‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 teases a spicy second half. Why Nicola Coughlan’s sex scenes matter.

Spoiler alert: This article contains details about Season 3 of Bridgerton.

Dearest gentle reader, Season 3 of the bodice-ripping, hot-under-the-cravat phenomenon Bridgerton has descended upon the ton (shorthand for “the bon ton,” or British upper class, for any nonwatchers), and it brings with it the official start of “Polin” season — that is, Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton season.

Upon its May 16 release, fans of the Regency-era romance eagerly devoured the first half of the newest season, breaking Netflix records with 45.05 million views worldwide.

Now, forced to wait until June 13 for the second batch of episodes, fans are anxiously counting down the days to Season 3’s conclusion — which promises to be especially spicy, given star Nicola Coughlan’s request for her character Penelope to be “as naked as possible.”

Coughlan’s sizzling onscreen romance with co-star Luke Newton as Colin not only has viewers frantically fanning themselves down (particularly during that titillating carriage ride), it also has them cheering for plus-size representation in the romantic lead.

Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan’s characters get closer this season on “Bridgerton.” (Liam Daniel / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)

“Plus-size actresses have been portrayed as the fat, single or funny friend for too long. They deserve the main-character treatment,” Kate Sturino, body acceptance advocate and founder of beauty brand Megababe told Yahoo Entertainment.

“When I was watching the hookup scene, I remarked to myself how unusual it was to see a bigger body getting the sex-scene treatment. The lighting, the close-ups, the passion! And with a leading man, no less, like handsome Colin Bridgerton, not a side character,” Sturino added. “It was so exciting to see Penelope attract not just one but two suitors. It was also great to see how Colin had a lot of sexual desire for her. It is important to show that!”

While the season is based on Julia Quinn’s novel Romancing Mister Bridgerton, the fourth in the Bridgerton series, producers cut a major plot point that the book follows: Penelope’s weight … and weight loss.

“We think that Penelope is beautiful, and I don’t think it’s really a part of her story,” showrunner Jess Brownell told Variety. “Her being a wallflower in our show I think is about her level of confidence more than it is about her outward appearance. So I think that’s more what we’re playing with this season.”

One plot line from the book that they did keep, however, was Penelope’s makeover — which fans refer to as the “Bridgerton glow-up,” a wardrobe transformation characters undergo when they rotate into the romantic lead role.

Nicola Coughlan and Claudia Jessie from Season 1 of

Nicola Coughlan and Claudia Jessie from Season 1 of “Bridgerton.” (©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)

In Season 3, gone are Penelope’s citrusy frocks and tight poodle curls. Now, as her character steps out of the wallflower role and into that of the leading lady, her look is more glamorous.

But more important than what Penelope is wearing is what she isn’t — which, according to Coughlan, isn’t going to be much, per her request.

“I specifically asked for certain lines and moments [from the book] to be included … There’s one scene where I’m very naked on camera, and that was my idea, my choice,” Coughlan told Stylist.

“It just felt like the biggest ‘f*** you’ to all the conversation surrounding my body; it was amazingly empowering … I felt beautiful in the moment, and I thought: ‘When I’m 80, I want to look back on this and remember how f***ing hot I looked!’”

It’s that onscreen empowerment that has fans in the plus-size community cheering.

Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan's characters talk during Season 3 of the Netflix series

Fans have noted “‘Bridgerton’ glow-ups” in Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan’s characters in Season 3 of the Netflix series. (Liam Daniel / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Body-positive model and content creator Remi Bader recently took to her Instagram story to share a message she received from a follower.

“Between Nicola being the leading lady for this season of Bridgerton and Hunter McGrady on the cover of SI Swimsuit all in one week, the chubby little girl in me deep down is so happy to see this. I’m still a chubby adult, but I truly just wish we had this kind of representation when I was growing up in the early 2000s.”

To this, Bader replied, “This is so true. As much as I’ve been sad at the lack of representation with curvy and plus bodies in fashion lately, we have to look at what is being done, and both of these are huge!”

McGrady, a plus-size model, piggybacked off of Bader’s Instagram story in her own.

“We are seeing such a devastating decline in body representation [and] diversity across all boards. I know that the plus community is really really feeling it … We are back to revering only one type of body,” she said in the video.

“We need the representation more than ever … We made such strides and now we are taking such a step back. I’ve stopped seeing plus-size women in ads across all boards … We still deserve to be valued.”

However, some feel that Coughlan’s role as Penelope isn’t enough to move the needle forward for body representation.

“I think it’s cool to see someone bigger than a size 2 onscreen. Is it revolutionary? No. Is it enough? No,” Raffela Mancuso, a mental health and body image activist shared with Yahoo Entertainment.

“I think a lot of people see themselves in [the role]. It helps people feel normalized in their bodies. It’s validating in that sense, when we’ve been in a society that has taught us to hate ourselves for so, so long. [But] we’re not done yet.”

Nicola Coughlan, shown in a window seat, asked to reveal more of her character — literally — in Season 3 of

Nicola Coughlan asked to reveal more of her character — literally — in Season 3 of “Bridgerton.” (Laurence Cendrowicz / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection)

As for Coughlan herself, the actress said she hopes her body of work will one day matter more than her actual body.

“I hope in the future that more people will talk about our work, our inspirations, our drive, rather than our looks. A revolution is happening, and I want to play my part in it,” Coughlan wrote in a 2018 article for the Guardian.

She echoed the same sentiment more recently in a 2022 interview with Tatler. “I know the world is very body-image-obsessed, but I always hope that people will focus more on my acting than that. … Your relationship to your body is so personal. If I decide to suddenly become a bodybuilder and [apply a] fake tan and be covered in muscle, I can do that — because it’s my body and it’s for nobody else to own or decide what to do with. It’s always my wish that I will not become known as a body positivity influencer and I’ll just be known as an actor.”

The first part of Bridgerton Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.

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