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Bridgerton’s New Season Sparks Discussion on “Mixed-Weight” Relationships in Media

Bridgerton’s New Season Sparks Discussion on “Mixed-Weight” Relationships in Media

nicola coughlan and luke newton in still from bridgerton season 3

Upon the release of the much-anticipated third season of Bridgerton, a small (but vocal) number of watchers have expressed their concerns about the leading romance. The relationship in question is between characters Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Netwon). Dubbed on social media as a “mixed-weight relationship,” some viewers have been quick to declare their incredulity about Penelope being bigger than Colin.

Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton as Penelope and Colin in Bridgerton Season 3, a couple that has sparked recent discourse on "mixed-weight" relationships
Newton and Coughlan’s characters have been dubbed as “Polin” in Season 3 of Bridgerton. Photo by Liam Daniel/Netflix.

Though Nicola Coughlan is not technically plus-sized, her weight has been subject to criticism since the first season of Bridgerton aired. The release of Season 3, and her part in the “mixed-weight” relationship at the season’s forefront, has only perpetuated this discourse.

In reality, we see “mixed-weight” relationships in the media all the time. As one Twitter user pointed out, “Funny. ‘Mixed-weight’ relationships have been on screen for a long time. It’s only a problem when the woman is heavy.”

It’s true: when was the last time you heard someone question why on earth Wilma would end up with Fred Flinstone? In Bob Hearts Abishola, is it ever posited why Abishola hearts Bob? The discrepancy is indeed rooted in how our societal expectation of desirability and its link to weight is much more pushed onto women. 

"Pilot" -- Bob, a middle-aged compression-sock businessman from Detroit, unexpectedly falls for his cardiac nurse, Abishola, a Nigerian immigrant, while recovering from a heart attack and sets his sights on winning her over, on the series premiere of BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA, Monday, Sept. 23 (8:30-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Billy Gardell, Folake Olowofoyeku, Christine Ebersole, Matt Jones, Maribeth Monroe, Vernee Watson, Shola Adewusi, Barry Shabaka Henley and Travis Wolfe, Jr. star. Co-creator and producer Gina Yashere recurs.    Pictured (L-R): Billy Gardell as Bob and Folake Olowofoyeku as Abishola.     Photo: Best Possible Screen Grab/CBS  ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Bob Hearts Abishola is one of many television shows that depict a relationship between a plus-sized man and straight-sized woman. Photo courtesy of CBS.

To those questioning the plausibility of #Polin, Bridgerton’s apparent transgression isn’t necessarily the fact that Penelope is loved in general. It’s the fact that she is loved by a (wait for it) hot man who is (gasp) thin. When a thin woman ends up with a fat man, nobody bats an eye, but how dare the roles be reversed?

Interestingly enough, the book that inspired the season (Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn) portrays the romance differently. Before Colin entertained Penelope as a potential romantic interest in the original book, she lost almost thirty pounds. The show adaptation’s decision to have Penelope not lose weight pivots from that harmful narrative. Most of us would agree that everyone is lovable regardless of their size, and having diverse relationships represented on TV is a net positive…so why are people questioning the show’s believability? 

See Also

Beauty standards have been around for a long time, but they haven’t always meant the same thing. Aphrodite was ancient Greece’s Kim K., and she had stomach rolls just like everyone else. A hundred years ago, curves weren’t seen as sexy, and today they’re the mainstream image of hotness. It’s all subjective, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Today, though, beauty is also driven by the market. We’re told that being small is sexy by a multi-million dollar weight loss industry driven by people’s insecurities and the promotion of fatphobia. Ideally, weight and desirability shouldn’t be coupled together. In a culture that relies on equating the two, shows like Bridgerton can do a lot of good by showing a love story between a plus-size woman and a conventionally attractive man. 

The truth is, there are a lot of “mixed-weight” couples. That’s because fat people are desirable, and can have healthy relationships and great sex. The more diversity we get in media, the easier it is to chip away at the social stigma that says otherwise. People are calling Penelope and Colin’s relationship unrealistic because they are used to seeing a very narrow depiction of bodies on TV. But attraction isn’t restricted to one look in real life, and it shouldn’t be on TV, either. In order to dismantle society’s collective wounds around desirability and size, the stories we consume should reflect a myriad of experiences.

Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton as Penelope and Colin in Bridgerton Season 3, a couple that has sparked recent discourse on "mixed-weight" relationships

Kudos to Bridgerton for giving us a “mixed-weight” fairy tale romance, and more importantly, giving social media a new ship to obsess over.

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