I’ve started this column many times in the last few weeks trying to figure out what I wanted to say but I came up with nothing, and in true fashion, instead of trying to figure it out, I watched TV instead. Specifically, I watched some of the shows that made my childhood– “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. To be clear, I grew up on the strong female leads of these shows as my role models, which, to be honest, probably wasn’t the best idea. I was scared of the dark for way too long and my inability to let people in probably stems from these characters’ need to keep themselves isolated, but in the end, still worth it.
My favorite show has always been Buffy, the story of a girl who took on a responsibility that was thrust upon her and somehow managed to accept it and make it work for herself. Buffy is memorable not just for accepting her fate, but also constantly working to be the slayer as well as a normal teenage girl. Her “scooby gang” of friends was the epitome of friendship to me, built on trust and respect. They would always be there for one another, even when everything fell to shit. Buffy is a quintessential female lead because she was one of the early characters to throw the helpless blond trope into the past and portray a teenage girl who balances school, friends, and an inescapable destiny while still remaining the hero of her story.
Later, I found Veronica, who was the snarky, sarcastic, smart female of my dreams. Veronica, the daughter of a police chief (turned PI) who blamed the wealthiest man in town for the murder of his daughter, was not beloved by her fellow students. No, Veronica was not beloved, but she was needed, as her detective skills would help many of the people who now hated her. Veronica is so much stronger than the small bonde trope would suggest, a girl who worked to solve the murder of her best friend not for praise, but for a chance of returning to normalcy.
My reason for loving these girls stems from my dependance on them for life lessons. Despite all odds, they didn’t give up nor pretend everything was fine. One of the hallmarks of a great female lead is her ability to remain complex and show a diverse range of emotions. Life is hard, and falling apart sometimes is only human.
Obviously, I will never fight supernatural creatures or be a private eye, but the things I learned from these shows are some of the best life lessons I know. Buffy taught me to be strong but to always let yourself feel– that growing hard doesn’t make it easier, and that shutting people out doesn’t make you feel any better. Willow, Buffy’s best friend and badass which, taught me that you never really know yourself and that we are ever-changing. She also taught me that loving women is okay, but that’s a story for another day. Giles taught me that you never stop learning or trying to protect the people you love, nor should you stop.
Veronica taught me that being smart and dedicated and snarky as all hell is the perfect response to the worst of people. Wallace, Veronica’s best friend, taught me to stick to my morality but to remember that there is more than we see. Mr. Mars, Veronica’s father, taught me to love fiercely in the face of pain and strife, and that setbacks are not a reason to stop. Weevil, the tough leader of the PCH bike club, taught me that you are more than a stereotype, more than what the world makes you out to be.
All that being said, they also lowkey screwed me up. I have trouble letting people in. I tend to rely too heavily on the sarcastic bitch aspects of myself. I often long for the adventure of my protagonists, yet spend my days inside, watching their lives unfold instead of living mine. The hardest things these girls faced were the repercussions of their tragedies– their inability to open up to others. I find the inner monologue of Veronica and the confessions of Buffy are a little too reminiscent of my everyday. You will probably never see me fall apart because more often than not I hold my emotions in until I can’t anymore then fall apart alone, secluded from the people who are willing and able to help me. This isolationism is not healthy and can make people harden over time, forcing them into the bitch role easily. I have to constantly remind myself to not be rude, and to remember that people are not inherently the worst, that letting people in makes life a lot easier.
That whole sarcastic bitch persona was my guide to life, particularly throughout high school. Someone I’d just met once described me as looking like I wanted to commit homicide, and my brother used to yell at me to stop being so sarcastic all the time. In a sense I learned to assume the worst in people, just as I assume the worst for life. There was this long period when caring about things became something to be ashamed of and I hate that. My bitch persona has evolved into me constantly trying to not be too mean, but also keep myself guarded, which makes finding a middle ground a treacherous journey.
One of my favorite scenes in Buffy is when she compares herself to a cookie not done baking saying, “I’m not done baking yet. I’m not finished becoming… whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I’ve been looking for someone to make me feel whole, and maybe I just need to be whole. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next… maybe one day I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then if I want someone to eat m — or, to enjoy warm delicious cookie-me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.” I am still cookie dough trying to pretend I am fully baked and mostly hoping not to get burned.”
In spite of the bad stuff and because of the good stuff, I love these girls for all that they have given me. I will never forget the lessons they engraved in me over the years, nor recover from the bad habits they unintentionally slipped into my daily life. As far as problematic role models go, I think I could have done a lot worse.