the girl I wanted to be

This piece appeared originally on the Frisky, for my Mirror, Mirror column. I’ve been wanting to write it for a while.

She was really beautiful. She was the coolest girl ever. She always knew what to say, and she said it casually, like she barely had to think first. I wanted to be just like her. I was 13, she was 15, and she was perfect to me.

My parents were very supportive. They thought I was smart and pretty and capable. And that is so important, like the concrete they pour into the husk of the foundation of a house when it’s just planks and sticks in the dirt. But the shape of the building, the furniture inside—I think that comes from other girls. That’s how you learn how to be a girl, after all, from the other ones around you.

I learned later than most that I had to be thinner than I’d at first assumed. I mean, I didn’t have to have to, but it would probably be better. You know, for life. I learned later than most that my face was not as pretty as it should be, and that I should worry about that. I think somewhere along the line, most of us learn these lessons. For some of us, they feel like tattoos on our faces, and we see them every time we look in the mirror, and we can feel everyone else registering our flaws every time we interact. I was lucky, though, and one of the reasons was this girl.



She was tall and commanding, with broad shoulders. She had glossy hair that fell in a wash like a chocolate waterfall down her back. She had a regal face, with steady cheekbones and a noble chin. But it wasn’t so much the proportions of her features or the dimensions of her body that made her fantastic. It was the fact that she was very good at being exactly herself. And not like some cliché in a song by a very young male popstar about how “girl, you are so beautiful without your makeup just because you’re you!”

No. She was badass. She wore Carhartt pants — those were her favorite, and she got them at the Army and Navy surplus store, and she liked them because they were the toughest pants. She wore work boots and plain T-shirts, long-sleeved or short-sleeved. She kept her hair in a braid or a ponytail. She was great at sewing, and math, and she played several instruments and had perfect pitch and a low, resonant singing voice. She was a really good cook. She wanted to be a farmer when she grew up. She wanted to drive a beat-up F150 pickup truck, a white one. She was funny and also laughed generously. She had crushes on boys for a long time, from afar, but didn’t approach them very often. She wore totally unsexy lingerie, the kind that comes in a pack and you get it at Walmart, and it’s always white or gray and cotton and the underwear comes up really high. She was strong instead of lithe. She was solid and graceful. She had a slight Southern drawl, and she said “y’all” a lot.

(but in white. source)

To me, she was stunning. She didn’t see herself as beautiful, but she didn’t seem to care very much. She prided herself on being good with her hands. She appreciated her own toughness.

Me, I’m not tough. Not even close. I get a blister on my toe, and I feel like I can’t focus on anything else. I am terrible at powering through. On long hikes during the nature adventure summer camp my mom thought would be a fabulous idea, I used to imagine that I was floating above the group on a flying bed. A flying bed with a built-in snack bar, its own AC unit, and curtains for privacy and bug prevention. I think that image saved me.

Actually, I wasn’t a whole lot like the girl I used to worship in any way. I was an incorrigible boy-chaser, for one. I never cared to learn to sew and cooking didn’t interest me even a little. I wanted to stay inside, instead of working the land, which always sounded like it involved a lot of raking things and sawing things and bug bites. The Carhartt pants I bought in my friend’s honor were always too big on me, and so stiff they could practically stand up on their own. My work boots gave my toes blisters, and the blisters hurt a lot, and I just wanted to sit down and cry and write poetry or something.


I really wanted to be like her, though. And I really tried to. I started talking like her. She swore a lot, so I did, too. My parents were confused and annoyed. Where did that come from? “Why the fuck does it even matter?” I said. And then I got in trouble. “the fuck” seemed like the perfect addition to any sentence. Those two swift, punchy words felt like they completed the English language. I still miss them sometimes, now that I have learned again not to punctuate with them.

I miss her sometimes, too, even now.

We drifted apart a long time ago, when I was maybe 16, and it’s been 10 years or so since we were close. I hear she’s a farmer, for real. And she sings and plays in a band with her handsome, musical husband. They both speak several languages.

