Throughout the trilogy of Bridget’s story – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones’s Baby – the character’s central flaw driving most of her conflict and struggle is deep, bottomless insecurity. Nearly all her interactions with the greater world are loaded with shame and humiliation. But why is this young, smart and successful woman so incredibly down on herself?
Why does Bridget Jones have such low self-esteem? Throughout the trilogy of Bridget’s story – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones’s Baby – the character’s central flaw driving most of her conflict and struggle is deep, bottomless insecurity. Bridget Jones’s Diary’s opening credits play over the song “All By Myself” as the heroine wallows in her fears that she’ll:
“die fat and alone.” - Bridget Jones Diary.
And in the story that follows – which is narrated by Bridget, and subtly presented through her point of view – nearly all her interactions with the greater world are loaded with shame and humiliation. The thing she wants most – a family with a loving partner – feels to her like an unattainable fantasy she’s not good enough to have. But why is this young, smart and successful woman so incredibly down on herself? She’s witty and fun, hard-working, surrounded by good friends. And while in her mind she’s a bit too overweight, in fact she looks great and has no problem attracting plenty of eligible guys. The real problem holding Bridget back is this pernicious insecurity which leads her to beat herself up and blatantly self-sabotage. So let’s dig into the mystery of what’s making Bridget and women like her hate themselves, and how we can escape this toxic mindset.
CHAPTER ONE: So Why Does Bridget Hate Herself?
The most obvious reason Bridget feels so bad about herself is she’s receiving pretty harsh messages from the society all around her.
Bridget Jones: “you seem to go out of your way… to try to make me feel like a complete idiot…”- Bridget Jones Diary.
On one level, Bridget is insecure simply because she’s a single woman over 30 and she’s been told this makes her a leper. This fear is underlined in the scene when she attends a dinner party with a bunch of “smug married” couples – and their interrogation of her singledom feels like her worst nightmare surreally brought to life. Bridget is obsessed with having a boyfriend, but feels like this will never happen for her. She’s fixated on getting married as an achievement – proof that she’s not some kind of monster. Yet as much as she’s been pushed to doggedly pursue this prize of normalcy, she’s also hearing from all the books, magazines and people in her life that men absolutely don’t want to settle down. So the only ways to “catch” a man are either to trick or trap them or to be truly perfect – which in her eyes means super young, model thin and professionally impressive. This is why every woman she sees as romantic competition comes across as almost exactly the same: a tall, slim, prestigiously educated, posh, confident brunette. In other words: a projection of everything Bridget believes herself not to be.
CHAPTER TWO: How Bridget Self-Sabotages
It’s important to recognize that Bridget’s point of view is highly distorted by her insecurity. If we’re paying close attention, we’ll notice that even what we’re presented with is processed by a pretty unreliable narrator. In Bridget’s account, her own awkwardness and ridiculousness is heightened, while the movies are full of shots of Mark Darcy (and other men) looking at her with affection, enjoying her energy, as Bridget doesn’t notice.
Also, because Bridget is so blinded by low self-esteem, it’s hard for her to distinguish between the signs of someone really liking her, versus someone using her.
One of the hardest things to watch in Bridget’s movies is how much she self-sabotages. This self-sabotaging drive is basically what the character of Daniel Cleaver represents in her life. At the beginning of the first movie, she explicitly tells us she knows that Daniel embodies all of the types of guys she shouldn’t get involved with. Yet she goes on to start something with him anyway and willfully ignores the reality in front of her. When he – her boss – sends her totally inappropriate emails she dreams of wedding bells, and when he says “red flag” things early in their relationship, she just smiles and kisses him. It’s partly that she buys into the fantasy of being the one who can save the bad boy, but it’s also that her low self-esteem leads her to embrace a man she knows is going to hurt her - or to think that the best she can hope for with a man as sexy as Daniel is a “maybe.”
In the second movie, Edge of Reason, Bridget’s self-sabotaging gets even worse. When the movie begins, she’s happy with Mark, who genuinely loves her - and it’s at this exact point in the movie that Daniel shows up again, like a human symbol telling us that she’s not ready to let her healthy relationship run a smooth course. And while she ultimately resists going there with Daniel, Bridget completely undermines her relationship with Mark. Bridget has such a hard-to-shake feeling of being unworthy of a loving, committed partnership that she puts stress on her relationship until it inevitably cracks and proves her worst fears true.
