Eighth grade was a very weird time for me. I had a tragically bad haircut, was really, weirdly into the Jonas Brothers, and was at that phase in braces where you have to wear rubber bands. Needless to say, I was in the height of my awkward stage.
It must've been some skewed form of serendipity that the humble beginnings of Glee coincided with my final year of middle school. On the musical-show, teens in the unpopular school glee club seek self-validation, as well as the acceptance and approval of their peers. It's really heartbreaking, and at that stage in life where everything is hormonal and horrible, I felt very connected to the show in a 13-year-old, melodramatic way.
I had always been a very ambitious young girl, so Rachel Berry (played by the effervescent and equally amazing Lea Michele) became my idol. She wore frumpy clothes and always seemed to dominate the hour-long episodes with her strong opinions on basically anything, but I found these traits really cool. From the second she stuck a gold star on the glee club audition sheet, I was hooked.
What has always moved me most about Rachel is the fact that she isn't the typical "power chick" we see in pop culture. Yes, Katniss Everdeen is an incredible figure for girls to look up to, and I definitely cite Katniss as one of my inspirations when working out, but she's from a dystopian society, and her most pressing boy issues are whether to choose generous/cute Peeta or rebellious/rugged Gale. Katniss barely even has the free time to go on a date with either of them, because she's too busy fighting in The Hunger Games and dealing with a political uprising.
While I love Katniss' feminist strength, I love Rachel Berry because she is a teenage girl. She sometimes hates herself, yet still thinks she's the best person in the world. Her identity is malleable, and she changes herself to fit in. She chases after a boy who doesn't know she exists, and she gets her heart broken. She gets jealous, she can sometimes be mean, and she deals with a lot of emotions, all while fighting for the chance to be America's next big Broadway star.
Rachel Berry is a dreamer. Her voice-overs are always filled with anecdotes about weird preparations she's taken to ensure she'll become a star, and although sometimes these dreams get cloudy or confusing, they are always present. After both she and her roommate and beloved Glee character Kurt broke up with their respective boyfriends, Rachel proclaimed, "Even though we don't still have our boyfriends, we still have our dreams, and our ambition." A female character that has romantic relationships that don't rule her life is kind of rare. In a way, Rachel is the modern teenage girls' Carrie Bradshaw -- she has an active love life, yet is also driven, surrounded by fabulous friends, and embracing New York City. Her career has always come first, and that is a valuable lesson for some high school girls to learn, when the biggest concern in their life is who is going to ask them to Homecoming.
I root for Rachel, perhaps even more so than even the creators and writers of Glee. Her ombre hairstyle inspired me to get an ombre hairstyle. Her pride in her unconventional beauty, with her big nose, was a touching display of body acceptance that is rare in modern society. And her consistent, dedicated work ethic has seen pitfalls, but has continued to propel her. Yes, I was totally crying when she got the role of Fanny Brice in the (sadly fictional) Broadway revival of Funny Girl. Some might scoff and roll their eyes and make some snarky comment about how she's a television character, and of course she's getting what she wants. But Rachel Berry is one of television's most real and deserving characters, and she inspires me to work to achieve whatever success is important to me.
Rachel Berry is a beacon of hope for dreaming teenagers in that horrid part of life when the greatest piece of advice adults can give you is "be realistic." She teaches us to be a teenager, and feel everything, and dream whatever we choose to dream. She teaches us that those feelings can make us great.
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