I love romcoms, especially at Christmas – but I think we need to go on a break

I’ve really started to think about how the genre has shaped the way I perceive myself as a woman – and the world around me

Jennifer Medlicott
Sunday 05 December 2021 14:17
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<p>Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Such romantic comedies paint an unrealistic picture</p>

Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Such romantic comedies paint an unrealistic picture

Ever since I was a teenager, the predictable-yet-comforting world of romantic comedies has remained a constant guilty pleasure. With a different title to match every mood, it has always been my “go-to” genre.

Even in secondary school, the romanticisation of love in films made me crave desperately an escape from being single.

The others in my school would flaunt their three-week-old relationships and I’d go home and fantasise that I was Julia Roberts for the evening. Richard Curtis knows how to tell a love story and Hugh Grant has the kind of heady charm only ever achieved by characters on a screen. I was giddy at the thought of getting my own “meet cute”, some day.

It was not lost on me that this adoration stemmed from an unhealthy idealisation of fictional romances and their ability to tie up even the most improbable of loose ends. 

I knew that, in reality, the girl would be on the plane by the time the guy made his way through London traffic. And yet, something about the way things always eventually fell into place made me feel reassured about my own future.

It’s only now, with the abundance of Christmas romcoms around the corner and the romance of the festive season that I’ve really started to think about how the genre has shaped the way I perceive myself and the world around me as a woman.

Despite having a firm grasp of Mulvey’s male gaze theory since A-levels, I’ve never really stopped to think about how my prolific consumption of these films exacerbated my own internal male gaze and shaped my romantic expectations: such as how unfair it might be to expect a romantic apology in the shape of a marching band rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (a la Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You).

Particularly disturbing to me is the way it has dictated my own expectations of myself. How is it possible that Colin Firth’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend in the opening of Love Actually could even jokingly be labelled “disgusting”, when she so perfectly encapsulates the image of conventional beauty? And what effect does that have on those who don’t look anything like the women in these roles?

Romcoms set the bar for beauty astronomically high, while making unrealistic height and low weight seem like the standard.

Such illustrations of seemingly effortless beauty seeped into my psyche and now I feel perpetually stalked by the male gaze that lives rent-free inside me.

I find myself, even on days with no plans to leave the house, unable to commit to a genuine disregard for my appearance, still aware of the imaginary audience judging me. My internal spectator disrupts my lazy days with recommendations to change into my other, cuter pyjamas or to fix my hair but in a carefully curated, messy bun sort of way.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good for yourself but in my case, I realised that I could no longer distinguish between what was genuinely for me and what was for a self-created audience that would never actually materialise.

While I don’t hold the film industry entirely responsible for my unhealthy attitudes and behaviours, I do think if I want to improve my relationship with myself and others, I need to start cutting romcoms from my life.

Saying goodbye to these films and unlearning the standards they’ve set will be a lengthy, arduous process but it’s a process that I hope will ultimately be worth falling for.

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