Some of my middle school girl campers encouraged me to watch the movie Legally Blonde, and I’m glad I did. Like in the old versions of fairy tales, there are some valuable metaphors in there that are good reminders for adolescent girls.
Reese Witherspoon’s character, Elle, starts out as the queen bee of a sorority house, ruling the roost in a catty but powerful way. She’s willing to give up who she is to not disappoint her parents and to get her hunky but superficial boyfriend to propose. When he tells her she’s not good enough for him, she enrolls in Harvard Law School to try to win him back.
In her 1st year there, she is pushed to undergo her Heroine’s Journey. She retreats from the social life she was so used to, goes inward, studies, and discovers parts of herself she had never connected with. Elle befriends her hair stylist, a woman she would have never given a chance to previously, and actually empowers her to stand up for herself. This act of getting out of herself seems to transform Elle, and it shows in her work and interactions.
When a professor makes a pass at her, she goes back to her stinking thinking that has always told her she is nothing but a dumb blonde, not to be taken seriously. She is her body, and that’s it. As fate would have it, at her lowest moment, a mentor appears in the guise of a female law professor who tells her that she is way more than her appearence. She sees more in Elle than Elle can see in herself, and this inspires her to keep going. From this point on, as Elle takes herself more seriously, so does the outside world.
In the end, she ends up an empowered woman, top of her class, and no longer in need of her old boyfriend to make her feel good about herself. She has gained the strength, wisdom, and confidence to meet the world on her terms. She has transformed into a woman. And the former queen bee has channeled her power and leadership skills into ways that are valuable and build other people up.
Going through a metaphorical sleeping period, transforming from the inside-out, getting support from mentors, embracing all parts of yourself, overcoming obstacles and challenges: these are all crucial elements of the heroine’s journey that every girl must experience. Read my new book: Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding the Transformation of Adolescent Girls for more insights into this developmental transition.