America’s sweetheart: Why no one wants to be the ‘good girl’

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I’ve listened to Elle King’s ‘America’s Sweetheart‘ more times than I care to admit. It started when the song came on my Pandora station while I was running and I discovered that it had a fantastic beat to run to. After that I included the tune in most, if not all, of my runs – sometimes even more than once.

As I listened more to the lyrics, I loved the irony between the title of the song, ‘America’s Sweetheart,’ and the very clear message: I’m not America’s sweetheart.

Alrighty then.

Ms. King goes on to explain why she’s not America’s sweetheart:

My hands are dirty and my heart is cold

Boys I’ve been with will say I’ve got no soul

When I meet another honey at the bar, I’ll think it’s funny when I break his heart

My kind if medicine is whiskey straight

I got a mouth to put you in your place…

What do you want from me? I’m not America’s sweetheart

Okay, so not that sweet.

Today we glorify this girl. Maybe or maybe not Elle King specifically, but definitely the girl she’s describing.

Careless, unconcerned, unattached…there’s something alluring and exciting about being the girl who is unattainable and indifferent.

I think the alternative – the ‘good girl’ – has become so unattractive. Pearls, headband, pastel colors, sweet but judgmental, uptight…no wonder we don’t like her. I always think of Grace from ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager.’ Her naivety was more irritating than endearing and she seemed just a little too perfect to be real…not someone I was in a hurry to identify with.

I definitely battled with which one of these characters to choose from. Of course, innately, I was completely and unequivocally the good girl. Rule breaking was never an option and anything remotely unethical shocked me. However, as I got older I started to see the appeal of the girl at the other end of the spectrum…I felt being that way was how you got noticed and protected yourself from getting hurt. When I listened to Elle King’s song, there was a part of me that wanted to identify with her. There have been times in my life when I know I did.

Now I can say that personal experience has taught me that there is nothing glamorous about taking part in the self-destructive and self-centered behavior that Elle King describes, and that there is a lot more to be lost than gained from never becoming close to anyone.

Our ability to feel, our openness to love, our vulnerability…that is our strength.

I discovered that there is an alternative to both Grace from ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager’ and Elle King or any other number of ‘rebellious’ characters.

There is more to being good than never cursing or never getting angry. To be naive does not mean you are good. To be good does not necessitate a sweet demeanor or refusal to break any rules, ever. To be good does not mean to say ‘yes’ to every demand or to be a doormat. To be good doesn’t mean to be well-liked. To be good doesn’t mean to have someone’s approval.

Okay, so what does it mean?

When I think of a good woman in media, I think of Sandra Bullock’s character in ‘The Blind Side’ (which if you haven’t seen you need to crawl out from under the rock you live under and check it out!). Based on a true story, we see this woman go against what was considered appropriate for someone like her (sophisticated, upper class, educated) in order do something good to help someone else. She was not taken advantage of nor did she do anything to please anyone else, she did the right thing.

She was not concerned that some of the things she said or how she said them offended others, she was not worried that people were somewhat scandalized by what she did…but she was undeniably good person. And that is attractive. More so than the self-centered litany that Elle King shares with us, more than closing yourself off or looking out only for yourself…goodness is attractive.

When we strive to be brave, and patient, and kind (don’t read nice), and hopeful and faithful…in short when we strive to love more, that is when we are most attractive and have the most to offer.

Maybe striving for goodness leaves more room for hurt and disappointment, love certainly is not without it’s pains, but when we persevere despite that, we achieve more than the ‘bad girl’ ever could. Caring is not a weakness, it opens doors for growth and fulfillment. Living for yourself, making decisions out of fear and hurt, it may sound glamorous when Elle King sings about it but the truth is we sell ourselves short. I want to be more. 

Elle King tells us what not to be: America’s sweetheart. I agree. I also will go a step further by saying what we could be which is more, which is good. More than someone who plays with the hearts of others and gives of themselves to no one.

I am not America’s sweetheart, nor do I want to be, it sounds exhausting. However I do strive to be good, to do good. If that makes me a ‘good girl,’ I can live with that.

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