Friday, February 23, 2024

In Search of Heroines

When I was a girl, about sixth grade, I became aware that things were changing. I was suddenly different and the way people treated me was diferent too. As if overnight, my girl body became a woman body. But I wasn't a woman, not even close. It was all hard to understand. My parents were supportive, but I didn't think they understood. I searched for a guidepost, an inspiration. I found one in the most unlikely spot.

Like most kids of my generation, I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons and munching the sugar cereal they pitched. Amongst the vast wasteland of television (as dubbed by the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission), I found a character with whom I could identify. She was Penelope Pitstop.

Penelope appeared first in a cartoon show called the Wacky Races and later in her own spin-off show. Penelope was determined and honest and loyal. But she wasn't very bright. She was a cute southern belle who gratefully accepted assistance wherever she could find it and she seemed to need a lot of assistance. Especially from another driver named Peter Perfect. He was as handsome as Penelope was beautiful, but again not too smart.

Why did I connect with this imaginary character with a silly personality? I think it was because she looked like me. I had wide hips and a big butt. So did she. Today, we talk about the importance of representation. We didn't know that word, but that's what she was for me.

What's strange is that I didn't consciously get the connection until years later. I just liked Penelope. I wasn't a driver, or blonde, or Southern, or dopey. But she was the only female driver, so I rooted for her.

Those cartoons were made two generations ago. I doubt anyone involved gave much thought to their effect on girl viewers. But today, we know better, or at least we should.

We have a teenage granddaughter. She is bright, beautiful, clever, and funny. And she has the same shape as her mom and me. She's athletic, healthy, and definitely not overweight. But she got the family blessing/curse.

This sweet girl is barraged with social media messages that define feminine beauty as something she doesn't have and never will. Yet she attracts lots of interest from guys. This conflict causes her great distress. She thinks there must be something wrong with her. If only girls had contemporary role models who could tell them straight - I'm all right and you are too. There are curvy celebrities like JLo or Beyonce, but those women are both older than her mother.

She thinks I don't understand, but maybe I do. I tell her how beautiful she is, but she says I'm supposed to say that. My wish for this amazing young woman is that she comes to accept herself as she is, and in time, loves her mind and her body. She has so much potential. I don't want to meddle, but I wish I could do more.

PS - Randy reminded me that Penelope Pitstop used to get tied up a lot. I guess she did. That probably appealed to me as well.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bonnie,

Oh this takes me back. I remember Penelope Pitstop! Can't really remember much detail now, but I remember the cartoon. It's amazing how things have changed. So many cartoons and shows we used to watch wouldn't fly now. It's a shame. I dispair a bit at the so called role models and influential people today.


Hermione said...

I don't remember Penelope Pitstop at all, and I was a big Saturday morning cartoon fan. I wonder if there are any current role models out there in animationland.


KDPierre said...

I would say if you really want to help her, whenever you're visiting or she's visiting, find some clever way to drop her phone in the toilet, sink, bathtub, swimming pool, bubbling chicken soup, (you get the idea) and pass it off as 'sorry, poor ol' Grandma is so clumsy'.

I saw several exposes on cell phones, social media, and today's youth, and in one was a great and very accurate analogy: one person said that we would never give a child meth, or heroin, or cocaine, and yet we readily give them a device that is as, and potentially more, addictive and personally destructive.

I think that you could try to give her the best advice and support, and even provide a good personal example......and it will do very little good since your influence will be restricted to certain times and places while the social media barrage will be targeted to her peer group, and be both pervasive and addictive. So......toss her phone away every chance you get and don't offer to replace it.

Bonnie said...

Roz - Me too!

Hermione - These Hanna-Barbara cartoon series were short lived. I don't know about the animated role models for girls today. Our daughter was into Anime, much of which was exactly what I didn't want her to see.

KD - Don't I wish?! She would probably consider that an assault.

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