Like with any couple, Bridget has some totally legitimate complaints about Mark. He works too much; he can be oblivious, distant, and patronizing; and he’s reflexively conservative and unwilling to listen to alternate opinions. Even if she does act a little rudely and embarrass him at his work event, she has a point that some of his lawyer acquaintances are stuck-up snobs. Yet Bridget has an immature way of lashing out about these issues and then retreating in embarrassment, feeling yet again that she’s being ridiculous. She needs to learn to address these issues with Mark through healthier communication (something he’s also not good at), while still maintaining trust that he means well and cares about her. Instead, she rushes to assume he’s having an affair without any evidence and gets angry that he’s not ready to talk about marriage after only two months. This is classic insecure behavior: eagerly setting impossible tests for the partner because you expect him to fail.
At this point, Bridget still hasn’t overcome her mindset that she’s striving to achieve wife and mother status, but that she’s not truly worthy of it. This is underlined after she breaks up with Mark, sees a vision of her grave as a spinster, and hears the lyrics “What do I got to do to make you love me.” Even in the happy ending of the second movie, she’s triumphant because she got Mark to propose - but she hasn’t worked through her issues with Mark or with her own insecurity. She simply concluded she was all wrong to dump him, yet again blamed herself for messing it up and resolved she won’t “cock everything” up anymore.
Bridget Jones: “Bridget jones has cocked things up for the last time.”- Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
The fact that she ends this installment saying she’s made “excellent progress” because she has a marriage proposal shows that she’s still basing her confidence on the wrong things and setting herself up for another disappointment. So at the beginning of Bridget Jones’ Baby when we find out they’ve separated again, it makes sense…. He has already shown signs of being a distant partner, and she hasn’t asked him in a productive way to work on opening up.
CHAPTER THREE: A Contradictory Generation of “Modern Women” - Pride and Insecurity
Bridget’s insecurity is part of why so many women of her time (and many still now) can relate to her. And her particular brand of insecure “modern woman” especially resonated when her movies came out (from 2001-2016) because she captures something of her era.
A lot of this comes through in her difficult relationship with her parents. On the one hand Bridget feels inadequate for not having achieved her parents’ nuclear family ideal. On the other hand, we see Bridget’s mother struggling because her life as a housewife hasn’t made her feel fulfilled. Bridget often seems to view her mother as silly or frivolous, while she as the career woman usually comes across as the more sane and wise presence. So on some level, Bridget doesn’t seem like she’d be satisfied turning into another version of her mother; she’s hoping for something a little more fulfilling, or at least different. When Daniel says,
Daniel Cleaver: We’re two people of a certain age… looking for the moment to commit
and finding it really hard./ it’s got to be something extraordinary…?” - Bridget Jones’s Diary,
he’s blowing her off for another woman. But when she says it back to him later, she realizes that, in her case, it’s true. As desperate as she is not to be single, a big part of why she’s still alone is that she won’t settle for anything less than real love. Her high standards actually hark back to the story’s loose inspiration – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – about clever, proud heroine Elizabeth Bennet who’s determined to become a spinster rather than end up with someone who’s not her true love and equal.
And the contradictory mix of pride and insecurity in Bridget also captures something important about her generation of women - in some ways they’re more confident and empowered than ever (educated and independent, with professional opportunities her mother’s generation didn’t have) and in other ways so unsure of themselves they’ve been conditioned to feel grateful if a man even looks their way. It’s Bridget’s combination of low self-esteem and high standards that creates such a struggle for her. She won’t settle for less than a great love, but in order to allow herself to have that, she has to finally get over her insecurity issues and start believing she deserves it.
CHAPTER FOUR: Overcoming Insecurity
All of the progress Bridget makes throughout the three films stems from overcoming the distorting lens of her low self-esteem and learning to harness confidence.
