How the ladies of ‘Clueless’ helped me survive middle school

Because it’s the best movie ever and its impact on our ’90s brains can not be overstated, we’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the movie Clueless on Sunday, all weekend long. Here, one of our contributors shares how Cher and the gang got her through some of the toughest moments in middle school. 

In the fall of 1995, I was lucky enough to start a new elementary school in a new city that had a lot of kids like me. The fall of 1996 was a different story altogether. I started attending a middle school across town, in the area of Daytona Beach that was sort of how Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles. I was a Tai in a Cher-and-Dionne-saturated world, although in real life, those Chers and Dionnes were not as accepting. So the fictional characters became my virtual friends.

There was even an Elton-type guy who dated a new girl every week and whom I even dated for a few days that year until he discovered I wouldn’t be kissing him on the playground while the other kids stood around us in a circle. He was already snuggled up to a new girl in fourth period after breaking up with me at lunch, leaving me dateless for the school dance that weekend at the rec center.

At 30, I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that middle school was probably the most difficult time of my life. Paired with the fact that so many changes were happening to me both mentally and physically that sometimes it already felt like I had little to hold on to, none of my elementary-school friends were at my new school to back me up – meaning I had to make new ones somehow.

It’s funny, the things you remember so vividly because they’re core memories: moments you know really impacted the person you’d eventually grow into. Aforementioned Elton-type guy told me shortly after he dumped me, in front of a bunch of popular kids, that my hair smelled like dog poop. I explained that I lived in a home where my parents smoked, and he said, “Can’t you put your clothes in a bag in an airtight room or something?”

I almost cried, but didn’t. Because through everyone’s laughs, I remembered how Tai wiped out at the Val party but was fine because she had her friends to back her up and “Rollin’ with the Homies” to get her back in the party mood (for the record, “No Diggity” was my “Rollin’ with the Homies”). I knew that, the next day, I could wear my and write down in my notebook, in caps, all the insults I was too shy to say out loud. I knew that when someone scoffed at the collection of Beanie Babies I had on my desk that I could channel my inner Cher and say, “These are Teenie Beanie Babies. They’re way existential.”

Dionne and Cher also helped me realize, eventually, that my standards were allowed to be high, even if some of the people around me might have tried to imply otherwise. I told myself that middle-school boys weren’t good enough for me anyway, unless I found one as awesome as Murray, Josh, or Travis. I would instead have sleepovers with my also-kind-of-outsider girlfriends (I found some!) and do makeovers, or have three-way calls on our transparent landline phones and talk about how we were going to throw parties and invite only the guys who MIGHT have been worth our time. For some reason, we never got around to doing it. Probably because we were too busy having fun just talking about it.

Today, I’m a confident woman who is better because of these experiences instead of in spite of them, and I have Cher, Dionne, and Tai to partially thank for that. That movie was always my reference point and safety valve when I was feeling alone or like an outcast. Those characters were kind, confident, my cinematic spirit animals.

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember and reconnect with my 11-year-old self when I look at this wonderful life I have built for myself and my family and real friends who will always be there for me– largely because I’ve grown so much since those three short years of my adolescence. But then I remember how, on the first day of middle school, I boarded bus 257S in pigtails and an almost-knee-length plaid schoolgirl skirt. And I was made fun of. But I had Cher Horowitz in my head telling me it’s going to OK (or “As if”), and that was enough.

Happy 20th birthday, Clueless. And thank you, Amy Heckerling, for giving me Cher, Dionne, and Tai to help guide me through the halls of middle school when my confidence was only making an appearance sporadically.


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