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The Problem With Bridgerton S3’s (In)Famous Mirror Scene

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Well, Bridgerton fans, the time has finally come for the highly anticipated mirror scene. In season 3 part 2, after declaring his love, Colin (Luke Newton) makes love to Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) for the first time in front of a conveniently placed floor-length mirror. It’s the kind of sweet, steamy scene Bridgerton is known for — scorching hot chemistry and nudity included. So it surprised me when, at the start of the scene, my heart sped up in a panic. When Colin places Penelope in front of the mirror, I wanted to feel excited, but all I felt was dread because I knew that Penelope was about to be in a romantic trope associated with women who are insecure with their bodies: where a man encourages a woman to look at herself and tells her how beautiful she is. And I knew that regardless of Bridgerton’s intentions, this is what the scene is going to evoke in me and in every other viewer who feels their body doesn’t fit the Western standards of beauty.
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Up until that moment, Penelope’s body hasn’t been associated with her insecurities. During her flirting lessons with Colin, she tells him that she simply has trouble being herself in front of judgy members of the Ton. She never expresses that people will judge her for her looks or physical attributes, but rather that any judgment at all makes her feel insecure. In fact, save for one brief mention in the first episode of season 1, when Penelope is described by her sister as being “two stones heavier than she ought to be” (a line taken directly from page five of Romancing Mr Bridgerton), Penelope’s weight hasn’t been touched on at all in the series. 
To the show’s credit, the mirror scene is not explicitly about Colin trying to help Penelope love her body. After overhearing Lady Featherington question how Penelope could have bagged a Bridgerton, Colin tells Penelope that he loves her, and that she is the most eligible lady in Society. When she appears to doubt him, he uses the mirror to show her that she is “the cleverest, bravest woman” he’s ever seen (as he cops a feel). But even without any explicit dialogue, the scene cannot be separated from its Western audience and how we, as lovers of American media, have been trained to see bodies on screen. This is especially true if you’ve seen this romantic mirror trope before in Everwood or Real Women Have Curves
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One of my most defining movie-watching experiences was when I watched Real Women Have Curves for the first time. I was a chubby 11-year-old, and I was gobsmacked by one specific scene in the film. Just before losing her virginity, Ana (America Ferrera) asks her boyfriend to turn on the light. “I want you to see me,” she says. When he does, she’s standing in front of a mirror, gazing lovingly at herself. “See, this is what I look like,” she tells him, and he responds by telling her she’s beautiful. 
Ever since then, I’ve imagined what it would feel like to have a man look at my flabby stomach, my stretch marks, my pimply chin, my uneven breasts, and tell me that I was beautiful. So, when I see Penelope and Colin standing in front of that mirror, I immediately think of that fantasy. And the thing is, I know I’m not the only one. For years, fans of the book series by Julia Quinn have imagined the mirror scene as one in which Colin shows Penelope how hot she is, as evidenced by the fans speculating about the mirror scene on Reddit in anticipation of part 2’s release. The audience is already seeing a link between the mirror scene, Penelope’s insecurities, and her body. 

Bridgerton does not exist in a vacuum. And ours is a very fatphobic society that has been trained to believe that only thin women are deserving of love.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong
Bridgerton does not exist in a vacuum. And ours is a very fatphobic society that has been trained to believe that only thin women are deserving of love. Not even Bridgerton has been immune from this insidious standard. None of the other female romantic leads in the show have been remotely curvy. And neither have supporting characters or featured background players. Even when given the chance to increase body diversity in its main cast in the recasting of Francesca (now played by Hannah Dodd), the show seems to have little interest. Like it or not, Penelope has been “othered”, or made separate from all the other female characters, since season 1 because she has a different body type, and the mirror scene only further plays into that idea because it’s a trope we’ve seen before, specifically with characters who are insecure with their bodies.
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For two seasons, Bridgerton has done everything to ensure that Penelope’s body stands out even if it isn’t explicitly mentioned. The lack of body diversity in the show telegraphs to the audience that she is different, that her body is “other.” It’s an issue even the Bridgerton creatives seem to have recognised in season 3. Why else would there be so much emphasis on Miss Kenworthy, a new, full-figured debutante who is described by Lady Whistledown as “brimming with confidence and charisma”? 
Though Kenworthy only has a handful of lines, she’s featured enough times throughout season 3 that it’s obvious the show wants audiences to see that body diversity is welcome in Mayfair. The presence of Miss Kenworthy is meant to show that Mayfair is a world in which Penelope’s body wouldn’t affect her confidence. And it’s a strategy that might have worked — if only it had been implemented in seasons 1 and 2. 
I understand why fans want to hold onto the mirror scene as one of empowerment. It’s so rare to see a woman above a size 0 be desirable on screen, and as sad as it is, seeing Coughlan (who, it should also be noted, is incredibly beautiful) be the leading lady in a romance is groundbreaking. I want nothing more than for those who find comfort in the mirror scene to continue to do so. But for me, the mirror scene will always be tinged with sadness. A reminder that a woman living in a body like mine will always be associated with insecurities and the feeling of being undesirable. 

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