When I went to college I was surprised how many people knew all the lyrics to all the Disney movies. Every girl on my floor can burst out in glorious melody to “A Whole New World.”
I guess I missed the memo. Although I watched most Disney movies as a kid, I watched them once — maybe twice — and moved on. Disney princesses were not my role models.
It’s not that I didn’t have an over-active imagination as a child. It’s just that “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” just didn’t hold my attention. So while other girls dreamed of being a princess and living in a castle far away, I had different dreams.
I wanted to be a spy. Specifically, I wanted to be a bomb specialist named Erin Reinhart… but that is besides the point. I was determined to be the hardest, toughest, most perfect government agent ever, because my TV role models were Ziva David and Fiona Glenanne.
So, yeah. I was a different kid.
My favorite shows growing up were NCIS and Burn Notice. And these women were the stars of the show for me. One was a government agent and the other was someone who delivered justice when the FBI and police authorities failed to do their job.
I think I liked them because they were strong and independent. The other characters on the shows looked up to them. They both demanded respect and dealt roughly with people, yet had a gentle side they used with those they loved.
My other love as a child was Veggie-Tales. But they didn’t have any main characters who were female, and you can only look up to a vegetable for so long, anyway.
So Disney princesses sang their way through problems and Veggie-Tales had a girl-carrot that showed up once in a while, but NCIS had Ziva. I don’t know what other girls learned from the people they looked up to, but for me, Ziva and Fiona taught me a lot about the world. They had to deal with a lot of annoying things — working with the likes of Tony and Michael. They dealt with death, disappointment, and pain. Through it all they were fiercely independent.
Now I look back and think that Ziva must have been a lonely girl, living as a foreigner working for the American government. Fiona, in some of the seasons of Burn Notice, looks severely underweight. The characters had to deal with their loved ones dying or simply leaving them. They were not the happy characters of their shows.
As a child I wasn’t looking for the happy characters, anyway. There is this sort of romanticization of suffering that I fully embraced, I think. They were tough, they had a hard life, but they were cool.
Of course, childhood TV role models are never perfect. They don’t embody reality. But the strength and determination that made them who they were has shaped who I am. From quiet afternoon creating “manuals” on how to de-activate bombs to the black boots that I sometimes pull on, I think of those characters with a smile.
Who were your TV role models you grew up with and what did do you think you learned from them?