Published in The F-word on 15 January 2005
View the published article here
A bottom the size of two bowling balls? Yeah, right. Rachel Bell argues that the casting of Renée Zellweger undermines the premise of the Bridget Jones character
When Renée Zellweger was cast as Bridget, the British press moaned that she wasn’t a quintessential English Rose and where was Kate Winslet when you needed her? Renée did a decent job of it and was forgiven. Since then she has been tirelessly applauded by the press, particularly women’s magazines, for her inconceivable, self-sacrificing willingness to pile on 25lbs for the role and then, with amazing swiftness, lose the lot and become an even smaller version of her original self. Lollipop Renée (lollipop is a term coined by women’s magazines for women whose bodies have become too tiny for the heads, making their heads look strangely too large) emerged to a disbelieving nation of women and reigns supreme as the revered queen of shrinking.
What a martyr, blah, blah, blah. But what everyone, the press and most crucially, the author Helen Fielding and the director of Bridget Jones Diary, Sharon Maguire appear to have missed entirely is that by casting Renée, they have completely undermined the premise of their film.
I went to see Bridget Jones Diary because I got a free press ticket. I have not seen The Edge of Reason and don’t plan to. I don’t love Bridget Jones because she is a calorie-counting, Mr. Right chasing stereotype that reminds me of Ally McBeal in her forced, irritating, scattiness. However, hundreds of thousands of British women absolutely love Bridget Jones. She is their celluloid best friend. Why? Because she is a bit fat, a bit awkward, a bit paranoid and a bit uncool. She frets, worries, procrastinates and makes a tit of herself. Her life is messy, she, drinks, smokes and eats too much and is not getting enough sex. All she wants is to be poised, sophisticated, thin and with boyfriend. In effect, Bridget Jones is normal. She is still a stereotype of the twenty or thirty-something singleton desperate for romance but at least she offers a different stereotype to the thin, overtly sexualised male fantasies that Hollywood only knows. Bridget is not a man-eating playbunny with the body of a teenage girl. For a lot of women, going to watch Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry do their, ‘Look at how sexy I am’ thing for two or three hours is pretty depressing. (For different reasons for different women) In Bridget, women recognised her insecurities about weight, self-image and men…and yes, getting caught out in your comfy knickers. She symbolised hope for women that yes, men could fight over you and love you for your inner beauty, your specialness. They had found their anti-heroine to root for because she was real and because she was one of them.
But she isn’t really is she. We all know that behind Bridget is Renée Zellweger, a size 6-8 who can lose weight with a frightening military efficiency, only attainable with a personal trainer. A Hollywood actress who goes in for all that red carpet stuff, who appears poised and sophisticated and dates actors and rock stars. Who can say the line, “I truly believe that happiness is possible even when you’re thirty-three and have a bottom the size of two bowling balls,” with no intention of keeping that ass. She is nothing like normal. Helen Fielding’s books may have helped to ease women’s paranoias about their self-image but the films have planted them most gloriously back in not-good-enough, dieting, self-hating hell. Some best friend.