Dimensions Interview
"Bridget" -- Dawn McDowell (continued)

DIMENSIONS: So you were really getting into being a model?

McDOWELL: No! They just gave me a date, time, and place to show up to. The Diet Cookbook was only the second time I ever modeled. I actually had a lot of fun doing it. Everyone was very nice to me because the fat girl was now a moneymaker. The pictures for that book were all done in a few days. After that shoot I moved back to Massachusetts and invested some money into a retail business.

DIMENSIONS: But that wasn't the end of your modeling career?

McDOWELL: People began to recognize me, but after a while it became kind of disconcerting because I didn't have a support system around. I had no way of handling the success and the notoriety. All of a sudden there were people asking for my autograph and I still wasn't sure why the book was selling. I was collecting checks, had lots of money, and I didn't work all that much. I thought it was okay, but knew it wasn't. I thought that people were probably ridiculing me behind my back and I didn't like it. What I was doing was financially right, but psychologically it wasn't. I went through a lot of conflict. At that time I wasn't seriously dating.

DIMENSIONS: Woah! You mean you did Bridget to get dates?

McDOWELL: Perhaps, sort of. After high school I had put on lots of weight. I had a lot of male friends, but not a lot of lovers. When I did Bridget, I thought someone would be attracted to me. I thought when I did Bridget that would help me. Men would see me and know what I looked like and they'd accept me. That didn't happen and I wondered why I had bared my soul. I had had a lot of relationships, but the right kind of guy never showed up.

DIMENSIONS: But you must have been inundated with letters.

McDOWELL: At the peak of Bridget, many people wrote to the company, but they didn't forward the letters. I just found out about that recently. I also found out that a producer wanted to do a movie with me. They never followed up and never told me. I don't think it they did it on purpose. They just didn't really know how to market me. Primarily they cared about the next book and the next calendar because that made immediate cash. I was doing trade shows and interviews and signed books, but whatever happened marketing-wise was just an accident. The product sold itself.

DIMENSIONS: Who bought "Bridget" and why?

McDOWELL: Well, women would come up and say "My husband bought me your book and I really liked it." But I guess many of them would have the calendar on the fridge to remind them not to get that fat.

DIMENSIONS: Did a lot of men approach you?.

McDOWELL: Yes, but I after a while just didn't know anymore why they were associating with me. Did they want Bridget or Dawn? I went through a real confusing time. Even my friends would introduce me as Bridget, "you know the one who does the books." But I wasn't Bridget, I was Dawn.

DIMENSIONS: Did you get abuse from men?

McDOWELL: I don't recall anyone ever being really lewd or suggestive to me. It might have been the image that Bridget was projecting. Bridget was a very sweet and unpretentious type of person.

DIMENSIONS: The Bridget Basic Sex book wasn't all that innocent....

McDOWELL: I know. I wasn't too keen of doing it. I was afraid of what they could put in it. I definitely didn't want it to be pornographic. I really put my foot down there. I wanted a classy partner. They were going to get me someone like Zero Mostel, but I ended up with this guy whom I really didn't like. I didn't like his mannerisms and I definitely wasn't attracted to him at all. He was acting creepy. He felt he could do anything he wanted. In an elevator shot he was all over me and he got really into it. This was one of my most uncomfortable things to do and it was very difficult for me. I really didn't want to do the book and didn't like the shoot. But it was in my contract and I had to do the job.

DIMENSIONS: But there were lots of other books...

McDOWELL: All in all, we did about eight books. I did a King Fu book, an Inspirational Poem book, an Organic Cook book, a Secretaries book, a How to Beat High Food Prices and Eat Better book. You name it, we did it.

DIMENSIONS: Why did they do all the books? They sold, but did they have any idea why they were such a hit? Did they ever consider the fact that people might buy them because they were sexy?

McDOWELL: No, that never occurred to them. They thought the books were selling based on the gag factor and it was really my cute face that did the job. My body had nothing to do with it, or if it did, it was thought of not in a positive manner. They thought the books were selling because they were so unusual. Of course, I just happen to photograph fairly well...

DIMENSIONS: We know you do... It also looked like you had different hairstyles. Did they do the shoots over a period of time?

McDOWELL: Yes, they'd do a series, and then another a few weeks or months later. When I started doing the shoots I weighed about 250. By the end of the third year I was up to almost 300. You mean no one noticed that?

DIMENSIONS: Now that you mention it.... Anyway, how long did this go on?

McDOWELL: The initial book was far more successful than anyone thought it would be, and they kept doing more and more. I really didn't expect that and was kind of embarrassed when the products popped up everywhere. Still, it was great fun for a while. I worked maybe three times a year on shoots, and I did the trade shows and the interviews. I collected my checks, bought cars, moved from place to place, travelled, threw parties, bought clothes. I was going through a burnout period. It had a lot to do with men. Too be honest, one of the reasons I had done Bridget was to get more men in my life, but it didn't happen. So there I was, feeling very much like a commodity, with no meaningful male relationships in my life, not certain who I was or what I was doing with my life, and it really hit me! In 1975 I decided I had had it. I decided that's it.

DIMENSIONS: No more Bridget. How did it end?