I am not a farmer. I have long since dropped my Carhartts off at the Salvation Army. Maybe I mostly failed in my effort to be like the girl I most admired as a young teenager, but I’m really grateful for her. I think the fact that she was the girl I wanted to be was good for me. I learned a lot about being a girl from her, and she taught me that the important stuff had nothing to do with sex appeal or weight or even popularity. I am grateful now, for her appearance. For my ability to recognize it for what it was: beautiful.

She loved to write, and she was good at it. Much better than I was. We used to write stories about the farms we’d live on, eventually, with our matching husbands and our matching pickup trucks. I don’t know that I believed in the farm part, even then, but I believed in the writing. And that’s one thing that hasn’t changed at all. Badass girls write. Beautiful girls write. Girls I want to be like write. Maybe that was the best lesson of all.

*   *   *

Did you ever hero-worship another girl? What was she like?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a giant gray sweater and leggings.

My “losing weight for other women” piece is over on Daily Life, if you feel like checking it out.


Kate on January 17th 2013 in beauty, friendship

24 Responses to “the girl I wanted to be”

  1. Melanie responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    I can not remember another girl I ever hero-worshipped. I remember looking up to some older goth and punk rock girls when I was in high school but the better I got to know them the more I became disenchanted.

    I get really uncomfortable when women tell me that they think I’m amazing and they look up to me. I have had women way older tell me they want to be like me when they grow up. I tell them, “Then do it. I’m a mess like everyone else. I just work hard at trying to be as good as I can be every day.”

  2. Melanie responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Oh, and the secret of Carhartts was to soak them in warm water with fabric softener for like an hour then wash them with more fabric softener, and dry them. They softened up after about 5 washes. I went through a phase of only wearing Carhartts, Dickies, and Ben Davis.

  3. Kate responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    NOOOOO….If only I’d known then!!

  4. Maya responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    I definitely had a girl who I hero-worshiped in middle school. She was gorgeous, and funny, and we talked together on the bus ride home, and I felt cool because I was talking to her (and sitting backward on my seat on the bus, and getting away with it). She was a year ahead of me, and that helped too. I don’t remember copying her much, but I’m sure that I did. I just remember feeling really lucky that she was my friend. I felt like I had access to a world of interesting people, instead of being stuck trying to make friends with other loners on my own. It was surprisingly empowering.

  5. Rapunzel responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    I hero-worshipped a girl once. I worked with her when I did an internship for three months. We hiked and camped together for work. She was cute and pretty in an ordinary way; not too thin, but definitely fit and sporty. I wanted to be just like her. We had a lot in common, and I used to think that we could have a friendship that would last a lifetime. The friendship really only lasted three months though, and only during the work week.
    She was nice and popular with lots of friends and I wasn’t really one of them. She’s adventurer who always seemed to get what she wanted out of life, or at least strove for it in a confident way. Maybe that’s what drew me to her…confidence. I’ve never been confident in my life, which might be why I fail. She was always confident, happy, satisfied, and excited about everything she was doing in life. I really wanted that, and I still do!

  6. Janet T responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    In seventh grade I was about 4’10″ tall and 80 pounds- a very late bloomer- my best friend was 5’4″, curvy, perfect 70′s hair, great clothes- she was outgoing and friendly- I was shy and bookish- she ending up dating the guy I had a crush on. Looking back, its amazing we were friends at all.
    In high school, I met an amazing girl- again, everything I wanted to be (altho by this time I was 5’8″ and had my own curves) I thought she had it all- then as I really got to know her, she had her own problems and insecurities, and I loved her all the more for it, and at some point realized she had been wanting to be more like me. We used to sit on the floor in front of sliding glass mirror doors and put on our makeup together- one day we realized we were watching what the other one did, more than we were looking at ourselves. We did this on both of our wedding days too, years later and laughed- old habits and all that. It is amazing no one ever had an eye put out with a mascara wand.
    We have been friends for 35 years- and the miles between us disappear when we talk or get together (our last lunch lasted 4 hours)
    Loved your other article too Kate- you ARE a woman who makes a difference

  7. San D responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    In 1964 when I was 15, and living on an army base in Germany, I was thrilled that a rich southern girl, who was 17 and had her very own Mustang convertible allowed me to tag along with her. Nancy was an only child, pampered according to my mother’s standards, and just plain cool according to mine. She once told me that she had her sights set on going to East Tennessee State University. I was struck dumb, because I had not dared to think about going to college. Lifetimes (50 years and many adventures) later, I remembered that about her college ambitions, and looked her up on ETSU alumni page, and found her, and emailed her. For the last few years we have caught up on our lives. She turned out to be the Southern Belle I imagined she would be, and I turned out to be all that I dreamt I wanted to be. We both did well.

