Fat Girls Deserve To Be Chased: How Bridgerton’s Penelope Featherington Dismantles The Fat Best Friend Trope


Bridgerton’s highly anticipated season 3, which is now slated to drop in 2024, will orbit around the romance between Lady Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton). Fans of the original book series, penned by Julia Quinn, have been eagerly awaiting this season for years, particularly because Penelope’s character is plus-size and gets to have her hot Bridgerton man cake and eat it too. The excitement is also paired with concern.

Hollywood has not been kind to women above a size 14, usually portraying them as comedic sidekicks or gluttonous villains. Some fans have expressed anxiety over how Bridgerton season 3 will portray its one plus-size character as their desirable and complicated female lead. In the novel, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, Colin only realizes he has feelings for Penelope after she has lost a significant amount of weight. As Alexandra Koster wrote, “It’s a textbook example of fatphobia.”

Let’s hope the Netflix series goes the opposite direction and shows Colin pining for Penelope for exactly who she is: a compassionate, beautiful, intelligent, full-bodied bombshell. To Bridgerton’s credit, Penelope’s character defies the Fat Best Friend trope in many ways. From her very first appearance as the reserved sidekick of Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) to the reveal that she is the secret identity behind Lady Whistledown (a Regency-era Gossip Girl voiced by Julie Andrews), Penelope is one of the most layered characters on the show.

Who is Penelope Featherington?

Introduced as the youngest of the Featherington sisters, we first see Penelope as an innocent, slightly naive, and often underestimated girl. She is overshadowed by her family’s aspirations, primarily orchestrated by her ambitious mother, who seeks advantageous marriages for her daughters in the competitive marriage market. While her older sisters are presented with more assertive personalities or clearer desires, Penelope’s character initially seems to be defined by her unrequited love for her best friend’s brother, Colin Bridgerton. This silent infatuation showcases a part of her character that yearns for something beyond the societal norms of Regency England: a genuine connection based on love and understanding rather than class and circumstances.

But the silent wallflower façade is just one dimension of Penelope. She hides behind the pseudonym “Lady Whistledown,” a mysterious gossip columnist who, with her piercing insights and sharp wit, steers the narrative of London’s elite. This duality—the quiet, overlooked Penelope and the influential Lady Whistledown—serves as a reminder that Penelope is far more than the chubby background character. It exemplifies her intelligence, observant nature, and longing to have a voice in a world where women, especially those without “traditional” beauty or grand dowries, are often dismissed.

A Double Agent

As the series progresses, Penelope’s role as Lady Whistledown becomes the power that she wields silently, giving her agency that she lacks in her daily life. This secret also places her in a precarious position, for discovery would mean ruin in a society where reputation is paramount. Penelope’s relationship with Eloise Bridgerton, her confidante and close friend, also reflects her internal struggles. While both women question societal norms, Eloise is vocal and defiant, contrasting with Penelope’s apparent compliance. Their differing approaches to challenging society underscore their class and social differences: Eloise comes from a highly influential privileged family and has the ability to run amok in the streets without consequences, similar to her brother Anthony, while Penelope, who is a Featherington, must keep up appearances to disguise her family’s financial troubles.

Her unrequited love for Colin is another obstacle. While it begins as a young girl’s crush, it evolves into a deeper affection, even as she grapples with the morality of her actions as Lady Whistledown. Her scandalous revelations and sharp insights could harm Colin and his family, emphasizing the conflict between her personal desires and her power as Whistledown. This tension comes to a head in season 2 when Eloise discovers that her seemingly meek and agreeable best friend Penelope is, in fact, the cutthroat columnist Lady Whistledown. Following an explosive confrontation, Bridgerton’s season 2 finale left Penelope and Eloise still at odds, which raises the stakes for season 3. Will Eloise out Penelope as society’s new scandal? Or will Penelope use her pen to strike the first blow?

What viewers should expect in Bridgerton, Season 3

After overhearing some nasty comments Colin made about her to a gaggle of gents, Penelope is ready to move on from her unrequited crush and find a husband who, according to the synopsis released by Netflix, can “provide her with enough independence to continue her double life as Lady Whistledown, far away from her mother and sisters. But lacking in confidence, Penelope’s attempts on the marriage mart fail spectacularly.”

When Colin returns from his summer gallivanting, he is surprised to find that Penelope is no longer the doe-eyed girl who followed him around in previous seasons. Desperate to win back her friendship, he offers to help her on her quest to secure a husband, which awakens new feelings and desires he hasn’t felt (or wasn’t aware of) before. While this certainly draws on the trope of the guy realizing he loves the girl once she longer wants him, it will undoubtedly be delicious watching Colin Bridgerton pine for Penelope—and rock the carriage, so to speak.


Fat women deserve to be chased by handsome suitors. They deserve to be seen as beautiful and complicated and just as desirable as thin women are. Western beauty standards have dominated media for far too long. It’s about time we have characters like Penelope Featherington, who are redefining what it means and looks like to be the main character in your own love story.

Sources Cited

Koster, Alexandra. “This Is One Time I’m Hoping Bridgerton Season 3 Will Depart From The Book.” Refinery 29, 19, May 2022.

Robinson, Jacob. “Bridgerton Season 3: Netflix Release Date Estimate & What We Know So Far.” What’s on Neflix, 8, October 2023.