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Bridgerton's Poignant Mirror Scene Is Everything Fans Could Want

The sexy, tender moment builds on the Polin romance — and pushes back on Hollywood's narrow beauty ideals.
  • Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton (Photo: Netflix)
    Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton (Photo: Netflix)

    The first half of Bridgerton Season 3 advanced the friends-to-lovers romance between the third Bridgerton sibling, Colin, and Penelope Featherington to the point that the fourth episode — the point Netflix chose to split the season in two — ends with Colin’s marriage proposal. Or, to be precise, Colin’s inquiry as to whether Penelope is going to marry him after they engaged in some inappropriate acts in her carriage.

    As Part 2 picks up today, we see that the answer is in the affirmative. The whirlwind of their courtship and engagement culminates with a moment fans have been eagerly anticipating: the infamous mirror sex scene. In it, Colin (Luke Newton) positions Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) in front of a mirror and describes why he finds her attractive as he slowly divests her of her clothes. We see Penelope differently, without the flaws she usually perceives, because we’re seeing her through Colin’s eyes.

    The scene includes the normal amount of nudity for TV sex scenes, but the framing of it is refreshingly body-positive. There is no attempt to hide Coughlan’s body, or in any way suggest that Colin is more conventionally attractive, even if he might be by today’s standards (there has been an uptick in fatphobia directed at Coughlan since the show was released). Instead, the show allows Colin and Penelope to just be in the moment, without using tricks to hide that Season 3’s female protagonist isn’t as thin as her predecessors.

    In a way, the decision by “Tick Tock” director Bille Woodruff and writers Geetika Lizardi and Azia Squire to center this long-awaited scene, one that fans have built up from a mere line in the books, is both very much in line with the show and a departure from what we have come to expect from period dramas. Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope stands out even in a show that’s already seen heroines like Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), Kate (Simone Ashley), and Francesca (Hannah Dodd) go against the grain. She is, after all, a bigger woman than we’re used to seeing on TV, though Coughlan isn’t even plus size by today’s standards. She’s standard size, but still very close to the ideal of beauty for an industry that often operates on expectations the average person cannot even begin to comprehend. 

    The show makes no mention of this, only comments on Penelope’s perceived unattractiveness as it relates to her family, her awkward personality, and the way she dresses — something she changes in Season 3 — but the issue is always present in the background, a fact other characters readily accept, even if viewers might disagree. Though it’s set in a time when Penelope’s body type would be the preferred one, Bridgerton establishes women like Daphne as the norm, in keeping with the entertainment industry’s preferences. That is why the mirror scene is so poignant.

    Beauty standards vary wildly between time periods, and yet the TV industry has typically applied unrealistic modern ones to period dramas. It’s rare to see actresses like Coughlan represented in these period dramas, even if in the time period, women who looked like her would have been the preferred matches, as they would have been considered more capable of bearing healthy children. There’s the romance aspect of romance books, and then there’s the reality.

    Bridgerton is, of course, a romance. And like a good romance, the show ultimately doesn’t concern itself with the people who might consider the match between Colin and Penelope unrealistic. Instead, there’s only Colin falling in love with Penelope, who represents a different, but no less beautiful body type. 

    Other period dramas should take a page from Bridgerton Season 3, and pursue a little more authenticity when it comes to their heroines’ bodies. The success of the Polin season should prove, once and for all, that there is an audience not just for romance, but for realistic portrayals of women in such romances.

    People consume romantic stories for the escapism; to feel, however briefly, that they too can get the happily ever after. That fantasy always works best when it’s mixed with a little bit of reality. A big part of that is seeing bodies like their own in these romances. Nicola Coughlan represents a lot of women. Seeing her stand proud in front of a mirror, her body be looked at not just with desire, but with love, means a lot to many.

    Not everyone will watch Bridgerton Season 3 for the chance to see themselves in the heroine as she looks into that mirror. But for those who do, it’s the part of the story that will stay with them long after it’s over. 

    Bridgerton Season 3 is now streaming in its entirety on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Lissete E. Lanuza Sáenz is a lawyer, critic, and editor. She also hosts the I’m Not Yelling, I’m Latina podcast.

    TOPICS: Bridgerton, Netflix, Luke Newton, Nicola Coughlan, Body Positivity