  8. Jessem responded on 17 Jan 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    Oh my lord – I can’t barely think of a girl I didn’t hero worship. The stand out one for me is someone I thought was so cool, and so smart, and so nice, that I did the same thing you did – bought clothes similar to her clothes, shoes similar to her shoes, dreamed dreams that were really her dreams. She was older, and blonder, and prettier. She was also more humble, and worked harder. Now she is a lawyer in London and I rarely see her outside being tagged on Facebook, and I have learned to be happy with who I am and follow my own truths.

  9. Rachel responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 10:13 am #

    I currently hero worship several of my friends.

    I worship one for how fearless and confident she is; how she will walk up to anyone who interests her at a party, without fear of rejection (and she gets rejected a lot – not because she isn’t charming, but because being direct isn’t how it is “DONE”, and oh, how painfully aware I am of how things are “done”), and how every day is an adventure for her.

    I worship another for her relentless positivity. How everything for her is always grand, always do-able, how she just dives right in and gets impossible things done.

    And I worship yet another for her beautiful mind, searing insight, and enthusiasm. The beautiful projects she makes and ultimately discards, the whole heartedness with which she pursues anything. If I were gay or bi, she is EXACTLY the kind of woman I would fall head over heels in love with.

    I love them all deeply. And the nice thing is, I’m suspect they all worship me back, in one way or another.

  10. Alpana Trivedi responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Kate, I know what you mean about wanting to be a certain way, but not liking other aspects of it. I really WANT to be someone who loves adventure, but I’m truly happy curled up with a good book and coffee. I WANT to be able to survive an underway period without needing seasick pills, but truthfully, sometimes I get seasick even when I take the pills. I LIKE crying at the drop of a hat and I’m not even ashamed of it, but I don’t like that it can work against you in the real world.

    I think I DO see what you hero-worshipped about that girl. It’s the fact that she doesn’t care how she comes across and does whatever she wants. And I think you have TONS of impact on people by writing about stuff that most people are afraid to even admit to themselves, let alone out loud.

  11. Julie responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    There’s a big ol’ ugly weight loss ad on your Daily Life article… Thought you’d want (and hate) to know!

  12. Kate responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    AARGGHH. There’s no escape!!! And that, unfortunately, is way outside of my control. It’s been obnoxiously difficult just keeping them off this blog. But thank you for letting me know.

  13. Ann responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    I looked up to a group of older girls in high school. They were they beautiful, popular girls who were good at sports, but that isn’t why I looked up to them. When I joined the basketball team as a freshman, I realized that they were actually just really, really nice, even to the extremely awkward, terrible basketball player that I was at the time. They also were always so confident, and didn’t care (or at least didn’t seem to care) very much whether or not they always had makeup on, and were just as comfortable in sports sweats as in high heels. They wore each other’s hand-me-downs, and were proud of that fact. I have always felt very comfortable in my own skin, and I think that is at least in part thanks to these girls.

  14. Gaye Pauroso responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    I was reminded of the very first girl I worshiped just the other night when I saw her on TV receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes. I was probably 8 or so the first time I recognized that Jodie Foster was the coolest girl on the planet. I totally wanted to be her – smart, strong, talented, and she was already rich and famous to boot! As I watched the show the other night I congratulated myself on the good taste and intelligence I displayed at such a young age. Love her still, (and still kind of want to be her. :) )

  15. Dot responded on 18 Jan 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    “For some of us, they feel like tattoos on our faces, and we see them every time we look in the mirror, and we can feel everyone else registering our flaws every time we interact.”

    It’s sentences like this that make me love your writing. So true, and capturing a whole lot of very incoherent thoughts I’ve had on the exact same topic in one brilliant mental image.

