Manic Pixie Real Girl
When I dyed my hair bright cherry red, albeit accidentally, for the first time, I didn’t think the way people would perceive me would change nearly as much as it did.
I decided to attempt to dye my own hair a nice, deep auburn color the day before taking my senior picture. Of course your hair rarely looks like the picture on the box of hair dye, but my hair was flaming red. The shade of red that I was precisely too scared to ever attempt to have. A shade that could easily be associated with the Manic Panic brand of hair dye, and suddenly, I wasn’t just plain Angela anymore. People took an interest in me because they saw me as “different.”
I’ve always known I was different, but I also know that literally every other person is unique in their own way. In terms of girls, I’ve always found the dichotomy between “basic” girls and every other “type” of girl to be quite strange. When I think of “basic” girls, at least in terms of how they are portrayed in media, I think of girls who shop at super trendy fast fashion clothing stores, who listen to pop music and whatever else is popular or on the radio, who are giggly and girly, and who are probably dating someone on the football team. They fit the conventions of what it means to be an attractive girl, and they thrive because of this. Everyone else who does not fit this stereotype is usually not deemed to be seen as nearly as attractive, except in the alternative case of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a stock character type in films and other media. Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term after observing Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown (2005), and he describes the MPDG as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."
This girl isn’t just different from other girls, she’s different in general. What defines this girl is what lies beneath the quirky, dimpled smile and semi-obnoxious snort-laugh. She’s been through something, and she’s been hurt. But you don’t know quite what; there’s mystery to her, and she’s got layers to unpeel.
It’s this idea of “layers” that gives her male admirers, who always seem to be brooding, sensitive, and despondent, a purpose and an inspiration. The male attraction towards the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the goal of trying to figure out who she really is, possibly helping her “manicness” and her problems, and using her as a muse. When you wrote that song about the day we met and what a beautiful mess you thought I was, you walked away with a sensitive piece of art, while I recalled coming home messy drunk with my makeup smeared, thinking, “How could anyone idealize this?”
After school on the day I took my senior picture, I went for a walk by the beach when the weather was particularly cloudy and overcast. I took a selfie and instantly felt the parallel to the opening scene of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which happens to be one of my favorite films and features Clementine, a very typical MPDG. It was this moment that I began to see how I may potentially portray myself to the world around me. I was quirky and cute, but I was a emotional mess all around. A mess that fake-friends grew tired of, but guys thrived on and romanticized.
Guys would admire my personality quirks and stories of stupid, crazy, and excessive shenanigans, but only once my physical appearance mirrored my internal “quirkiness,” did I fit the type of unconventional beauty that should classically go along with being a MPDG. When you tell me that it’s so hot that I listen to “guy music,” and that I don’t care about the same petty things as “other girls,” you set me apart from other girls only to put them down. And, as a feminist, there could be no bigger turnoff than this attempt at a compliment. Micaela Tringale, a freshman Business of Creative Enterprises major, comments that whenever she’s been rude or aggressive to a guy who is flirting with her, he will usually take it as her reciprocating the flirtation because of how “different” and less feminine it is that she does not automatically comply to his advances.
Upon reflection of being perceived as this stock character, I can say that the most damaging part isn’t the bleach and crazy hair dyes on your hair, it is the romanticizing of one’s issues: one’s past struggles with abusive relationships and addiction. Maybe she’s nearly over her problems and they exist solely in her past, or maybe she still struggles every day, but either way, it is not the job of any admirer to “fix” her or to encourage her problems for the sake of portraying her as this woke, damaged, pretty little thing.
I am a constantly evolving human girl, and the most detrimental part of characterizing me and other girls as this film trope is the lack of acknowledgement of complexity of people. Although MPDG are inherently described as complex, the truly complex part is that. I am more than this label.
Illustration by: Enne Goldstein