From 1993 to 2000, a TV show existed that I knew nothing about. (I mean, I was four when the show first aired.) The show was Boy Meets World, and when I crossed paths with it years later in reruns, I was hooked. Specifically, hooked on a girl named Topanga, played by Danielle Fishel. Not romantically, just completely in awe of this total badass who was everything I was not. She taught me about feminism, body positivity, and most of all — surprisingly — parenting. Long before the character actually had kids on the show, Topanga Lawrence taught me everything I need to know about parenting my own kids.
Teach your kid to be President.
When Topanga first appeared in the show, her outspoken feminism was eye opening to me. I remember thinking, Damn, this girl is crazy. Because I had never thought about how much more men get paid than women, or how the thought of a female president was (and still is) shocking to people. Years later when I was pregnant with my first child, when discussing possible future careers, my sister in law joked, “If it’s a girl, she’ll be President.” I thought of Topenga, and her class project where she was President (because after disbanding the military and eliminating nuclear weapons, no one else wanted the job. Obviously.) I vowed to encourage my child to pursue her wildest dreams, no matter how crazy or out of reach they seem. My favorite line was when she schooled Corey with, “That’s destructive, gender-biased thinking, and we have to get beyond that.” Truth.
Eat the damn pizza.
Topenga’s body positivity was another revelation I immediately hoped to instill in my own daughter. When Corey complained he looked like a Brillohead, Topenga’s response of literally hacking off her hair (not well, might I add) with a pair of scissors in the school hallway to prove that looks aren’t everything had me sitting on the edge of my seat, aghast. Not to mention her insistence that judging people based on their bodies was “shallow and ignorant”, and the fact that she embraced her body and herself exactly as it was, and didn’t try to be super skinny or fit in with the crowd (and when you have friends like the Amazon Rachel and gorgeous Angela, I imagine that takes some self acceptance I certainly didn’t have at that age.) I hope that I can instill that self assurance in my child as they grow, because being hung up on looks just isn’t worth it.
Be your own person.
Danielle Fishel proved time and time again that the stereotypical middle school/high school/college tv comedy didn’t have anything on her. She bucked tradition (bravo to the writers) especially when it came to gender norms. She made the first move on Corey (who can forget that scene where she pushed him up against the lockers when he had crazy hair?) she proposed to him, and made it clear that just because she was in a long term relationship (read long, long, LONG term) didn’t mean it made her less smart, less of an individual, or less of a badass. I have been through way to many relationships that suck you dry and leave you worse than when you started them, and I hope to teach my kids that relationships are amazing and incredible, but you don’t have to lose yourself in them.
Christmas is the shit.
One of my favorite things about Topenga is that she is really into holidays. Like, painfully into holidays. In one episode, she spends Christmas with the Matthews family, but force feeds her own families traditions down their throats instead of being flexible. She makes them drive 600 miles to get an evergreen instead of the Matthews aluminum tree, scoffs at their eggnog and send them out to get mulled cider, and even brings her own tree topper for the tree. Now, this isn’t a fantastic quality of Topenga’s, but it’s something she and I share. I have always been a huge fan of Christmas, and watching that episode, I knew that would be me as a mom. I was going to make a big freaking deal about every holiday, and even if they rolled their eyes at me, my kids would love it. Hopefully, I can make my kids understand that traditions change and evolve as time goes on, and not be quite so stuck on things as Topenga is, but share her enthusiasm. Just because you don’t celebrate in the same way every single year, doesn’t make it any less special.
Let your freak flag fly.
If I can instill any of Topenga’s qualities in my own children, it would be that she is unique. She is weird, and a one of a kind. She doesn’t try to dumb herself down to fit in, or act any less crazy than she wants to. That’s who I hope I can teach my kids to be- unafraid of themselves, and proud of it. She is who she is, and she’s not ashamed of that. So much pressure is on middle schoolers and high schoolers to fit in, to do what everyone else is doing and be and act like everyone else is acting. But Topenga was one of a kind, she was quirky and confident and even stood up for the nerdy kid in class everyone else loved to torture. She didn’t make apologizes for being smart, or having high standards. She was an inspiration for my kids before I needed one, and will continue to be an inspiration to me for years to come.
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