    And now I’m going to think about the girls that made me who I am. I think a lot of them were funny, so I hope some of that stuck.

  16. Steff responded on 19 Jan 2013 at 4:46 am #

    Really interesting post. I can think of a number girls in my life that I’ve admired, each of them very different from the others. There’s also a wider circle of female acquaintances that I internet stalk in wonder at their accomplishments. I think this can be a great source of self-confidence, when you realize the diversity of traits that young women possess which make each unique, talented, charming, and beautiful in her own way.

    While I think girl crushes are kind of common, I wonder if guys have the same feelings towards each other. Bromances, I guess?

  17. Abby responded on 19 Jan 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Super post as always, Ms. Kate!

    My high school building was 7-12, so as an awkward little 7th grader I had a huuuuuge girl crush on one of the 10th graders. We were in an after school singing group together, and I was kind of in awe of her. After all, she had a big part in the musical (I didn’t get in until 9th grade). She was nice to the young new people like me.

    What I remember most was that she was big and she didn’t apologize for it. She was big and tall in body, and in personality. She was the loudest alto in the chorus, she talked loud and wore cowboy boots and made jokes with the choir director. She was also super tall, which I dreamed of being (some dreams do come true – I’m close to 6’0″ now). I was just starting to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be, and I looked and her and wanted to be unapologetically loud, unapologetically big. I think she gave me the courage to be louder.

    I hero-worshipped her until she graduated. And what’s really strange is, looking at my senior year of high school, I think I might have been her for some of the 7th graders. I became loud and I didn’t apologize for my loud voice or the fact that I was big/had a big personality (well, not often). And it’s humbling, to realize that you’re at the place where your hero was, and that you’re actually a role model now. It’s strange, to realize that you have people who look up to you. Although I don’t think I did as good a job as she did, I hope one person saw me and realized it was okay to be loud.

  18. Lily responded on 20 Jan 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    I think I’ve had crushes on all of my best friends throughout teenage and adult life due to an absence of a stable mother figure. The crushes develop ridiculously conflicting desires too – for example… wanting to dress in classic, elegant lines like one friend but trying to make that sit with a deliberately messy/rock chick hair do that I got because I admired on someone else. Never going to work!

    P.S. I love your writing, every article is an articulate, clear description of the myriad of emotions I’ve gone through during my adult life so far.

  19. Kristina responded on 22 Jan 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Woh, I was the girl wearing ben davis pants and white t-shirts. I had a best friend I worshipped; we were friends from 7 yrs to 16 yrs. One day she was crying and I tried to hold her hand to comfort her (because I am a good friend), and she yelled at me, “Let go of my hand you LESBIAN.” That was the end of me worshipping that bitch.

  20. Krystina responded on 23 Jan 2013 at 8:34 am #

    This was a good one Kate. :) I feel like I’m the girl you worshipped. I mean, I don’t think I’m beautiful but I am so tom boyish and can really out work most well as out drink… I own more pairs of boots than any other shoe. I spend my summers in creeks, cutoffs, roaming the farm with my dog, and I drive an older four runner.
    @Kristina -dude, you beat me to it.

  21. Robin responded on 23 Jan 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I did, her name was Anne. It was the mid-90′s, and we were 15 and she was my whole world in the way girls are to each other at 15. She was worldly and articulate and adventurous and we loved the same music. Then she got pregnant at the end of our sophomore year of high school and left town without saying goodbye. She married the boyfriend and had the baby and I never saw her again. She broke my heart worse than any boy ever did, or ever will.

  22. Kate responded on 23 Jan 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Did you ever hear what happened to her or what she’s up to now?
    I am so sorry about the heartbreak. I know that feeling– it’s always been worse for me with girls than with the guys I dated.

  23. Eat the Damn Cake » the weird pressure to feel good in order to look good responded on 01 Jul 2013 at 9:27 am #

    [...] of time, after all, encouraging girls and women to feel good about the way they look, right now, for their uniquenesses as well as the ways they fit into common definitions of attractiveness. Own it! Rock it! You are gorgeous just the way you [...]

  24. CL Mannarino responded on 12 Mar 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Oh my gosh, yes! I’m so glad you posted about this because I feel like we don’t talk about hero-worshipping each other enough.