McDOWELL: I made an agreement with the company that I no longer wanted to do modeling and that they would buy out the contract. They told me sales had decreased anyway and they weren't going to do any more Bridget stuff, just sell out the warehouse and let the product die. The contract had a clause that allowed termination and they bought me out for a small amount.

DIMENSIONS: And that was the end of it?

McDOWELL: It wasn't. In 1979, four years later, new Bridget things still came on the market. I contacted my lawyer and he felt there wasn't much that I could do because of legal restrictions. Had I known they were going to continue to print, it wouldn't have made any sense to stop the contract and the money, but they insisted that Bridget was done anyway.

DIMENSIONS: How long did they continue to publish Bridget?

McDOWELL: They haven't stopped yet! It's seventeen years later and Bridget is still around. They are using 20 year old pictures and it still goes on. But at least now they agreed to pay me future royalties.

DIMENSIONS: Future royalties from the old pictures? Or are you considering doing new Bridget pictures?

McDOWELL: I think I still look pretty good, so we discussed doing more shoots. From their perspective they don't think there is a market. They told me once they thought they'd do a "Bridget revival" ten years down the road, but they never did. I might do it again, but it would have to be financially rewarding.

DIMENSIONS: What's your life like now?

McDOWELL: After Bridget I went back to school. I hadn't saved any money and I didn't have anything to fall back on. So I went back to college and got a BA in Communications. I graduated in 79 and went to work in a law firm specializing in sex discrimination. Then I became an analyst for a major insurance company, an ultraconservative environment. I don't think anyone knows me as Bridget. No, somebody somewhere along the line recognized me; but if they did, people don't talk to me about it.

DIMENSIONS: Did you ever come in contact with NAAFA during your Bridget days?

McDOWELL: Sure did. In 1971 when I first started doing Bridget and things started to sell I got in contact with two people who ran the Connecticut NAAFA chapter. They told Bill Fabrey, who was NAAFA's president at the time, that they knew me. Bill called me in Massachusetts and asked me to come to the City and speak at one of their first conventions. Everything was set up and I was very excited. But then I got the word that they didn't want me after all. Someone had decided that Bridget was too controversial, because of the nudity, I assume. I was very disappointed. I had thought this was an organization that was going to accept me for my fatness, but then I was told that I wasn't being accepted after all. That's the kind of hidden message stuff I was talking about with the whole Bridget experience. It was very trying for me. That was it for NAAFA, but I kept tabs on them over the years.

DIMENSIONS: Did you ever join?

McDOWELL: Yes. What finally prompted me to join three years ago was seeing all those talk shows with NAAFA couples. One of the things that is real important to me is the acceptance of non-traditional image and appearance.


McDOWELL: Bridget was the type of thing where there weren't 15 other Bridgets. If she was so acceptable, why weren't there 15 other fat women doing the same thing? If you look at activism in terms of principles, I will defend a principle if I truly believe in it. It's real important for people to have equity in life, equity in their jobs, equity in their relationships. Why shouldn't someone have the same opportunity like other people just because of their size? I had to bust my butt in my professional career and I'm still not getting ahead like others because of the stereotypical perception of fat people. I have a boss who in a recent staff meeting said "What do you think we are: Fat, dumb, and stupid?" It has always bothered me that people have this negative perception of fat people: less productive, slower. That's a stereotype that we must correct. There will be fat people who are non-productive but so are thin people, but they don't always seem to be so scrutinized.

DIMENSIONS: That sounds pretty much like fat activist. How do you feel about your size?

McDOWELL: Right now I would like to have less weight on me just because I don't feel right. With 30-40 pounds less I feel physically a lot better and that's why I've never been entirely comfortable with my weight. I've been as high as 340. After Optifast I went down to 260. Now I'm right back up to 320.

DIMENSIONS: Do you have a diet history?

McDOWELL: Yes. I've done them all. Optifast, Hypnosis, balloon implant. I did Weight Watchers, I've done Atkins, I've done 700 calories programs, the whole thing except weight loss surgery. The balloon was awful. Generally, every time I was on very low cal programs, my metabolism just adjusts. The only way I can keep weight off is with exercise. But I always gained the weight back. I'll never be a thin person. I've only recently come to terms with that, maybe the last two years. I am a socially acceptable person and I can handle myself.

DIMENSIONS: What sort of guys do you like?

McDOWELL: I guess I'm an FA. I like big men, guys who are very burly. I like the "big" guys, like wrestlers; The Grizzly Adams type. I call them the "boys." I've always had that preference. It's almost like I feel like I want to be dwarfed rather than dwarf someone. Wouldn't it be great if someone could bench-press me? I don't know why I feel that way. I just like them big: give me rugged, lumberjack, beards, the whole nine yards!

DIMENSIONS: Did you know about men who prefer fat women when you did Bridget?

McDOWELL: FAs? I didn't know about FAs until two years ago when I got a copy of Dimensions. I was flabbergasted when I read that.

DIMENSIONS: So FAs are okay by you?

McDOWELL: Some people may have misconstrued ideas about fat women and their vulnerabilities. Men who target fat women with low self-esteem and use them for their advantage really bother me. When I hear of all the sexual activity that's supposedly going on, it scares me. Who'd want to sleep with someone who had slept with someone else last night? Other than that, I think it's no stranger than me liking burly men. Who should pass judgement on people's preferences anyway? It's no one's business. ß

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