"It" Girls

Saturday, February 1, 2020

 My sophomore year of high school I took a US history class. One of my assignments was to complete a report on a famous person from the 1920s.  I knew who I would be focusing on before I even left the classroom. Years before, I had fallen in love with a woman named Clara Bow.

Clara Bow was a famous actress who played her most iconic roles in silent film. She mastered the art of storytelling through emotion (for a modern-day reference, think about the silent, emotive technique Pixar and Disney used in films like UP to tell the love story of Ellie and Carl or the interactions between Rapunzel's parents). She had a relatively short-lived career as an actress thanks to the arrival of sound films about 8 years after her debut, but she exited the film industry with a title never before given. She was the world's very first "It Girl".
An "It Girl" is defined as " a young woman with sex appeal and a magnetic personality." Think Marilyn Monroe, Bridget Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, and Kate Moss. For a young girl who longed to be seen and loved, "It" seemed to be the greatest and highest honor achievable as a woman.  As I look back on my adolescence, I notice that I had missed a very key teaching from my teenage role model. Recently, one of my favorite quotes from Clara has played a front-and-center role in my understanding what it really means to be an "It Girl."
"They yell at me to be dignified. But what are dignified people like? They are snobs. Frightful snobs. I'm a curiosity in Hollywood. I'm a big freak, because I'm myself!"
Because I'm myself.
In a way, this demonstrates exactly how subjective the definition of "It Girl" really is. It can mean anything. This is both its downfall, as it can be defined by the dominant culture which focuses heavily on physical appearance and the meeting of patriarchal standards for women; and its hope. No one really knows what "It" is, so there really is no standard. This leaves room for creativity, subversiveness, and liberal interpretations of what makes a woman attractive and magnetic.
As I think of the "It Girls" of my life, they aren't supermodels, Instagram influencers, or fashion Icons. They are women who make my heart pitter-pat for one reason: their badassery.
The Amazons, Aphrodite, Artemis, Persephone, Psyche, and Athena from Greek myth.
Joan of Arc, Nellie Bly, Amelia Earheart, Maya Angelou, Grace O'Malley, Boudicca, Anne Frank, and Cleopatra.
Rizzo from Grease, Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennett, and Princess Leia Organa.
Deborah, Miriam, Rebecca, Rahab, and Mary Magdalene.
Each one of these women and their life's story and example has gifted me with an increased understanding of what "It Girls" can look like. I find Maya Angelou's presence and body love incredibly sexy.  Elizabeth Bennett had a pretty magnetic personality. Rizzo's sarcasm and vulnerability was so authentic - how could I not love her? These women, in their defiance of cultural norms and expectations and their resilience and determination, continue to show me what it means to be wholly human and alive in circumstances that seek to suppress their voice and spirit.
This month, I invite you to consider whose portraits hang in your own "It Girl" gallery. Give special thought to those who you secretly love, the ones you feel you can't say their names out loud because you're not supposed to love or relate to "those girls". Challenge that silence. Give voice and appreciation to the women in history, fiction, and your own life that have nursed your inner fire.  If you'd like, you can start that practice right here in the comments by sharing with me who your "It Girls" are. Trust me, I'd LOVE to hear!

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.