CW: calorie counting & diet culture; sexual harassment
The year marks a quarter of a century since the seminal novel Bridget Jones’s Diary was first published. As many a desperate woman of a certain age will know, the book begins with our titular character lamenting how she is entering her 32nd year of her life still single, of course. This means that I have a dozen years before I finally reach her grand heights, and fulfil my destiny of becoming a modern-day Jones. However, there are a couple of factors hindering this goal: I have never had two awkward, posh men fight over me in the street (although I am more than open to the idea); I’m half the journalist Bridget ever was; and, because I live in the year 2021, I could only dream of being able to afford the rent for a central London flat by myself.
I practically know the script of the first film word for word, yet I must admit that I have occasionally asked myself why I am so drawn to the series. A contemporary critic described her character as a composite of “frivolous neuroses”, which reads like something from my Year 11 school report. Ultimately, I don’t look to Bridget Jones for feminist empowerment or intelligent critique, and I’ll admit that as someone who tries to find the political currency in art and entertainment, that is an awkward pill to swallow. She doesn’t really do anything to further society, and is a middle-class, white woman whose lifestyle I will likely never have. Yet I like Bridget Jones, and I am happy to admit it. She is a walking contradiction, but ultimately who isn’t?
With her preoccupation with imminent spinsterhood, her love life and her calorie intake, one could level the charge that her journal scribblings are a little on the shallow side. However, that accusation is perhaps missing the point. The original column series penned by Helen Fielding for The Independent was intentionally crafted as a satirical poke at society’s expectations of women in the 1990s; Jones was a response to the pressures placed on the modern woman in Blair’s Britain – a time when the career woman was simultaneously grappling with the old expectations of motherhood and family life. Fielding herself explained: “Like all self-respecting modern women she is struggling to balance her post independence and economic power with the human, not just female, need to love and be loved.”
I think I can relate to Jones so much because, frankly, I’m not prone to feeling particularly ‘empowered’ or on top of things. On the other hand, I do understand what it feels like to be barely succeeding at multiple aspects of my life at any one time, and making a prat of myself in social situations. Bridget and I are both, frankly, a bit of a mess, but that’s where the novelty of her character lay in the 1990s: she wasn’t loved for being polished and perfect; she was loved for her (inherently human) flaws, and her authenticity.
My unhealthy attachment to her character aside however, there are numerous jarring aspects to the series a quarter of a century on. She is constantly objectified and sexually harrassed by the men – her seniors – in the workplace, but has to brush those advances off in order to get on with the job. Sadly, such experiences resonate greatly with many women, although hopefully today there is a little more understanding that such behaviour is unacceptable, particularly in the wake of #MeToo.
Furthermore, the obsession with calorie counting and weight loss throughout the books are suggestive of an unhealthy relationship with food, and although Jones is able to move on from the 90s obsession with ‘thinness’ and develop a more positive relationship with her body as she gets older, many people still struggle with their body image in this era of social media and digitally-enhanced influencers. Were the series to be debuted today, perhaps this topic would be treated with a little more sensitivity, and acknowledge the progress made by the body positivity movement.
It’s worth remembering that this is a diary – not an Instagram account. These are a woman’s most unfiltered thoughts, not her public face. Like many of us, she’s insecure and a little scared of facing up to a life of loneliness. She is a distillation of the concerns that many women (and people generally) have, often as a result of pressure from the media and the society around them. Don’t shoot the messenger-cum-diarist, but rather reflect on the contemporary culture which created her.
Miss Jones is a celebration of being a bit rubbish. I’ll raise a glass (or rather, a bowl of blue soup) to that.
Cover image: Wikimedia Commons