Shamelessly Watching… Gossip Girl
Illustration by Erin McPhee
To accompany our new Mental Health issue, we asked writers to share the guilty pleasure TV that brings them solace when the world gets them down. This is the first instalment in our series.
When the world is getting me down I, like many other teenagers, indulge in TV shows as a form of escapism. Of the plethora of teen dramas out there, my guilty pleasure is Gossip Girl. Gossip Girl, a series that explores the scandal within Manhattan’s elite societies, provides more insight into life than one would expect. Blair Waldorf, my favourite character and role model, shaped me into the person I am today through her fierce and confident nature. Throughout the series, Blair was a character who had conflicted relationships with her parents, her best friend, her on-and-off boyfriend, and even with her own body. Nonetheless, she refused to settle for mediocrity. She always knew what she wanted and she would not allow anyone or anything to hinder her.
“What I want is to be a powerful woman” is a quote from Blair that has always resonated with me. At this point in my life, I have not yet determined what career I want to pursue. What I do know, however, is that I want to be a powerful woman. Although Blair was born into an affluent family, she worked hard for everything she accomplished. She wanted her legacy to be meritorious. Her unyielding ambition was manifested when she interned at and later acquired a management position at W Magazine while simultaneously juggling an Ivy League education and the work that it entails. She has always asserted an air of self-confidence: “I’m the best of the best, I’m Blair Waldorf.” She taught me that regardless of what I choose to pursue, I am the only one who knows my own strengths and weaknesses. No one can deter me if I know that I am capable of greatness. Blair’s knowledge of her own power is what allowed her to become CEO of Waldorf Designs, her own fashion design company. She inspires me to be empowered and embrace both my strengths and weaknesses, as opposed to allowing them to restrain me.
Blair’s self-awareness was not only limited to her aspirations, but her sexuality as well. She was initially depicted as a sexually inexperienced girl who planned to “save herself” for her long-time boyfriend. However, after her boyfriend cheated on her, she realized that she did not need someone who failed to love her like she deserved. After her first sexual encounter, which she herself initiated, her character became liberated from the confines of societal norms. Women are frequently portrayed in the media as apathetic about sex. What I love about Blair’s character is that she is emancipated from those notions. From this healthy portrayal of sexuality, I learned that not only is it okay for women to enjoy sex, but we are allowed to have a desire for it as well.
Blair always valued her relationships and gave precedence to those in her life, even when she came to the conclusion that she had to be independent to be successful. She realized early on that she needed to be Blair Waldorf before she could be “Chuck Bass’ girlfriend,” but that never meant that she would not be there to protect her loved ones. Despite the tumultuous nature of her relationships, she never failed to support and love the people in her life unconditionally. When her boyfriend Chuck’s father died, she consoled him when he grieved and ensured that he would continue his father’s legacy as opposed to immersing himself in drugs, as he had planned — “I love you Chuck and I’ll always be your family.” Blair also supported her best friend, Serena Van der Woodsen, despite Serena’s tendency to make disastrous mistakes. She was never judgemental and always had an open mind towards her best friend, creating a mutual support system—“There’s nothing you could ever say to make me let go.” It was in these moments that Blair’s tenderness and maternal instincts were evident. It taught me that it is not weak to be soft. It is okay to be vulnerable but also maintain a rational outlook. As Blair said, “Anne Boleyn thought only with her heart and she got her head chopped off. So her daughter, Elizabeth, made a vow to never marry a man, she married a country.”
Although the dramatic nature of the show makes it somewhat unrealistic, Gossip Girl showcased problems that teenagers endure in reality. Blair, although immensely confident, still struggled with bulimia when her mother resented her and her best friend made her feel inferior. Female friendships were often problematic and parental relationships were characterized by bitterness. These storylines evoked a great deal of sadness and produced lots of tears on my part. Though I turned to Gossip Girl for comfort, it often caused me pain. These storylines made me sad because they were real life issues, but although they caused pain, they also provided closure. Some of the trials and tribulations that the characters endured were reminiscent of the things that I went through, and watching how the characters dealt with their problems helped me realize that these were issues that could be overcome.