Lizzie McGuire was an awkward teen girl who taught me I didn't have to be "perfect"
Lizzie McGuire premiered on the Disney Channel on January 12th, 2001. Here, an HG contributor describes how, even as an 11-year old Black girl, she saw herself in Lizzie more than she did in any other character on TV.
If you were a teenager in 2001, then you know that the pop culture landscape was characterized by attractive, thin blondes. Britney Spears was releasing her third studio album, bad girl Jen Lindley ruled Dawson’s Creek, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was taking over the world as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was that same year that Disney decided to release another hit show headlined by an effervescent blonde, but Lizzie McGuire, played by Hilary Duff, would prove to be a standout. Despite the aesthetic similarities to her peers as a white blonde girl, Lizzie McGuire offered us something distinctly different. In a TV landscape characterized by untouchable, svelte heroines, Lizzie embodied a more realistic portrayal of a teen girl—awkward, insecure, unsure, and prone to embarrassing situations.
Lizzie McGuire follows the adventures of 13-year-old Lizzie as she tries to make it through middle school without quite literally falling on her face. She is unpopular at school, something she often bemoans, but her supportive family and trusty sidekicks Miranda and Gordo are always by her side. The series separated itself from other teen hits that took place against the backdrop of the early millennium. It wasn’t a drama-filled soap opera, and Lizzie was even more girl-next-door than even, say, Buffy or Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She didn’t have magical powers; there was nothing particularly “special” about her. And that’s probably why so many teens and preteens gravitated towards her. She looked like them.
As an 11-year-old black girl, I couldn’t fully relate to Lizzie. After all, she and I looked nothing alike. But her everyday situations looked a lot more like my day-to-day routines than any other teenager’s life on TV did at the time.
Throughout the series, we see Lizzie navigate bullying, the awkwardness of buying a bra for the first time, various physical insecurities, and break-ups with friends. As a preteen, Lizzie’s world mirrored my world. Even the mundane fights I had with my mom at that age—from whether I should be allowed to pack my own suitcase for family vacation to whether it was really necessary for me to wear a bra—were depicted on Lizzie McGuire.
Most teen shows intimidated me at that age. Often, characters were doing seemingly adult things like losing their virginity, roaming the streets at night without their mom’s permission (?!), or occupying worlds that were far different from my own (looking at you, Beverly Hills 90210).
Lizzie taught me that it’s okay to mess up, an important message at that age. She also shattered my perceptions about the “perfect” teen girl, aka that girl with Pantene commercial-style hair, witty adult mannerisms, grace, poise, and a closet that could compete with any socialite’s. After Lizzie, it still took me another few years to realize that girl didn’t actually exist—and even girls with a nearly “perfect” appearance had their own set of insecurities that were invisible to the rest of us.
To me, Lizzie was one of the early pioneers of the “awkward girl,” setting the tone for characters we now see all over our screens, from Jane in Jane the Virgin to Lara Jean Covey in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Eventually, other shows would come along that would build and improve on the concept that made Lizzie so popular, but for a long time, she was the only one who stood out from the crowd for me. I have since fallen on my face literally and figuratively many times since I watched that series, and I’m here to tell you that, just like Lizzie, I survived.