Oh, Helga. In a lot of ways, unibrowed Helga Pataki was the weirdest character of the classic and still amazing hit Nickelodeon show Hey Arnold! She was honestly sort of frightening when I watched Hey Arnold! as a kid, what with her tendency to knock the teeth out of her fellow classmates, lie about her feelings for Arnold and build elaborate shrines to her beloved “Football Head.” But she was also an extremely complex female character for all of these reasons! A tomboy, she was also a total sap and a romantic, and she knew how to hold her own against bullies and peers (actually, she sort of was the bully). In funny, strange and awesome ways, she taught me a lot about what it’s like to be a woman. Criminy!
Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you have to be girly.
Helga was famously tomboyish. She was really rough and tumble, bossing everyone around and acting like “one of the guys.” She hated everything girly and really resented her older sister Olga for being so “beautiful” and for acting so feminine. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a soft side because…
It’s OK to show your emotions
Even though Helga acted tough, she had these intense emotions and a huge capacity for love! Like, huge. This girl was completely obsessed with Arnold and said things like, “Arnold, you make my girlhood tremble,/My senses all go wacky./Someday, I’ll tell the world, my love…/Or my name’s not Helga G. Pataki!” Helga was super in touch with her emotions and she channeled all this love into writing poetry—all about her secret love Arnold, of the football-shaped heads.
A girl can be both in touch with her feelings and still be a total badass.
Helga seriously let no one steamroll over her, not even her beloved Arnold. She perhaps took it too far and was mean and a bully to some of her friends, but there’s no doubt that no one messed with Helga. You know what happened to those who tried. Girls = sugar + spice!
It’s OK to be ruled by your heart, not your head.
This girl was ALL passion, no logic. Women get a lot of criticism for being emotional, but that’s something Helga had no trouble with. It apparently never occurred to Helga that it would be a whole lot easier to win Arnold’s love if she were…hmm, what’s the word? Oh, nicer to the object of her affections! But Helga was totally ruled by her emotions, and that’s perfectly cool! We all get caught up in our emotions for a person we like and stop thinking clearly. Helga knew what that was like, and had zero chill. We love her for that.
No girl should be considered “perfect.”
Olga’s “perfection” made Helga really insecure about her own lack of femininity, but the expectation to be perfect really affected Olga too. In one heart-wrenching and amazing episode, Olga expresses anguish because everyone always expects her to do everything right, be perfect all the time and act with flawless femininity. She cries to Helga that she’s so lucky to be “ignored” by their parents because at least they don’t put all this pressure on her! Helga and Olga were perfect examples of the idea that women shouldn’t be considered paragons of beauty and virtue, because then we stop being real, complex people who are allowed to fail and make mistakes, not be “pretty” all the time, and do what we want to do.
It’s awesome to flaunt your intelligence.
Helga was not only a boss sports player, an accomplished performance poet and a pioneer of the “eyebrows on fleek” movement. No—she was also really, really smart. In one noteworthy episode, Helga gets a perfect score on an aptitude test and matches her “perfect” sister’s record-breaking score. She also gets to help Arnold with his work when he’s falling behind, and loves her literature classes especially, which is totally understandable given she’s a young female Shakespeare! You go, girl.
Well, maybe not gum-shrine-in-the-closet passionately, but as close as you can get to that without driving yourself completely crazy.