I blame Bridget Jones

Bridget got me into this mess, and I’ve been waiting 14 years for her to get me out of it, writes Clémence Sebag.

This is what thirty-something looks like: a father ploughing through business contacts for an “eligible bachelor”, a grandmother muttering “you young people do it all later, dear”, and a younger sibling telling you to get a grip. Someone did this to me: I blame Bridget Jones.

Bridget got me into this mess. And I’ve been waiting 14 years for her to get me out of it. None too soon, the third book in the Bridget saga is coming out just in time for Christmas. And if anyone can "bridge" the generation gap (read: lower my family’s expectations), forty-something Bridget should do it. I’m getting the lot of them a copy. I’m not just buying a book, I’m buying myself another decade.

This is what Bridget did: she ignored Mr Right, fell for Mr Now, and somehow ended up with both of them fighting over her. Naturally, after the last “emotional fuckwit/commitment phobic” I fully expect his unpopular friend Mr Good Guy to be along any minute. I blame Bridget.

Like Bridget I wanted to write when I grew up. Like Bridget I am still waiting for one of these two things to happen. Could it be because channelling our writing self involves finding the perfect writer’s outfit – fishing out that nude bra from the dirty laundry to go under that sheer top, doing the laundry, ironing said sheer top, until, well, it’s “Chardonnay time”? I brame Blidget.

Teetering on The Edge of Reason, terrified to topple over into the age of reason, I wonder: is it time to grow out of shared houses where my first thought in the morning is “who stole my milk?” All the while laughing at those trying to suck me into the ‘breast milk vs. powdered milk’ debate. I blame Bridget.

As an entitled twenty-something I never considered the possibility that I’d still be drunk-falling out of taxis Bridget-style in my thirties. Or that I would feel the sting of “jellyfishers” who take the party out of dinner, “smug marrieds” who bring Oscar Wilde’s “True friends stab you in the front” axiom to mind as they pat pregnant bumps and aim a sententious “tick-tock” in the general direction of the only “singleton” left at the table – who, me?

Even Helen Fielding blames Bridget: “Bridget has allowed [...] women to think it's all right just to be all right [...] and sort of muddle through the complicated, overstuffed world that we live in”.  

Bridget works in insidious ways: the thirty-something landscape is here and it seems ageing gracefully will have to be left for another decade. But want to know a secret? Being a creative wannabe/adult-in-the-making/“singleton” is fun. Messy is fun. I choose Bridget’s brand of trying really hard and failing even harder.

Want to know another secret? When Fielding says Bridget, c’est moi, it’s all an elaborate cover-up. Bridget is future me. And now I want my intellectual property and my merchandising rights. Besides, I am curious to find out how life pans out as a forty-something. With Bridget still Mad About The Boy I’m preparing for another decade of “How’s your love life?” So am I a single mum? Do I make it as a journalist? Have I quit smoking? Am I fat? Either way, I know we still have Chardonnay.

Renée Zellweger in the 2001 film version of "Bridget Jones's Diary".
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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser