Daria, Liz Lemon and How People Like To Assign Me Role Models
From the mid to late 90s, as a woman with mousey hair, glasses, and a tendency towards both sarcasm and short-sightedness, it was only natural that I was refered to as Daria, and on occasion, ”that chick from that Cats and Dog movie - clearly, Uma Thurman – always a welcome respite.
But things changed! I grew up! My speech patterns varied and my tendency towards absurd self-deprecation and a penchant for sleep eating made itself known! Thus I was Tina Fey. Which – you know – could be worse.
Here’s my issue though – they don’t really mean Tina Fey, they mean I remind them of Liz Lemon. Which I get. I’m a 27 year old chubster who really likes TV and sandwiches and has a troubled relationship with her own sexuality… so awesome for me? Whee?
Fey is frequently offered up a role-model to women like me, and I always sort of passively accepted that. I didn’t know much about her, but what I did know I respected. I awaited her book Bossypants with an anticipation so fervent, I peed myself repeatedly. I wasn’t disappointed - the book is funny, sweet, charming, and in an age where confession is king, just revelatory enough.
What I didn’t expect was that, having enjoyed it so thoroughly, I would put it down and feel kind of…hurt? This is why you shouldn’t have role models thrust upon you, this is why you should pick them yourself – so you can do the research. Because while Fey is many things – a skilled writer, a gorgeous broad, a business genius (whatever she might say), and a family woman – she isn’t anything like me.
You guys. She went to UVA. I went to UVA’s drunk second cousin. Tina Fey had one job before she started getting paid by Second City. One. Job. And while I’m sure it was very, very shitty she does not have that job anymore. I have had no fewer than 800 shitty jobs that have run the gamut from janitor (“You guys. Please stop pooping in the garbage. Also, someone please hold me.”) to answering the phones for some nuns. It is easy for her to rip on how awful the world of finance is from the safety of Silvercup studios. For me, I take the paycheck, because while Fey lives in upper west 80s in Manhattan, the closest I will get to that particular zip code is if an aged banker abducts me and locks me in a cage under his bed. (Note to Law and Order: please cast James Spader in this role when you rip it from the headlines.)
When Fey saw footage of herself on an early SNL sketch, she decided to lose weight and did it. I have been overweight my entire adult life. I wake up every morning deciding to lose it and then I black out and when I wake up I am inside a bathtub of chocolate mousse with fried chicken feet punctuating the waves of cocoa.
It’s all well and good to espouse a language of Every Body Is Beautiful (which she does! Kudos! And she clearly believes it!) but the truth lies in what you do, and you can’t explain away a decision to lose weight for TV as a decision to lose weight for your health – it’s too convenient, and it’s confusing. Especially because she is such a staunch advocate for women in comedy. I guess it’s like, pick your battles. It’s enough to be allowed to tell a joke if you’re capable of queefing, god forbid that noise eep out of some doughy nethers.
I am only going to touch on this bit here lightly because I feel like it’s dangerous territority and believe it or not only about 85% of my soul exists to piss people off – so maybe I will just lay some facts out. The loveable, awkward, food obsessed, workaholic, ‘ugly’, failure in relationships, desperate to have a baby at any cost character we all adore is written by an incredibly successful, charming, married, thin, beautiful mother….which makes me cringe as much as if the role were written by a dude. I will just say it. There. Done. No going back now.
Finally, and perhaps most personally, a role model is exactly what it sounds like – an individual you look up, whose life you use as a model for your own. Fey says in her (it’s seriously good, guys) book, she never set out to create an edgy, indie, sitcom with 30 Rock. It was an accident. She wanted to write Two and a Half Men.
All I’ve ever wanted is to write an edgy indie sitcom. (And make a porno called Two and a Half Men.)
So I’m left feeling – I don’t know – uneasy is the right word I think. When your idea of who your role model is shifts from them to their fictional creation you start to feel a bit fictive yourself. That’s not very empowering. I don’t want to be some happy person’s idea of what it’s like to be engaging but miserable.
The best thing I took from the book was an anecdote Fey told about Amy Pohler turning to then-huge star Jimmy Fallon when he said a joke of hers wasn’t cute and that he didn’t like it. She apparently turned the whole wrath of her being upon him and snarled, “I don’t give a fuck if you like it.” She didn’t care if he thought she was cute, and she didn’t care if he didn’t like it.
Now that, is an ideology I can get behind.