**Warning: Contains spoilers for Bridgerton season 3 part 2.**

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Mirrors have always held a bewitching power over women – the power to shame, embolden, envy, as we look into it and lament: who is the fairest of them all?

A modern-day tragedy is that most women don’t perceive themselves as beautiful, due to impossible beauty standards that are perpetuated on and off-screen. Prior to season 3 of Bridgerton, Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) measured herself against these standards and struggled to perceive herself as beautiful.

Instead, she is a self-described spinster who felt she didn’t belong in the spotlight but at “the edge of the room”. As the season progresses, Penelope sheds her former gaudy gowns and reinvents her sense of style to try and re-establish her sense of self. Forever viewed as a friend rather than a lover, Penelope endeavours to change this outlook on herself and strive to find a husband with the assistance of her constant companion, Colin (Luke Newton).

By episode 5, Colin and Penelope are engaged, but Penelope is still in awe of Colin’s interest in her. In an effort to help Penelope 'see' what he sees in her, Colin turns her to face a mirror to try and tell her what he sees, before he confesses: "You should see it as well."

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Colin describes qualities that he loves about her and admits that she "make[s] me feel seen in ways I’ve never felt before". As an act of love, Colin wants Penelope to feel the same way, not only seen by him, but for her to truly appreciate how beautiful she is.

Similar to Julia Quinn’s novel, Colin undresses Penelope in front of the mirror, letting the gown fall to reveal the reflection of her naked body. This intimate moment is seen in the reflection, to reiterate that this is when Penelope finally sees herself and what Colin has seen all along. She isn't the undesirable "spinster" who has spent too many seasons on the shelf, but a gorgeous woman.

Even when people such as her housemaid have complimented Penelope on her appearance, she has shrugged it off, even when they reiterated, while looking at her reflection again, that "the looking glass does not lie". Though Penelope momentarily admires herself, it isn’t until she is forced to look at herself – in her most vulnerable state – that she starts to notice her own beauty.

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton standing in a doorway with her hand on the doorframe, smiling and wearing a blue ball gown.
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix

This moment is an empowering awakening for Penelope as it’s the first time she feels confident to admire herself, with the comfort of someone who admires her too. She can no longer flatter the dressmaker for making her look beautiful with ornate details and designs, as she no longer has anything to hide behind.

By watching this moment through the mirror, there’s a sense that Penelope can finally see what we’ve all seen all along – she’s a desirable and desired woman. It was never about her gowns or the way she styled her hair, she has always been beautiful, she just couldn’t always see it.

This intimate moment, though shared with Colin, is wholeheartedly for Penelope. The reflection isn’t for Colin to admire, as he has been bewitched with Penelope for weeks now, it’s purely for her own gaze.

It also comes soon after Penelope’s mother cruelly dismisses her beauty, worth and intelligence and doubts Colin’s motives for marrying her. An argument ensues, much to Penelope’s surprise, and the couple leave. Shocked by the harsh words exchanged, Penelope later admits to Colin that no one has ever defended her to her mother before.

Penelope and Colin embrace in the aisle of a church
Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton star in Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix

With the understanding of the criticism that Penelope is subjected to, even within her own home, Colin lovingly decides that Penelope won’t be diminished or put down by others anymore. Through this scene, he encourages her to find the confidence to observe and know her value so it can never be taken away from her again.

The only way to ensure Penelope shares his clarity is to make her see herself in a way she hasn’t before, naked in front of a mirror. Visually, this scene is crafted with such intricacy and laced with poignant emotions, that it’s hard not to find this moment incredibly relatable. The audience is moved by the sheer injustice that Penelope has been robbed of seeing herself (and being seen) with loving eyes her whole life.

Not only does it deepen their connection, but most importantly it improves Penelope’s connection to herself as she acknowledges, for the first time, she is beautiful, exactly as she is.

Bridgerton seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Netflix - sign up from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream. You can buy the Bridgerton book series on Amazon.

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