I saw Clueless for the first time when I was 17. It came up on my Netflix recommendations, and I’d seen a few quotes from it immortalised in gif form on Twitter, so I figured it was something I should watch. And I wasn’t wrong. Clueless is now one of my favourite films, and one that myself and my sisters quote to each other on a daily basis.
Somehow, a film from the ’90s casually and so acutely depicts the teen experience. Cher Horowitz isn’t solely occupied with how her hair falls or how her lipstick looks (though that does come into it), she’s also concerned with morality, her grades and her friendships. She thinks about it all, and not one element falters because of it. She’s witty, intelligent and confident, and her narration throughout the film lets us know that she’s the center of the story — and she’s deserving of it, too.
Up until this point, I’d not seen a film like it — one that so confidently follows a teenage girl who is assured enough to ask for what she wants. Most films about teenage girls woefully miss the mark. They’re made by old blokes who somehow genuinely think that a teenage girl’s life revolves around getting a boyfriend and going to prom. Their crushes become their sun that they helplessly, flailingly orbit around. Frankly, it’s just a little bit embarrassing. Teenage girls, especially now, deserve better films, and they deserve films that show an actual understanding of their experiences. They deserve their very own Clueless.
We’ve been told that teenage girls’ lives are dumb, saccharine and “chick flick” folly. They’re not taken seriously and are often reduced down to the frivolity of first crushes and ignore the wide scope of other things young girls have to deal with, such as first periods, first failures, first successes and first arguments with your mum, when you think she hates you. Not that first crushes aren’t important, but that there are other things going on in a teenage girl’s life other than that. Problematically, we’re told that these stories are boring and not worth telling.
Films function as a tool to help us feel less alone. It’s easy to observe your thoughts and think you’re the only person who has ever felt that way, and it’s all too easy to not be able to find yourself in a story if you deviate in any way from the straight, white, male norm, but a camera watching someone captures the minutiae of life that perhaps the page can’t. Sometimes you want to watch something that’s vastly different from your life, and sometimes you want someone to hold up a mirror. When we insist upon a lack of diversity, we ensure that many never get to see their own reflections, and seeing your own reflection allows you to gain perspective, and it allows you to evolve. Watching Clueless allowed me to empathize with a life so vastly different, yet so similar to my own. This is a tool that is underrated.
I didn’t realize just how vital seeing Clueless was for me, until I started writing my own stories. I used to agonize over the subject matter I was drawn to: “Who will read this? Will anyone listen? Who cares?” These questions followed me around and appeared in front of me every time I sat down to write, yet niggling at the back of my mind was Clueless.
I remember hearing Kathleen Hanna, in The Punk Singer, talking about asking herself those same questions, such as who will listen to me? And she says, “Other women will listen to me.” Amy Heckerling made Clueless for teenage girls, not because she wanted to empty their pockets and fill hers, but because she wanted to make them feel seen, and she wanted someone to listen.
It’s hard to understand the impact of not seeing yourself on screen until you finally see yourself on screen. And it’s hard to explain what it feels like to watch something and feel known, especially when it’s not happened before. You just know it’s different, that it means more. And it’s not even as if you need to see someone who’s identical to you — you just need to see someone who you connect with somehow.
I’m not identical to Cher Horowitz by any means. But I still recognize myself in her, and I see women I know in her. This is why I’m so excited to see Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut. From the reactions so far, it’s another Clueless; another film about a teenage girl who doesn’t revolve around prom and a boy. I know that so many girls will watch it and see glimpses of themselves in Lady Bird, and they’ll hold on to those glimpses. They’ll use it to tell their own stories, putting themselves in Lady Bird’s shoes, and it’ll be the film they go back to when they want to feel taken care of.
Not to mention, seeing yourself on screen gives you confidence. It makes you feel like you belong there; that your story deserves to be told. And this is what’s so exciting about film — seeing a story similar to yours play out right in front of you can make you feel like you can tell your own story, and one with your twist on it.
We must resist the urge to brush off and scribble out our own lives, because we’re too well-trained in dismissing the beautiful nature of our own voices. There is power in you telling your own story, even if it might seem insignificant or too specific. Who’ll tell your story, otherwise? If you can put a pen down to paper, you can write. And if you can’t, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say. Represent yourself, and listen to yourself. You have a story to tell and a connection to make.