Deus ex MacIntosh

Deus ex MacIntosh: Our Daughters, Ourselves

Dear Selena: My wonderful, amazing. beautiful teenager told me the other day that she thinks she’s “not pretty.” This is objectively untrue, but like most teenagers, she can’t see through her own insecurities. What, Oh TV Guru, would the great sitcoms of the past do to help a teenager improve their self image?


Frustrated with archaic, ridiculous beauty standards


This world is a shitty place to be a little girl. We can tell them how awesome they are until our voices go hoarse, but all it takes is one mean little turdblossom to undo all the things we do to make sure they’re as strong and confident as they’ll need to be. I’d like to give the mean little turdblossom(s) who made your wonderful daughter feel less than a bit of What For, but that’s a column for another day.

I remember being a teenager, even though it was a really long time ago. Adult logic doesn’t apply, we forget how things we’re able to let roll off our backs (with the wisdom, experience and fatigue of age) can become incredibly important to a teenager. When I was that age, 20 compliments could be undone by one stupid insult, and that made perfect sense to me at the time.

But we’re here to talk about TV, where there is certainly no shortage of teenagers worrying about being pretty enough. Instead of citing those examples, however, I thought I’d focus on the larger issue of girls with a healthy sense of self-worth and appreciation for their own gifts and talents. Point your daughter towards these awesome young women of TV for a reminder that in spite of the media’s insistence to the contrary, the people we are on the inside are way more important than the packages we come in.

Example One: Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons

While being undeniably cute as a bug’s ear, Ms. Lisa Simpson is a sax-playing, vegan-living, feminist-spouting, bookish and clever eight-year-old who’s become timeless in her 20+ years in second grade.

Example Two: Darlene Conner, Roseanne

Darlene Conner does not give a fuck about what anyone might think about her, and refuses to be anyone other than 100% authentically Darlene, 100% of the time. Whether fighting for a chance to go to a prestigious art school, against having to read her poetry out loud at a school assembly, or with her obnoxious siblings, Darlene never had time for bullshit.

Example Three: Zoe Bartlet, The West Wing

Zoe Bartlet is a damn lucky girl. Her dad is the left’s version of Reagan, her college boyfriend is very nearly perfect, she’s way more affable than either of her sisters and her mom is fucking Rizzo. Despite (SPOILERS {highlight to view!} being kidnapped by very bad dudes with a legitimate beef wither her pops.)

Example Four: Sondra Huxtable, The Cosby Show

Sondra was the unappreciated Huxtable child. She didn’t even exist for most of the first season. After she appeared, she regularly received the least attention of any of her siblings, despite being more accomplished than the rest of them combined. When we meet Sondra, she’s a younger version of her mom, the inimitable Clair Huxtable, on her way to law school with her cute, feminist-in-the-making boyfriend on her arm. Through the course of the show, she finishes law school, endures a crappy NYC apartment, gives birth to twins, juggles career, marriage and kids like a pro and can belt out a helluva tune at the family sing-alongs.

In addition to all her success, Sondra dealt with all her stress in ways that weren’t always perfect or pretty, The best role models aren’t the folks who had the good sense never to make mistakes, they’re the folks who make a shit ton of mistakes and managed to learn something along the way.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

9 replies on “Deus ex MacIntosh: Our Daughters, Ourselves”

1. This list made me so very happy.

2. To the mother who wrote this question, thank you for being the mother who sees her child as beautiful and perfect the way she is. I have had too many friends younger and older than me with self-esteem issues due to the insistence of their mothers that they could be better, prettier, skinnier, whatever. I know it’s hard to deal with your daughter thinking she’s not pretty, but honestly? With your patient insistence that she is beautiful, you are setting her up to be a strong woman who understands beauty is how she sees it, not how society sees it.

It’s hard, because the two of you are coming at this from completely different perspectives. You will never be able to look at your daughter and not see her as beautiful, whereas it sounds like she is going through that awful phase of seeing her “flaws” every time she looks in the mirror. Logic doesn’t play a part in either argument. I think the only piece of helpful advice I was ever able to give my teenagers, when they complained about acne or looking funny, is that in high school, everyone is so worried about everyone else seeing their “flaws” that they rarely take the time to notice what anyone else looks like. Or, to put it more bluntly, no one is looking at you because they are all too worried that you are looking at them.

Spontaneous compliments can help too.

Great list!

Something interesting to add about Lisa Simpson is that she has depression. This isn’t really touched on at all in more recent seasons, but in the first season (the first 5 are the best in terms of its humor and plot lines being grounded in real human family issues instead of the pop culture reference menagerie it is today), there’s an awesome episode that deals with her depression and her family’s reaction to it. It is 20 years old and only 20 minutes long, but to me, it is still one of the most accurate and poignant representations of depression that I’ve found. After my diagnosis, I pretty much demanded that my parents watch it. That’s how much I identify with it.

In summation, I love Lisa Simpson and I relate to her on all of the levels.

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