Growing up, I rolled to the beat of my own drum. Or, well, more precisely, I rolled to the beat of gospel music, late '80s country and Jimmy Buffett. I'd heard of Disney radio, but it wasn't my jam. Nope. I was pretending to do triple axels on my purple rollerblades while jamming out to "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox." I was a bit of an evil genius who rigged up her wagon to her bike and took her pet rabbit (Thumper) and pet turtle (FLED — short for Fred, Lucy, Ethel and Desi, I shit you not) all over her neighborhood. I loved baseball, like my five boy cousins/heroes/torturers, and hated softball because, seriously, why did I need a bigger ball? But, I also loved my favorite prairie-style dress and fringe-covered cowgirl boots and my red plaid skirt with the turtleneck trimmed in Scotties (with matching socks and barrettes, obvs). My hair started out perfect every morning and ended in a rat's nest by dinner.
I was neither a girly girl nor a tomboy, which made it impossible for me to truly relate to most of the girls in my neighborhood. Not that I minded. I was acutely aware that my individualism and my "creativity" were not only acceptable, but potentially better than anything anyone else was doing to try to fit in. And I'm pretty sure I learned that from a little girl named Eloise.
Written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, Eloise was nearly me to a tee. The only big difference, of course, was that I grew up on a farm and then in the suburbs instead of in the Plaza. But Eloise was a wild child and an accidental troublemaker. She destroyed mail and walls, disconnected important phone calls and turned hotel suites into saunas and freezers. And she was fantastically good at ignoring her nanny. She did those things not in an attempt to create true mischief, but to keep herself busy and entertained. Despite her being a rawther "bad" child, she was well-loved.
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I had a coffin-sized toy box filled with Barbies, referred to my doting father as "jerk dad" and had a way of telling it like it was. The relatives who lived farther away and knew me mostly by my flailing and railing in the background on long-distance calls thought I was a spoiled brat. And, who knows, maybe I was a little. But those who really knew me understood my struggle for a voice and penchant for pushing boundaries. They loved me because they knew I wasn't pushing my parents' buttons out of pure obstinance, but in a genuinely real grasp at freedom and individuality. Eloise, "born" in 1955, couldn't rely on a screen any more than me, born in 1984. Neither Eloise's nanny nor my parents had time to play cruise director, so we made our own fun. Tantrums were what ensued when previously accepted (or unnoticed) behaviors were suddenly forbidden.
Eloise became a feminist icon almost immediately because of her individuality and her confidence that everything she was doing was right, even if no one else agreed. Eloise didn't always make the best decisions for the people who lived around her, but she made the best decisions she could make and she stuck by them. No (door)man or woman (nanny) held ties to her conscience. She did what she believed was right and, generally, accepted the consequences with a smile. (I was terrible at that part.) She stood up for herself and had no problem dishing out a little sass, which taught me it was perfectly acceptable to have opinions, even on things grown-ups didn't necessarily think kids should have opinions on.
It's those kind of fundamentals that I now realize made me the strong, vocal woman I am today. I've been weighing in on wars and veterans' issues with no service experience since 2003. I've spewed opinions on abortion first from one side of the argument and then the other. I've told people they were going to hell for not believing in Jesus and then told my best Christian friend to chill the eff out and stop making believers look like douche bags. In every instance, I've believed I was right — and that's a confidence that falls squarely on Eloise's shoulders.
On March 23, Lena Dunham and HBO will introduce the world to Hilary Knight, who drew Eloise and then, unfortunately, was forced to stop because of Kay Thompson's fickle and very Eloise-like hold on the character she created. It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise will introduce us to a whole new side of our best friend, Eloise. And I, for one, cannot wait.
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