Caution: Big treats Bridgerton ahead.
“Do not forget to say goodbye to Prudence, Phillipa or even Penelope while you go,” Lady Portia Featherington told a group of male suitors in an early episode of Netflix. Bridgerton, which follows the drama, scandal and intrigue of the 19th-century marriage market.
The even in Lady Portia’s sense is a thin veil over her daughter, Penelope, and shows how little she looks at her – especially compared to her other daughters, Prudence and Phillipa. Penelope is the youngest Featherington (presumably their age is never specified) and looks different from her sisters. At one point she mocks that she is ‘two-stone heavier’ than them. Her skin is criticized. In the middle of a ball, a girl throws a drink at her. The message: It’s not just the Featheringtons who are looking down on Penelope.
We quickly learn that she is not like the other girls. While Daphne Bridgerton, Prudence and Phillipa are portrayed as beautiful, desirable brides, Penelope gets the bookworm treatment. She’s the little sister, the weirdest best friend, the joke – despite the fact that she’s also eligible for marriage. Even Eloise Bridgerton, a strange ball, is at one point stuffed into a dress and told how beautiful she looks. Bridgerton almost goes out of his way to portray Penelope as the ‘ugly duckling’.
We finally learn why. It turns out that – a big, big spoiler warning – Penelope is Lady Whistledown, the anonymous scribe who makes everyone’s gossip in the form of a widely read newsletter. The revelation confirms her character slightly: All the while, she was the most powerful force in London, someone who could change the course of high society with just her pen. She is the extreme bad thing. N boss. The curator of her city’s wedding market.
It’s one way to look at it – but there’s another way. As a plus I made myself angry Bridgerton could not just portray Penelope like the other girls: so beautiful, immediate and worthy of love. Instead, it made her the outcast: a woman who would never find a proper place in society, and therefore she had to look at it from the outside. Is the concept of a sticky woman who finds love that unlikely? Really?
I can only hope that Penelope gets flowers for her in the second season – if there is a season two – but for now, I’m disappointed. If there was to be an ‘ugly duckling’ on this show, then why should it be the only character who is not trackback? Unfortunately, this shows how little we have come in terms of size variety and representation. Even on a show like Bridgerton– produced by Shonda Rhimes, a proponent of inclusivity – non-thin characters still get the short end of the stick.
Bridgerton border in many ways, especially in his depiction of London from the 1800s. We see open marriages, gay sex and women questioning the rules set out for it. But when it comes to seeing a crooked woman who is sexualized and sought after, we are still in the dark ages. We are ‘awake’ but not that “woke up.”
It’s a shame – because so many people, myself included, have benefited from seeing a woman who looks like Daphne like Penelope. As an unparalleled season: sexy, sophisticated and total wedding material. (I hate to put it in these terms, but I play within the bounds of Bridgerton’s point of view.) Perhaps people with body image issues will no longer think they need to change to find love. We can not be what we can not see – and besides some brilliant examples, non-thin people use a pop culture and still think something is wrong with them. Just look at the fat jokes that were made Emily in Paris or Ellen Pompeo’s quote about how Patrick Dempsey could not return Grey’s Anatomy if he gained 80 pounds. “The girls want to see McDreamy dreamy,” she said.
But why can’t Penelope be dreamy? The revelation that she’s Lady Whistledown definitely opens her storyline for future seasons. I have a feeling if we see more, she will be in front and in the middle. But I do not only wants her to have more screen time. I want to see her in pastel dresses and hats with 80 suitors knocking on her door. I want a montage of her corpse-tearing sex scenes are set to an orchestral rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams.” There must be a man who is willing to marry her though she carries a great secret, like an unplanned pregnancy.
The fact is that there are more Penelopes in the world than entertainment –Bridgerton included – is representative. And we are not pale, dormant wall flowers that spill drinks on us. We go on dates (lots of them!), Have hot sex and wear chic clothes. We is the incomparable. It’s time for television to start reflecting on that.
Christopher Rosa is the entertainment editor at Glamorous. Follow him on Twitter @ chrisrosa92.
Originally appeared on Glamor