So how does she do this? Let’s look at four key moments in the first movie:
1) When she’s getting over Daniel, we see Bridget throws out three books called “What Men Want,” “How Men Think” and “How to Make Men Want What They Don’t Think They Want.” She pointedly replaces this with books like “How to Get What You Want,” during a montage of her exercising, quitting her over-indulgent drinking and eating habits, and searching for jobs. So the implication is, for the first time, she’s improving her life not to appeal to a guy but for her own happiness – she’s learning to live more for herself. This leads to her quitting her dead-end job, standing up to her toxic boss, Daniel, and:
Key moment number 2) Actually finding career success. Like Carrie on Sex and the City in the same era, Bridget fixates on wanting a relationship while spending more of her actual days on work and getting pretty far in her career – which becomes a real source of confidence and grounding self-image for her (even if she’s not fully aware of it). So by the third film, she’s inadvertently shown the power of professional dedication to provide a solid basis for self-esteem.
The third key moment in Bridget Jones’ Diary that targets Bridget’s insecurity is the iconic scene when Mark Darcy tells her:
Mark Darcy: “I like you. Very much.” - Bridget Jones Diary.
Bridget immediately responds by listing all the reasons he shouldn’t like her
Bridget Jones: “apart from the drinking and the smoking and the verbal diarrhea”
and his words
Mark Darcy: “no I like you very much just as you are.”
shake Bridget (and her friends) to the core. It’s an important contrast to how Daniel dumps her for someone he basically says is “better” by societal standards. And it plants the idea for Bridget that maybe she doesn’t have to – and actually shouldn’t – change herself to find a partner.
Finally, the fourth key moment: is when Bridget rejects Daniel because she realizes she deserves someone who’s crazy about her.
And after the resurgence of her anxiety in Edge of Reason, by Bridget Jones’ Baby, the heroine finally seems to have a new level of confidence in herself that comes from her career and from having made relative peace with the fact that she’s unmarried in her 40s and unlikely to have kids at this point. Whereas the earlier Bridget tortures herself over being single and tries to will herself to stay on “track,” 43-year-old Bridget is at last having fun going with the flow, accepting that maybe her life won’t be the one she envisioned, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty great on its own terms. And Bridget’s increased self-assurance is really the key ingredient that finally brings her life toward exactly where she’s always wanted it to be. She does her best to make mature choices that prioritize her well-being (and eventually the baby’s) instead of clinging to a fantasy that’s not coming to fruition. She’s not afraid to turn down even very good options if they’re not right And in the end, Bridget gets everything she ever hoped for - a baby with the man she’s always loved – but only after she lets go of trying to engineer the perfect outcome.
CHAPTER FIVE: Bridget’s Superpower: Imperfection
The biggest reason Bridget feels inadequate compared to the leggy, assertive women like Natasha and Lara and Rebecca is that they’re poised – they manage to always say the right thing. But weirdly, the qualities that are so winning about Bridget (both to the men she charms, and to us) are connected to how much she embarrasses herself. She’s funny – saying things off the cuff that may be inappropriate, but are often witty and never dull. While, like Bridget, we often assume correctness - or doing everything perfectly — is the ideal we should chase, there’s actually a power in being a little more incorrect but tapping into something organic, plucky, improvisational, or alive. In order to be herself and bring out her most authentic spirit, Bridget has to take risks, put herself out there and, yes, sometimes, make a fool of herself.
A central theme of Bridget Jones’ Baby is that, when it comes to things like love, you can’t only look at what’s right on paper. Because when you prioritize the “perfect” picture-ready life, you lose something important… maybe the most important piece of who you really are, or who you really love. At the end of the third film, Bridget admits she at last feels like one of those smug married people – only for her veil to fly off into the sky. This time, though, she laughs at the imperfect moment – in acceptance of the way her life is always going to be full of hiccups. The camera ends on a story announcing that the presumed dead Daniel Cleaver has turned up alive - a symbolic warning that she’ll never truly be safe from her potential self-sabotage resurfacing. But when we leave Bridget, she’s walking holding her son and seeming satisfied with herself. And the real triumph here isn’t her longed-for marriage or the baby; it’s her finally being able to feel good about herself and realize what others around her have long seen - that she’s truly pretty great, “just as she is.”
Bridget Jones: “Bridget Jones, already a legend.” - Bridget Jones’s Diary