Before I discovered Gilmore Girls, I had absolutely nothing to warn me against the bad habit of basing my perceptions of my own life on the “ideal” lives depicted by television shows.
Gilmore Girls is a television show about the mother-and-daughter relationship between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. The show is set in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, a town that Lorelai and Rory consider their home as they gain new experiences throughout their lives. I saw so much of myself in Rory Gilmore once I discovered the small town of Stars Hollow. Like me, Rory would study for hours on end, read the journals of Sylvia Plath in her spare time, and wanted to become a writer. But despite how easy it was for me to relate to Rory, she eventually led me to have unrealistic expectations of myself and of my life as a sixteen year old girl.
At first, all I did was latch onto Rory’s eating habits. Rory would eat burgers and pizza and ice cream and basically the entire menu of Luke’s Diner for almost every meal. I did the same expecting that my metabolism would magically burn all the food away. But as each season passed, Rory got even more unrealistic and seemed to be living the ideal life that a lot of teenagers would want. While I had to work so hard each day to excel in each and every one of my classes, Rory so effortlessly got all As, killer PSAT scores, and became valedictorian despite being so detached from Chilton’s student body. Although viewers got to see Rory studying every now and then, the show never really captured the hard work and grit that should in reality go hand in hand with being able to achieve as much as Rory did on screen. I was disappointed in myself for not being as much of an overachiever as Rory was. It became more difficult for me to relate to her as each season passed, especially once she started to live an ideal college life that was so far from what I experienced in the first half of my junior year of high school.
Apart from this, Rory seemed to have countless opportunities handed to her out of nowhere. She was so effortlessly able to succeed in Chilton’s newspaper and became vice president of the student council. There was absolutely no portrayal of the grueling hours that should have been spent writing articles, or of the perils that come with having to campaign for a student government position and dealing with the possibility of defeat. Worst of all, Rory got accepted into Harvard, Yale, AND Princeton while having barely any extracurriculars or meaningful community service work. I still felt as if I wasn’t doing enough to be successful, and watching Rory so effortlessly balance her rigorous schoolwork with her social life (particularly with Dean and Jess) was unhealthy for me in the sense that I couldn’t stop questioning the validity of my own day-to-day routine. And despite all this, I still couldn’t stop watching the show.
Despite how idealized Rory was, there were still parts of her that some teenagers thought were relatable throughout each season. “All aspects of [Rory’s] life and the tiny tidbits like fighting with her mom, her best friend, break ups, make ups, feeling the pressure of school, were things I thought most teenage girls can relate to,” says Gabbi T. Conversely, I have always felt that these aspects of Rory’s teenage life were so far from my own because of how much freedom Rory had in terms of the places she could go, the people she could surround herself with, and how easy it was for her to connect with and relate to her mother. Another viewer, Ashlee Bree spoke to me about how “[she] found the fact that [Rory] embraced intellectualism refreshing, particularly because so many teenagers attempt to hide their book-loving and intellectual veracity because it’s the “uncool” or “unpopular” thing to do.” Although these traits set Rory apart from other teenage girls on television in 2000, I felt as if they made her even more “ideal” because of how she seemed to have absolutely everything. (Again, I think of Jess.)
As Rory became more of an overachiever, I barely got to see sufficient and tangible evidence of the hard work that she surely must have put into her education before magically becoming valedictorian and getting into three highly selective colleges. Instead, I got to see her have movie marathons with her mother, go out with Dean and Jess, and still be able to read book after book despite her rigorous academic schedule.
It took a while before I started to become critical of how I relate to and become affected by characters that I watch on screen. Gilmore Girls taught me that being able to relate to a character doesn’t mean that I should also be able to exemplify every single aspect of their life. As much as I love the show, coming to grips with its artificiality taught me that what I have achieved at sixteen years old is significant because of all the unscripted hard work and sacrifices that I make each day. I realized that no television show, no matter how perfect or ideal a life it portrays, should ever make me feel insecure or contend with the substantial experiences that bring me closer to my aspirations every single day.