Will the new Bridget Jones movie finally shed the weight obsession?

Will the new Bridget Jones movie finally shed the weight obsession?

It’s been over 20 years since Bridget Jones, weighing 136 pounds, insisted she was fat on the silver screen.

The classic 2001 romantic comedy Bridget Jones’s Diary, starring Renée Zellweger in the title role, captivated a generation of movie-goers. Bridget was awkward, self-deprecating, single, had messy friends, embarrassing parents, an even more embarrassing love life and was — as she told us before the opening credits even started to roll — fat.

“I suddenly realized that unless something changed soon, I was going to live a life where my major relationship was with a bottle of wine and I’d finally die fat and alone,” Zellweger says, sitting in rumpled pyjamas, drinking vodka and smoking a cigarette, as the song All By Myself blasts in the background.

It was funny. It was dark. And as many fans have since pointed out, for a generation of women, it was, ultimately, damaging

“I was 13 when I first watched this film, and I weighed at least a stone more than that. I remember feeling a hot flush of panic and disgust when I realized this, and silently vowed to stick to my diet better,” body confidence advocate Alex Light wrote in a viral 2020 Instagram post.

She’s describing the moment Bridget writes her weight, 136 pounds — just over 9.5 stone in U.K. measurement — in her diary. 

WATCH | Bridget Jones calls herself fat four and a half minutes into movie:

As in the books by Helen Fielding, Bridget frequently records her weight in her diary and is continuously referred to as overweight throughout the first two films. In the third, where she’s pregnant, her mother reacts to the news by saying, “Wonderful, we thought you’d just got all fat again.”

Meanwhile, Zellweger’s own weight was the repeated subject of scrutiny by media as she famously gained 30 pounds twice for Bridget Jones’s Diary and 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. In Bridget Jones’s Baby, the fact that the actor didn’t gain weight made headlines. (In the 2016 movie, Bridget says she has finally achieved her “perfect weight.”)

Now, 23 years after the first film was released, there’s a fourth movie in the works, which according to reports will reprise Zellweger in the title role and be released on Valentine’s Day 2025. But as excitement builds about Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, many fans of the beloved series want to know: will the fat-shaming finally stop?

“I’m not entirely optimistic,” said Shana MacDonald, an associate professor in communication arts at the University of Waterloo who studies pop culture, social media and feminist politics.

A stack  of books that say Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy
Author Helen Fielding’s book Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy is being adapted into a fourth Bridget Jones movie. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

MacDonald notes there’s been a shift in a younger generation toward body positivity, inclusivity and neutrality, but that Hollywood — and the general population’s reaction to Hollywood movies that do push the needle — isn’t quite there yet. She points to the recent remaking of Mean Girls as an example, where actress Reneé Rapp was criticized for her body

“We have this regressive conversation happening where we’re seeing the casting of women who have much more fulsome, healthy figures in main roles, and getting massive backlash for that,” MacDonald said.

The ‘heroin chic’ ideal

The original Bridget Jones movies came out during a complex time that media scholars refer to as peak post-feminist cinema, MacDonald explained.

Around the turn of the millennium, TV shows like Sex and the City and Ally McBeal embraced female empowerment, but within a relationship to capitalism and consumption. And part of that was a very specific standard of weight and femininity, she said. 

“We were working through the idealization of ‘heroin chic.’ There was a really explicit emphasis on a deeply skinny idealization of femininity,” MacDonald said. 

Four women in gowns  hold a  trophy
Sex and the City stars, from left, Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon at the 58th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles in 2001. The show, which ran from 1998 to 2004, embraced female empowerment, but also set a very specific standard of weight and femininity. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Today, a younger generation of women is pushing for a healthier body image, valuing a body’s abilities and a person’s non-physical characteristic more than appearance. People call out body shaming on TikTok and embrace self love. Major clothing brands such as Joe Fresh and Gap use more models who are plus-sized or have limb differences, although it’s worth noting the fashion industry has been accused of “fat-washing” or “curve-washing” to give off the illusion of being inclusive.

But the ideal in Hollywood has barely budged, according to a 2022 report by The Representation Project, which found only 6.7 per cent of characters in the decade’s most popular films were fat, and none of them were in lead roles. The report’s authors note that they use the word fat “because it’s not an insult.” 

They also found that fat characters are more likely to be portrayed as funny or “stupid.”

“This finding reinforces the common ‘Comic Relief’ trope of fat people in media,” the report noted.

‘Perfectly normal weight’

Zellweger, for her part, has been critical about the focus on Bridget’s weight. In a 2016 interview with Today about the third movie and Bridget’s appearance, Zellweger said, “I never thought she had a weight issue.”

The same year, she told Vogue magazine she never understood the scrutiny of her own weight gain to play the role.

“Bridget is a perfectly normal weight and I’ve never understood why it matters so much,” she said. “No male actor would get such scrutiny if he did the same thing for a role.”

But for some who grew up loving the 2001 rom-com heroine, Bridget’s obsession with her weight was harmful.

Writer Sophie Vershbow wrote in a 2021 essay in Vogue that the 2001 movie came out when she was 11 “and just learning that hating your body was a normal part of being a woman.”

“How many times had I watched this movie as a teenager and internalized that my body needed fixing, too?

A woman and a man smile at each other in bed
Amy Schumer, left, and Michael Cera in a scene from Life & Beth. Schumer was recently criticized online for having a puffy face. (Hulu/The Associated Press)

The careers of actors like Amy Schumer and Rebel Wilson show how our culture is still fixated on women’s bodies in Hollywood.

In February, around the time season two of her show Life and Beth was released, Schumer was criticized for having a puffy face (she later explained she has a hormonal disorder).

Meanwhile, Wilson, who often played the role of the funny friend in movies such as Pitch Perfect, has been widely praised for losing 80 pounds.

MacDonald, with the University of Waterloo, says the recent resurgence of Hallmark-style romantic comedies doesn’t make her hopeful that attitudes are shifting in the right direction. These films lean in to that same early-2000s post-feminist narrative, she explained, with the same attractive and thin leading characters.

But MacDonald also sees an exciting opportunity with the new Bridget Jones movie, which is based on Helen Fielding’s third book where Bridget is a single mom in her 50s: the experience of menopause.

“In a perfect world that will be integrated into the conversation.”

WATCH | Helen Fielding talks about Mad About the Boy in 2013: 

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