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How I learned to Be a Strong, Independent Woman from ‘Troop Beverly Hills'

As a kid, many of us watch films and TV shows that shape our perception of self and the world around us. As girls, it can be difficult to find positive, strong characters to identify with and simultaneously see as role models. The hand that saved me from drowning in the flurry of damsels in distress was the 1989 movie Troop Beverly Hills.

The film stars Shelley Long as protagonist Phyllis Nefler and then child actress Jenny Lewis (from the band Rilo Kiley) as her daughter Hannah (she had the same name as me – big selling point at the time). The movie tells the story of recently separated Beverly Hills socialite Phyllis Nefler becoming the leader to her daughter’s Wilderness Girls troop. While Phyllis seems shallow and materialistic, she is actually incredibly selfless and does everything in her power to set a positive example for her troop. Along with the hilarity and shenanigans that ensue, Phyllis demonstrates that while she is a fashionable (she wears outfits Barbie would be jealous of), privileged member of high society, she can also not only be a “Wilderness Girl” but a role model to her troop and any girl between the ages of 8 and 80 that are watching. Here are some examples of why I’ll always look up to Ms. Phyllis Nefler:

When Phyllis first gets her Wilderness Girl uniform she takes it to her tailor and has him transform it so it meets her fashion forward standards. She then she sashays into her first Wilderness Girl leader meeting, fashionably late of course and with killer confidence. Phyllis shows that you can participate in anything but still maintain and celebrate your own sense of individuality.

Even though Phyllis and her husband are separating and heading towards divorce, she lives in their Beverly Hills mansion while her former husband lives in their guest house. He comes in the house to get some exercise equipment and when they begin arguing Phyllis holds her head high doesn’t back down. She articulately matches his complaints with points of her own, and ends the argument by throwing his clothes out the window. Her badassery is unmatched!

Despite Phyllis’ sometimes comical exterior, she shows that she is capable of making it in the wilderness, reinforcing the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover and also that it is possible to be both feminine and strong. She is faced with opposition from her former husband and the movies antagonist Velda (who is serious wilderness business all the time) but she never gives up, achieves success doing it her way and never compromises her sense of self.

Her troop is comprised of Beverly Hills debutantes whose skill does not necessarily lie in surviving in the great outdoors but Phyllis makes them feel like they have worth and are special by creating patches catering to the girl’s talent. Why waste time rubbing two sticks together when you could work towards Sushi Appreciation patch, Jewelry Appraisal patch or Gardening with Glamor patch?

Phyllis successfully battles pressure to conform, but also teaches us that too many accessories can clutter and outfit. What’s not to love? Of course I’m not going to give away the ending so until your Netflix comes in the mail, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that Phyllis is a delightful cocktail of ingenuity, glamor, and gusto. Beverly Hills, what a thrill!

by Hannah Rosen

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