Something about being back home for the holidays always causes me to regress. After setting aside 48 hours to hibernate and stuffing myself with as much homemade food as possible, I plan to spend the rest of break watching my old movies and reading my old books in my bedroom, which is still has painted-purple walls and my life-sized cardboard cutout of John Mayer.
Here are a few childhood heroines I’ll be revisiting.
10. Eloise of the “Eloise” book series
Anyone who read Kay Thompson’s 1950s children’s book series knows Eloise had the life. The precocious 6-year-old terrorized the management and guests of the Plaza Hotel in New York City and never failed to give Nanny (played by Julie Andrews in the Walt Disney film adaptations) a run for her money.
From her “room on the tippy-top floor” of the hotel with her pug dog Weenie who “looks like a cat” and her turtle Skipperdee who “eats raisins and wears sneaker,” she prowls the hotel looking for adventures. She entertains herself by dying the hotel sheets pink, dropping pancakes and pitchers of water down the spying on debutante balls.
According to the “Eloise” website, Curtis Gathje, the Plaza Hotel’s historian, said, “I think there’s a little bit of Eloise in everybody. It’s about being rowdy in a public place, or acting up in a public place and being allowed to do it — in a vey genteel way.”
9. Helga Pataki of “Hey, Arnold”
Is there a deeper, more complicated cartoon character than Helga G. Pataki? Tortured by her love for Arnold, she mocks him relentlessly but croons to a photo of him in a gold locket whenever she’s alone. Helga doesn’t take crap from anybody, and she is a true alpha female.
The more I watch “Hey, Arnold,” however, the darker Helga’s storyline appears. Helga lives in the shadow of her perfect older sister, Olga (whom Helga is named after — “Olga” and “Helga,” respectively, Russian and German, are variants of the same name). Her father, Robert “Big Bob” Pataki, is prone to bouts of uncontrollable anger, and her mother, Miriam, is clearly an alcoholic (her slow, slurred voice and those ever-present “smoothies”? OMG, Nickelodeon). Of course Helga is a bully — she’s trying to cope with unrequited love and a dysfunctional family!
Helga is truly an anti-hero, and, hapless as she may be, it’s impossible not to love her.
8. Nancy Drew
I spent the better part of my childhood reading these books under the covers with the help of a flashlight, tapping each wall I walked by to listen for hollow spots and testing every drawer I opened for false bottoms.
The “Nancy Drew” books and companion “Hardy Boys” series are timeless. My mother read them, I read them and my 9-year-old neighbor reads them. Nancy Drew was like a better-dressed MacGyver, and famous real-life heroines cite her as their inspiration, Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Conner and Sonia Sotomayor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
7. Sandy Cheeks of “SpongeBob SquarePants”
Sandy Cheeks is the cartoon manifestation of third-wave feminism. She wears a cute bikini and a flower on her helmet, and she kicks butt at karate and builds rocket ships. She’s a rodeo champion and a fearless bodybuilder with a toothy smile and wide eyes. Always the rational counterpart to SpongeBob and Patrick’s outrageous antics, Sandy Cheeks completes Nickelodeon’s iconic cartoon.
6. Velma Dinkley of “Scooby-Doo”
Jeepers! Where would the gang be without Velma, the undisputed “brain” of the group? She’s highly intelligent in the scientific field (in the spin-off series “Scooby and Scrappy Doo,” she pursues a career as a NASA research scientist), and she’s well read in obscure fields such as ancient Viking writings. While Shaggy is lamenting why the gang can’t, like, investigate a Burger King or something, Velma is off solving the damn mystery.
5. Sailor Moon of “Sailor Moon S” (English adaptation)
The “Sailor Moon S” cartoon series, adapted from a Japanese manga series, never loses its appeal. Sailor Moon is a complex (but flawed) individual, again embodying traits of third-wave feminism. As the theme song states, she spends her adolescence “fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight.” She is suddenly saddled with the responsibility of defending the universe as a teen, and during the day she deals with crushes, bullies, her best friends and body issues. But as her alter ego, Sailor Moon, she fights villains with confidence, poise and sass.
4. Princess Leia of the original “Star Wars” trilogy
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . Princess Leia was kicking ass and taking names, all while rocking the unforgettable cinnamon-bun hairstyle.
3. Daria Morgendorffer of “Daria”
When “Daria” was finally added to Netflix, I was ecstatic. She was the portrait of sanity in an insane family living in an insane middle-class suburb. “Daria” will live forever as the misanthropic hero of my adolescence.
2. Enid and Rebecca of the graphic novel “Ghost World”
Enid and Rebecca share some of Daria’s cynical qualities but do so on a much deeper, more complex level. The girls, both high-school graduates, wander around an unnamed American town, mocking their peers and criticizing pop culture.
As the novel progresses, a tension forms between the women as they begin to reach adulthood. Enid plans to move away to go to college, while Rebecca will stay in town to pursue a relationship with her and Enid’s mutual friend Josh.
Another example of anti-heroes, Daniel Clowes captures a female friendship built on more than Disney-channel trivialities.
1. Buffy of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
No question, Buffy is a feminist’s feminist. Buffy fights demons and triumphs over evil because of her femininity — not in spite of it.