Lindy West's book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, which I listened to on audiobook a few weeks ago, opens with a rundown of the finite list of fat female role models that were available to her as a kid. Growing up in the '80s and '90s, she had Ursula and Miss Piggy, Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and Lady Kluck from Disney's Robin Hood. By and large, they're either sexless and maternal or too sexual and monstrous.
Now I'm reading 100 Crushes, a collection of comics by Elisha Lim. One series, titled "Sweetest Taboo: Memoirs of a Queer Child in the Eighties," finds transgression and gender fluidity in unexpected places within kids' TV shows and movies. "Inspector Gadget was definitely a freak of nature," Lim writes (handwritten and accompanied by a drawing, so find the original comic if you can). "He had subtly erotic finger devices and a reckless, irrepressible flamboyance. ... He was a wonderful role model — just freakish and free."
Since I'm not part of a marginalized group any more specific than "women," I'm not sure that I have those icons, those flashing lights of difference that inspired me or signaled that I was okay. When I think about it, I think of Lucy Ricardo, loud and petulant and riding the subway with a trophy stuck on her head. Anastasia Krupnik, whose flights of fancy and quirky family allowed her to have an inflated sense of self, even when she was falling off the rope in gym class while reciting a poem. Joining Anastasia in the "brown hair and glasses" camp was American Girl's Molly, who was also sort of outgoing and brassy, even if it was just in the service of selling War Bonds. Then there was Jane, a meanly deadpan character on Dharma and Greg. A woman from a local theater who taught improv games to our eighth-grade class. A couple of English majors at Illinois Wesleyan University, who hosted my campus tour and whose poems about sex I read curiously in the collection of student work given to all department visitors.
Those are the first examples that came to mind, but they're also reaching pretty far into the recesses of my memory. How about you? Is there anyone you latched onto aspirationally, either out of necessity or because you happened to be watching TV at the right time?