From 1993 to 2000, a TV show existed that I knew nothing about. (I mean, I was four when the show first aired.) The show was Boy Meets World, and when I crossed paths with it years later in reruns, I was hooked. Specifically, hooked on a girl named Topanga, played by Danielle Fishel. Not romantically, just completely in awe of this total badass who was everything I was not. She taught me about feminism, body positivity, and most of all — surprisingly — parenting. Long before the character actually had kids on the show, Topanga Lawrence taught me everything I need to know about parenting my own kids.
Teach your kid to be President.
When Topanga first appeared in the show, her outspoken feminism was eye-opening to me. I remember thinking, Damn, this girl is crazy. Because I had never thought about how much more men get paid than women, or how the thought of a female president was (and still is) shocking to some people. Years later, when I was pregnant with my first child and dreaming everything this kid could grow up to be, my sister-in-law joked, “If it’s a girl, she’ll be President.” And what did I do? I thought of Topanga, of all people: Topanga and her class project where she acted as President (because, you know, after disbanding the military and eliminating nuclear weapons, no one else wanted the job).
And I vowed to encourage my own child to pursue her wildest dreams, no matter how crazy or out-of-reach they seem when she’s just doing a middle school class project about them. And when Topanga schooled Corey with, “That’s destructive, gender-biased thinking, and we have to get beyond that”? I’ll be repeating those words to my kids for years, for real.
Eat the damn pizza.
Topanga’s body positivity was another revelation I hope to instill in my own daughter. When Corey complained he looked like a Brillohead, Topanga’s response of literally hacking off her hair (not well, might I add) with a pair of scissors in the school hallway to prove that looks aren’t everything had me sitting on the edge of my seat, aghast. Her insistence that judging people based on their bodies is “shallow and ignorant” is true #teengoals, and the fact that she embraced her body and herself exactly as it was, without trying to be super-skinny (and when you have friends like Amazon Rachel and Gorgeous Angela, I imagine that takes some self-acceptance I certainly didn’t have at that age). I hope that I can instill that self assurance in my child as they grow, because bottom line: Being hung up on looks just isn’t worth it.
Be your own person.
Danielle Fishel’s character proved time and time again that she was not the stereotypical middle school/high school/college TV comedy chick. She bucked tradition (bravo to the writers) by making the first move on Corey (who can forget that scene where she pushed him up against the lockers when he had crazy hair??) she eventually proposed to him, and all along she made it clear that just because she was in a long-term relationship (read: long, long, LONG-term) it didn’t mean she was less of an individual — or less of a badass.
I, for one, have been through way too many relationships that suck you dry and leave you worse than when you started them — and I hope to teach my kids that although relationships can be amazing, you don’t have to lose yourself in them.
Christmas is the shit.
One of my favorite things about Topanga is that she is really into holidays. Like, painfully into holidays. (In one episode, she spends Christmas with the Matthews family, but force-feeds her own family’s traditions down their throats: She makes them drive 600 miles to get an evergreen instead of using the good-ol’ Matthews aluminum tree; she scoffs at their eggnog and sends them out to get mulled cider; she even brings her own tree topper!) I knew that was going to be me as a mom: I knew I would make a big freaking deal about every holiday, and even if my kids roll their eyes at me, they love it. Yes, endless fonts of holiday cheer aren’t for everyone, but they are absolutely for me, and if I remember a TV character this well for her Christmas obsession, damn straight my kids are going to remember me for mine.
Let your freak flag fly.
But if I could instill just one of Topanga’s qualities in my own children, it would be to stay weird. Kids are unique and one-of-a-kind, and far too often they try to put a damper on their own strangeness just to fit in. Topanga, on the other hand, does not; she never dumbs herself down or acts any less wacky than she wants to. That’s who I hope I can teach my kids to be: unafraid to be who they are, and proud of it. Topanga is who she is, and she’s not ashamed of that.
So much pressure is on middle schoolers and high schoolers to fit in, to do what everyone else is doing and be and act like everyone else is acting. But Topanga was quirky and confident and even stood up for the nerdy kid in class everyone else loved to torture. She didn’t make apologizes for being smart or having high standards. She was an inspiration for my kids before they — or I — even needed one, and she will continue to be an inspiration to me for years to come.