If you’re a millennial like myself, you most likely have seen the 2001 classic Legally Blonde at least once, and, if not, you at least know the name. When it came out in the summer of 2001 I was only seven years old, in between first and second grade, so I don’t remember the first time I saw it. I do, however, remember the immediate impact it had on me.
Legally Blonde was the feminist film that elementary-aged Amanda didn’t know she needed. Despite no longer having naturally blonde hair (it was a light brown by fourth grade), nor having ever had my heart broken by an undeserving male, there was something about this movie that really resonated inside me.
I grew up reading books, playing soccer, and playing with Barbies. I wanted to be pretty and popular, I wanted to be smart, and, more than anything, I wanted to be the best. Elle Woods showed me that I could be all of those things, anything I wanted. She showed me that girls didn’t need to just be one thing.
What’s prompting me to write about this film more than 15 years later is the timelessness of its message. After watching Legally Blonde for the first time, I dreamt of going to a prestigious university. As a post-university adult, I revisited the film a couple of nights ago and found that I still had more to take from it.
For one, I can now relate to the entire Warren-based story-line substantially more. I still haven’t been dumped by a long-term boyfriend because I wasn’t smart enough for him, but I have faced rejection, and I have experienced what it’s like to think you’ll never be good enough for someone. Recently.
I can also recognize the less obvious reasons that Elle is such an inspiring character: throughout the entire film, regardless of how rude people are to her, she never loses her kind, gracious character. While her kindness is used to paint her as juvenile, it is actually far more mature than most of her co-stars’ attitudes, and, admittedly, more so than that of most of us who have reached her age.
Never in the film does Elle call anyone anything worse than a “frigid bitch,” (for which I really can’t blame her). In fact, her most iconic insult of the entire film is “butthead,” a word most of us retired back in the fourth grade, maybe sixth. When Brooke tells Elle her alibi, that she was getting liposuction – a fact which would ruin her professional reputation, Elle never considers telling this secret to anyone. She keeps her word to Brooke and builds a defense case without an alibi.
Elle takes every setback as motivation. When Warren breaks up with her for someone ‘smarter,’ she studies for law school (a 179 on the LSAT???). When Vivian tricks her into coming to a party in a costume, she becomes even more motivated to study and prove her classmates wrong. Aside from at the very climax of the film, there is never a doubt in Elle’s mind as to what she can accomplish.
I am not going to pretend this is a perfect film. It does pass the Bechdel test, but that’s about it. There are very few roles for people of color, the most notable one being the judge in the final scenes. There are just as few roles for lgbt+ characters, and the most notable ones leave less-than-favorable impressions. It is a very white, very straight film. Emmett seems to be the most socially conscious character in the whole film, reminding Elle that she holds a lot of power as a blonde woman, and that she should use that power for good.
Still, the film is not without its merits.
At a time when other girl power films and songs were telling me that all women were beautiful, Elle was teaching me that all women were intelligent. Elle Woods teaches girls and women everywhere the importance in being kind, gracious, hard-working, and confident. She made me realize that being pretty is a power, but that life is about so much more than being pretty. She made me realize that it didn’t matter what people expected of me; what mattered was what I expected of myself.
So thank you, Elle Woods. Thank you for reminding me that with courage of conviction, I, too, can accomplish the things I set my mind to. Thank you for reminding me that life has too many great things in it for me to let rude men bring me down. Thank you for helping me find my Harvard. This is it.