“Nothing To Do With Her Story”: Why Bridgerton Writers Abandoned This Problematic Storyline From The Book

Season 3 of Bridgerton is finally here, and when I say that I've been waiting for Penelope Featherington's love story for years, I mean it. The upcoming season, which features Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton as co-leads, sees Lady Whistledown herself finally get a chance at love.
Diversity and representation are at the forefront of casting for Bridgerton, and this season gives curvier women an opportunity to see themselves portrayed as love interests on the screen. While it shouldn't be a novelty to see different body types in romantic roles (and it's important to remember that while Coughlan is portraying a larger character, she is actually a UK size 10), it's still a significant moment for anyone who hasn't seen someone who looks like them portrayed in a romantic or sexy light.
But something has been swirling around Bridgerton forums since Season 3 was announced that has made curvy women nervous for the upcoming season: the book's relentless commentary about Penelope's weight.

"I think Penelope's outer appearance has nothing to do with her story."

Jess Brownell, Bridgerton Showrunner
If you're not in the loop, let me quickly fill you in: In the fourth book of the series, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, Penelope is frequently described with words such as "round" and "plump," which isn't a problem... until she loses weight. 13 kilos, to be exact. While BookTokers will argue that Colin's affections didn't sprout for Penelope immediately after her weight loss (he doesn't fall for her until years after she has lost weight), there are still painful threads that will niggle for anyone who has been told that their beauty is correlated with their weight.
"It helped that she'd lost nearly two stone and could now call herself 'pleasantly rounded' rather than 'a hideous pudge'," the author Julia Quinn writes on page 9 about the character Penelope. While this is an internal monologue, it's clear that Penelope's body and how she perceives it has been written in a harmful way, reinforcing an age-old stereotype that women must not be fat — or need to lose weight — before they can be worthy of affection. That Penelope's body is the subject of such ridicule, whether from society or self-imposed, only serves to reinforce harmful stereotypes about larger bodies.
But it seems that all our worries have been soothed, with the Bridgerton showrunner confirming to Refinery29 Australia that they haven't just abandoned the commentary on Penelope's body — but there's a damn good reason why, too.
"I think Penelope's outer appearance has nothing to do with her story," Jess Brownell, new Bridgerton showrunner tells Refinery29 Australia. "Her story is absolutely about her internal journey — that's what matters."
The show has taken a potentially worrying plotline and rewritten it, even going so far as to not mention Penelope's weight in the show at all, and dumping the weight loss storyline altogether. It shouldn't be a radical decision, yet in a world where fatness is still not accepted, to say absolutely nothing about Penelope's body is an even louder statement.
"We do have a makeover trope that we're presenting in the season," Brownell continues. "But we are trying to engage with that trope and make a commentary on it."
While the now infamous 'Bridgerton makeover' is a cornerstone in every season, the show has chosen to approach Penelope's makeover from good old colour theory, as opposed to weight loss. Instead of dressing in yellows and oranges, Penelope wears a deep emerald dress that actually fits and accentuates her body, adding the classic Bridgerton blues to her wardrobe that beautifully contrast with her red hair. No scales in sight, thankfully.
"That makeover doesn't necessarily have the results that Penelope hopes for," Brownell continues. "Instead, it leads her to realise that she's going to have to work a lot harder on her self-love and her self-confidence."
When asked if there is a 'message' that viewers should get from this season of Bridgerton and Penelope's arc from wallflower to romantic lead, Brownell says that it's exactly that. "If there's a message there, I think the message is that — it's about loving oneself and stepping into one's power, stepping into the light and owning who you are in every fabulous way," she says.
While it's a fantastic start to fat representation on Bridgerton, the show still has a long way to go when it comes to body diversity, with the Ton still showcasing mainly slim bodies. The fact that Coughlan, as a UK size 10, is considered to be the 'larger' person in the cast is frankly disappointing. While there seems to have been some effort to cast a range of body types in Season 3 insofar as the extras, more needs to be done, especially for a show that prides itself on representation.
Bridgerton Season 3: Part One airs over on Netflix on May 16th.
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