When I was ten years old, I watched my now-favorite movie, “Legally Blonde,” for the first time and decided I wanted to go to law school. The movie follows Elle Woods, the perpetually bubbly fashion merchandising major from California, who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School with the intention of winning him back. Elle’s whirlwind of hot pink wormed its way into my heart and has remained there ever since. I recently re-watched “Legally Blonde” for what feels like the millionth time and realized that the lessons I have learned from Elle Woods over the years have shaped who I am as a person.

Growing up as a sports-playing, blue-loving girl that wanted desperately to fit in with my mainly white peers, I was socialized to look down on girls like Elle. Gender-coded colors combined with society’s general disdain for traditionally “feminine” traits such as liking pink, being sensitive or emotional or wearing makeup led me to believe that Elle’s love for pink and penchant for public meltdowns revealed her inferiority. We have all snickered at the “girly girls” on occasion, and the first twenty minutes of “Legally Blonde” encourage this gentle mockery through scenes portraying Elle as a ditzy sorority girl. However, the tone of the movie quickly changes as Elle begins to work hard to get into Harvard Law. She spends weekends studying while her sorority sisters go to parties, and her dedication pays off when she receives a near-perfect LSAT score of 179. Her creative and hilariously ironic admissions video showcases her uniquely optimistic personality, and she is eventually admitted to Harvard Law.

Elle Woods faces many challenges at Harvard, including professors that cold-call unprepared students, her now ex-boyfriend’s new fiancée, an internship with a tough-talking, sexually harassing law professor and snobby peers determined to ostracize her for daring to display overt femininity. See, like us, Elle lives within a society that is determined to uplift only a certain kind of woman — intelligent without trying too hard, feminine but not overly so and never, ever stronger or more resilient than a man. Rejecting this ideal is a difficult path, but one that Elle chooses to take, rooting her femininity in kindness — especially to other women whether it is reciprocated or not — and that trait is what has allowed this movie to remain a cultural staple twenty years after it was made. 

Like “Legally Blonde” showcases, female friendships take practice to properly value, especially for those who grew up in a world that diminishes femininity and categorizes female friendships as “catty” and “cliquey.” Throughout most of high school, I had only a handful of close female friends, and it took me until the beginning of my senior year to recognize that my aversion to forming friendships with other girls was because of internalized misogyny. I spent much of my childhood painting women with the same overly broad brush, terrified of being tinged with the same colors that came pre-branded at birth. 

The “not like other girls” rhetoric that resonated so strongly with my middle school self influenced how I saw other women, and I can admit that I sometimes find myself falling into these old habits of trying to identify with the more “chill” types of women even now, especially with TikTok tropes such as the “VSCO girl” and the “bruh” versus “hiii” girl. However, Elle Woods has taught me that femininity is not something that needs to be shied away from. Elle values the women in her life deeply, and I strive for my friendships with other women to be as diverse and healthy. 

Living as a woman in a patriarchal society can sometimes feel like a battle against your own identity, but Elle teaches us that kindness is the first step. Elle never talks down to another woman or acts superior in any way. Even when she feels inferior in comparison to others, she uses her own personal strengths to break the barriers that hold her back instead of lashing out at others. Empathy toward other women allows us to appreciate who they are in their entirety, flaws and all. 

Through this kindness, we can reject the competition subtly implied by our society and discard the need to differentiate ourselves from the girls that society looks down on. Elle is determined, empathetic, genuine, resilient and eternally kind. She is exactly like other girls. And honestly, I’m proud to be too.

Mrinalini Iyer can be reached at iyermili@umich.edu

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