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Eden Sher dishes on why she's OK with not landing 'pretty girl roles'

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Women need to stop apologizing and embrace who they are, says The Middle's Eden Sher

In character, Eden Sher's life is currently all about the middle — on ABC's hit comedy, The Middle, she plays the quirky middle daughter, Sue Heck.

But speaking with Sher about everything from Sue's senior year to the pressures young women face in Hollywood, it's clear the adorable actress is headed straight for the top in real life.

Chatting with us on her way home from the set, Sher curses when the chicken wings in her passenger seat slide off the seat — the first of many indications that she is, quite possibly, our spirit animal.

"I would say it's maybe my best quality, that I have emergency hot wings in my car," she said. "You just never know."

On how Sue Heck has changed her

It is this first glimpse of Sher — funny, unpretentious, honest — that hints a common thread may exist between her and the awkward, but relentlessly optimistic, character she's been playing on The Middle since 2009 (and for which she won a Critics' Choice Award in 2013).

Like Sue, Sher tends to operate at full throttle... even while idling.

"I used to be very hindered or inhibited or whatever and then I was like, 'Screw that! No, that is A-OK, and I am going to be me. You can do you," she told us. "I sort of allowed myself to feel happiness and be optimistic. People like to shut ya down, and people like to tell you you're being ridiculous."

Sher doesn't dwell on the negative, though.

Although she does find it discouraging that woman-on-woman bashing is so prevalent today, she thinks more in terms of change — "It doesn't make me mad, it makes me all the more motivated," she said. "I feel like, 'You know what? We're not done yet, and it's OK.'"

Women supporting each other — and men supporting women — is important to Sher, who has long been a self-proclaimed feminist. When we broach the subject, it's obvious she is ready to sink her teeth into the topic.

On the women who inspire her

Although she openly worries that many young women today seem to be reverting in terms of progress, Sher points to several women in Hollywood who continue to make strides.

"My kind of two idols in life, like I would just crumble if I met them, are Tina Fey and Amy Poehler," she said. "And I think Lena Dunham does a pretty good job of at least being super unapologetic. No matter how you feel about her show or whatever, she is f***ing doing her so hard — not apologizing — and I love it."

Another woman Sher thinks is a total badass, but who gets too little credit, is singer Janelle Monáe.

"I think she flies under the radar because you can't pigeonhole her. You can't put her in any sort of box. She's sort of gender ambiguous but so beautiful, yet not over-feminine. She's just awesome," gushed Sher.

It's women like this, in many ways, who inform Sher's portrayal of Sue and make her so proud to bring this lovably human character to life. Sue, though painfully awkward at times, is unfailingly herself and that's a message Sher is proud to convey.

On the relatability of her character

"People go apeshit for Darrin and Sue!" she said, laughing, of her character's current relationship. "And I'm totally down for it. I love it. The creators of this show — which I like to think I've helped with — have done such a good job of creating this character that would otherwise be seen as dorky and not objectively cool in any sort of classic way. She's a dork, yeah, but boys don't hate her!"

And, most importantly, they like her just the way she is.

"There are a lot of 17-year-olds that are way over-sexualized in the media, but Sue's just not," Sher said. "At all. They found such a perfect way to have her be a real person."

True, Sue is refreshingly normal. But, sadly, she's not the kind of character that is mainstream, per se — but Sher thinks there's hope for the industry yet. "I feel excited, but yeah, it sucks to think, 'Oh, man, I'm totally in the minority.' I think it's changing, though. If you watch Parks and Rec or really anything with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, they're killing it," she said.

"Even though they're not teen girls, they are hella real people and they are in charge and smart," she added, "and it's not predicated on their sexuality in any way, which is so cool."

On societal pressures

It's a shift that resonates deeply with the actress, who notes that — although confident in her looks — she "was not given these crazy, amazing, classically beautiful looks." In turn, she says she developed a personality.

"In getting jobs, it wasn't possible for me to get the pretty girl roles," she said, "so it was such a blessing in disguise that I had to get a role where the appeal of it was something else... something based on my talent."

Unfortunately, Sher still feels the gravitational pull of unrealistic standards from time to time. "I feel like maybe there are so many pressures girls and women face, but the one lingering that just won't go away is you gotta be skinny. You're not pretty if you're not skinny," she said.

And while Sher — who does Krav Maga and spins regularly — takes pride in her physical strength, she can't help falling prey to old insecurities occasionally.

"I practice every day yet when I look in the mirror my first instinct — after years of being like, 'F*** that! You're beautiful!' — is always, 'Ugh! The extra flab on my arm or whatever.' And it gets me pissed off."

Still, she does a pretty bang-up job of keeping herself grounded. "I'm pretty quick to call bullshit on myself and be like, 'Hey, hey, hey, that is enough of that. You are healthy and awesome.' Even if I were [overweight], I'm a cool-ass chick, so whatever!"

On her own painfully awkward adolescence

Of course, that confidence was a long time coming. Like Sue, Sher experienced some, um, growing pains.

"Oh, my God — are you kidding? I could probably name on one hand the moments during years 11 to 19 when I wasn't awkward or self-conscious," she said, laughing.

Like many young women, she unfairly compared herself to her television reciprocals... the girls who were supposed to reflect what she looked like and was going through, but fell woefully short.

"I definitely would watch The O.C. and have these horrible meltdowns over Marissa's legs in the Ugg boots and her jean skirt, and the way her legs didn't even touch and were so perfectly tan," she said, "and I was just this marbly, kinda round, like 3'11" troll-type thing."

On embracing a new role

She's come a long way since those torturous days.

Today, she's gutsy and funny and smart and pretty and — bonus? — actually giving girls a realistic reflection of themselves. It's because she manages to nail that beautiful dichotomy of strong yet vulnerable that mothers often approach her on the streets to say thank you.

Well, mothers... and gay men.

"One of my best friends who's gay said, 'You realize Sue is a gay icon, right?' And I was like, 'Whaaaat?! That is the highest honor!' So I'm looking at RuPaul and I'm like, 'Oh, my God, yes. Sue's a drag queen,'" she said of the epiphany.

"And that makes sense," she shared. "'Cause in my real life, I feel unbeatable. I feel super strong. And I'm also the most emotional trainwreck of a person. So there's that."

More strong female perspectives

Cameron Esposito: Why the comedy genre is really lacking women
Why Gina Rodriguez is the role model I want for my daughter
Pamela Silva Conde's passion for these charities will inspire you

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