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The Importance of Female Protagonists by Sadie Hartmann

I was a skinny, gawky young girl. I would eventually stop growing at six feet tall but all through middle school and high school, my body was stretching; especially my legs and my feet. 7th and 8th grade P. E. was torture. We had to dress down in the girl's locker room in front of one another. I didn't feel like other girls. They were way shorter than me and already filling out their bras. Sometimes I would stuff my gym clothes into my regular clothes and act like I was just using the toilet but I was really changing in the privacy of a stall. If you weren't comfortable changing in front of everyone else, something was "wrong" with you.

My mom was especially strict about allowing me to experiment with "womanly" things like shaving my legs, wearing "dangly earrings" or makeup. Even when she did ease up on the gatekeeping, those things didn't really feel like me. I remember wearing makeup to a school dance and feeling like I looked as if I had gotten into my mother's makeup. Girls can be especially cruel. Even girls you think are your friends can turn on you in a moment. I remember one time, during basketball tryouts, my friend told me that the basketball uniforms were shorty-shorts. She looked at my body, I watched her eyes scanning over me then she said, "You're going to look awkward."

The sad thing is that I don't remember what I said back to her. Probably nothing. I'm sure she got what she wanted from me, embarrassed, defeated silence. Mission accomplished.

This is a photo of me around that age. We were riding on an elephant at Marie World in Vallejo, CA. I remember my sister, Sarah (she's the one in front of me) called me "Daddy Long Legs" that day.

that's me in the middle between two friends, a head taller than my female peers ALWAYS!

At this time, I was pretty introverted, spending after school hours in my room doing homework and reading books. I'm thankful social media wasn't around during my formative body image years but I still found ways to compare myself to society's version of strong, beautiful women. My mom watched soap operas and those women wore a lot of make-up, did their hair up and wore expensive clothes and accessories. All the things I had no clue about. I looked at those women and it disturbed me that they were who I was aspiring to be like when I grew up. It seemed like a lot of work. Girls at my school were already resembling these women. They wore brand name clothes like GUESS and BONGO. They did their hair and makeup and work dangly earrings. I went to school with a lot of Kelly Kapowskis. 

Halloween was hilarious. It was straight out of the movie mean girls. Sexy devils, sexy cats, sexy French Maids... I was a vampire; staked through the heart. I think girls looked at me funny but I got my photo in the yearbook.

Women in sitcoms and TV shows were always curvy and feminine. I didn't see myself, my body type, represented in movies or shows or celebrities. I started forming ideas about how women were supposed to look. Strong, important women have big hair, big boobs, dress nice (revealing their assets) and wear a lot of makeup. Men desire them.

Then I saw Alien with my parents in '89

Ellen Ripley- Alien (1979)

Ellen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver was a badass. She was thin but muscular. She was beautiful but wasn't wearing makeup or revealing clothes. She wasn't busty. She was confident. Strong. She survived. Her character shattered a lot of stereotypes in my mind of what a woman on-screen was supposed to look like, especially a leading lady! She didn't need a man to desire her or rescue her, she was independently thinking; making decisions all on her own.

Sarah Connor- Terminator 2 (1991)


Are you kidding me with this photo?? Look at that badass woman. Sarah Connor is everything. Her character did not give a shit about being "sexy" or looking good while she was running around trying to survive. She wore what she needed to wear to be agile and competent and GET IT DONE. Remember the scene where she works the pump action on the gun with one arm?? Linda Hamilton is a boss. This character crushed it for me in terms of heroic women. I didn't imagine that she sat around thinking about handbags or curling irons. She was busy saving the fucking world.

Trinity- The Matrix (1999)


If I could be a character from any action flick--Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity in the Matrix. What a badass running around in stretch leather, sunglasses, knee-high boots and firing weapons like she's been doing it her whole life. She was sexy, beautiful, strong, and capable. Her makeup wasn't distracting, it was natural. Her hair wasn't "big" it was slicked back. Her body type was toned, sleek--not voluptuous. She wasn't running around in high heels--she wore practical shoes for KICKING ASS. I wasn't worried about her dangly earrings getting caught on something while she zipped around on her motorcycle like a freakin' BAD MOFO.

Imperator Furiosa- Mad Max Fury Road (2015)


When I heard Charlize Theron was going to be in a new Mad Max movie, I rolled my eyes. A blonde bombshell in a stylistically industrial apocalyptic setting? Lame. Then I saw the trailer with her shaved head covered in ash and her entire body covered up with rags and shoulder pads and everything else and I was so impressed. Furiosa is a rebel, a vigilante and has her own badass agenda. She held her own against Tom Hardy's Max. I loved her.

Rey- Star Wars Franchise (2015-2019)

Perhaps my favorite badass role model for young girls. Rey is flawed but confident. She's a risk-taker but she's not reckless. She questions herself but she's decisive.. She's not afraid to work alone but she values her community; her friends. I love that Rey kicks MAJOR ASS and she does it in a modest outfit that's practical. Rey is not this:

Perfectly styled hair. Makeup. Voluptuous. A sexually appealing outfit that is totally impractical. Lame accessories that don't serve a purpose. In my opinion, Wonder Woman is not a role model. A better Superhero role model would be her:

Captain Marvel. Still not ideal, but in the superhero franchises, I like her the most. 12-year-old Sadie would have seen herself more in Carol Danvers' backstory and could have felt like she could be a superhero too. 

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