During the summer before my first year of college, I read Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, which was destroyed by many critics and readers for its "supremely unlikable" main character Lee, an unpopular teen who struggles to find her place at boarding school. Some said Lee is unappreciative, weak, judgmental, and a wannabe East Coast elitist, but I viewed her as a young girl who doesn't know who she is in high school, and that's pretty common.
We seem to instinctively favor lovable, righteous, strong leads, but I really like when authors, TV show creators, and filmmakers go out of their way to make their main characters imperfect, because aren't we? Here are some of my favorite heroines who demonstrate questionable, less than favorable behavior.
The concept of ABC's Revenge can be a turn-off to some: Emily Thorne, also known as Amanda Clarke, has devoted her life to getting back at the Hamptons' wealthy Grayson family for framing her father and ultimately causing his death in prison. They ruined Amanda's life and left her with no family, so she resurfaces almost two decades later as Emily Thorne, the mysterious girl next door, to seek revenge.
Emily's friend Nolan knows all about her plot to hurt the Graysons and often says her father wouldn't want to see the sad shell of a human she has become, but after witnessing all the damage the Graysons have done, you can't help but want Karma to hit them threefold.
Mavis Gary's life is a high school popular girl's worst nightmare: grow up to be a reality TV-obsessed ghostwriter in Minneapolis. When Mavis learns her high school sweetheart has become a father, she goes back to her hometown to win his heart again, or as she likes to think of it, 'save him from his terrible life as a new dad.' It's not easy to support someone like Mavis, who neglects her dog, ignores her boss's phone calls, and doesn't tell her mother that she's back in town, but we learn toward the end of the film why she might be searching for answers in her former flame. She reaches a seriously pathetic low point that's actually rather hard to watch, but she can only go up from there, and she does. Take a look for yourself, if you don't mind spoilers:
Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath is quite possibly one of the most unlikable heroines on TV, and not just because she's a 24-year-old college grad who basically refuses to keep a job for an entire season, but because she's extremely narcissistic and hurts everyone around her. It's not until her best friend Marnie blows up in her face and moves out of their shared apartment that she begins to shape up. It's difficult to sympathize with Hannah during season one, but I'd like to think she embodies everything we all hate about ourselves. Her friends Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna are tough to get behind at times, but aren't we all, especially at this age?
Yes, Jess is "bad for feminism" or whatever for crying about her cheating boyfriend at the beginning of season one and being unable to say the word "penis" at age 29, but there's something endearing about her winsome, child-like spirit. When did it become a crime to sob over the end of a relationship? Some of us aren't made of stone. Despite the heartbreak, Jess isn't bitter or cynical like so many other millennials on TV (including her roommate Nick), and she reminds us it's OK to wear ice cream cone hair clips and long, flowing skirts as an adult. Maturity is overrated, and if you can still pull off Jess's adorable look, you absolutely should.
Besides, who wouldn't love a girl that's unafraid to make silly faces and act like this?
The real life Elizabeth Gilbert took a lot of heat for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which details her adventures to three different countries in the aftermath of her messy divorce. Critics argued that Liz was self-involved, unfair to her husband, and narcissistic, but both the book and movie are totally honest, and I admire the writer for capturing depression and loneliness as well as she did. This line is probably my favorite in the whole book:
"Loneliness watches and sighs, then climbs into my bed and pulls the covers over ... himself, fully dressed, shoes and all. He’s going to make me sleep with him again tonight, I just know it."