was constantly questioning her worth, be it professionally or in relation to who she sleeps with. She’s lived a life of failed measurements.
“And in a world where the only young women we tend to see in the media are ‘influencers’ with acres of followers and seemingly perfect lives, we’re not too far off.”
Humour, believes journalist Deanna O’Connor, 35, is Bridget Jones’s best asset.
“There is no doubt that the situations that Bridget finds herself in are completely farcical and comical,” she says.
“But there is no denying that it is also sometimes scarily close to the bone. Her story strikes a chord with every woman because it captured and poked fun at parts of us that, let’s face it, we should be mortified about but can all stand together and bond over.”
O’Connor believes that Bridget gives us the freedom to admit to our failings, and celebrate them with our girlfriends. The mentality of having a family of girlfriends to bolster you during tough times came from Bridget, she says.
“Bridget Jones made it OK to tell our friends that we were not feeling OK.
“Crucially, she made it possible to admit to our collection of pathetic self-help books, and singing karaoke into a wine bottle on our own, wearing pyjamas.”
Sinead Burke, 26, an activist and writer, believes that while there is no doubt Bridget Jones gives an insight into the layered tapestry that is the relationship between friends, it also celebrates the idea that happiness can be achieved by reaching your goal weight, or meeting the man of your dreams.
“I first saw Bridget Jones in the midst of my tumultuous teenage years — questioning whether I fit within society’s definitions of beauty,” she says.
“It was comforting to watch a film where the protagonist reflected my internal dialogue but it was also disheartening that a professional, mature women was still questioning if her personal happiness equated to a number on a weighing scales or a romantic interest.”
Burke adds that while the franchise celebrates women, it also detracts from their empowerment by focusing on Bridget’s weight.
However, Jeanne Sutton says highlighting the supposed anti-feminism of Bridget Jones is to miss the point entirely.
“I’m very against the idea of the feminist heroine as a rule,” she says.
“I like to read about real women, honest human beings you could imagine breathing.”
She believes that Jones, and those who have gone before her in the literary annals are, in fact, the original feminists.
“I think surviving is the most feminist act of all. I like Jane Eyre even though she goes back to a liar. She chose the man she loved. In real life, a lot of people stand by the person they love. Sometimes your female friend is going to go back to the boyfriend you have no time for.”
Feminism aside, to me, Bridget Jones represents an internal best friend.
She’s my Elizabeth Bennett, my Jo March — a companion for life. She may be silly, and she may get herself into situations that make me cringe, but it is her vulnerability that I adore.
Deanna O’Connor believes there is a little bit of Bridget in every woman.
“It’s not just because I’m a journalist with a chaotic love life that I feel like Bridget Jones gets me. She gets all of us. Obsessively keeping track of how far off the wagon I’ve fallen diet wise... Why, Bridget, have you not downloaded the MyFitnessPal app yet?
“Yes, of course, I feel myself cringe-watching Bridget Jones, because I see so much of myself in her. Any woman who says they don’t is only lying to herself, pretending she doesn’t recognise any of her flaws or idiosyncrasies.”
Jennifer Stevens can only agree and adds that Bridget Jones is the antidote to a generation of women who live their lives through the filtered screen of their mobile phones.
She believes Bridget is doing what Bridget has always done — bringing basic human reality to the masses.
“There’s something very comforting in someone like Bridget still making mistakes and being calamitous in a social media world where everyone is trying to show the most perfect version of themselves all the time, even when the children are screaming and the dinner is burning.
“That’s why I’ll see the film — to me, Bridget Jones represents reality in a world of curated perfection.”
The world according to Bridget Jones “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”
“Can officially confirm that the way to a man’s heart these days is not through beauty, food, sex, or alluringness of character, but merely the ability to seem not very interested in him.”
“I will not fall for any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts.”
“Sometimes I wonder what I would be like if left to revert to nature — with a full beard and handlebar moustache on each shin, Dennis Healey eyebrows, face a graveyard of dead skin cells, spots erupting, long curly fingernails like Struwwelpeter, blind as bat and stupid runt of species as no contact lenses, flabby body flobbering around.”
“If staying here means working within 10 yards of you, frankly, I’d rather have a job wiping Saddam Hussein’s arse.”
“As Tom said, if Miss Havisham had had some jolly flatmates to take the piss out of her she would never have stayed so long in her wedding dress.”
“She’s a jellyfisher: You have a conversation with her that seems all nice and friendly, then you suddenly feel like you’ve been stung and you don’t know where it came from.”
“I truly believe that happiness is possible... even when you’re 33 and have a bottom the size of two bowling balls.”
“I’m enjoying a relationship with two men simultaneously. The first called Ben, the other Jerry.”
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