Live Through This

Manic Pixie Panic

Liking cute things doesn’t make me shallow.

Illustration by Ana

Illustration by Ana

I’ve always been apprehensive about milestones. When I got my period for the first time, I did not burst out in Judy Blume–worthy tears of joy, I cried in horror. Bye, childhood, I thought, FOREVER. It’s been fun, but now I have to go do adult things, like my taxes and laundry. Also, wow, I’m really articulate for a 12-year-old. The truth is that getting your period doesn’t make you a woman. Neither does having a bat mitzvah or a quinceañera or a sweet 16. There is no definitive moment where you wake up and trade in your novelty-print romper for a beige pantsuit and feel ready for every conceivable responsibility, because maturing is a lifelong process.

I’m 19, which means I am no longer legally a child, but I’m still a teenager, and I personally can’t abide the thought of myself as a full-fledged adult. It’s not that I’m afraid of growing up—I’m just not exactly skipping down the path to maturity. I consider part of me grown up—the part that works multiple jobs, goes to college, takes care of sick family members, and successfully orders a pizza over the phone without anxiety (FINALLY). The other part of me is a total kid. I like Hey Arnold! and clothing emblazoned with baby animals. Sometimes I feel like I should cover my own eyes during sex scenes in movies. I have a desk drawer devoted to glitter and food-shaped erasers, and I can’t seem to ask a stranger for help without raising my voice a few octaves. Yes, I wear adorable vintage glasses and enjoy baking, but I also vote. Like my fellow Rookie Danielle said, just because I’m childlike doesn’t mean I am childish. I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.

When I started college this year I made some new friends, and what began as good-natured teasing about my quirkiness (a word I’ll come back to in a bit) started to feel like a dig after a while. Quirky seemed to apply to anything I wanted to do, from baking a pie to trimming my bangs. A couple months ago my (admittedly delightful) dorm room was featured in Teen Vogue. My campus blog wrote what I’m sure was meant to be a flattering nod to the piece, but when they said I was “majoring in adorable,” I worried that I was being mischaracterized as a silly person with a frivolous interest in style. Around that same time I told a friend about my plan to work at a bakery so I could wear cute aprons, and she didn’t take it as the joke I intended it to be. “Don’t manic-pixie yourself,” she warned.

She was referring, of course, to the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a recurring character in film and television. The MPDG is an adult woman who embodies a youthful free-spiritedness that many find grating. The term was coined by the film critic Nathan Rabin, who described her as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” He cites Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown and Natalie Portman’s in Garden State as two prime examples. Other common traits of MPDGs: a tendency to wear vintage clothing, a playful personality, an interest in minor disturbances of the peace, and, oh yeah, no inner life or ambitions of her own. Also, they’re usually waifish and pale and big-eyed and adorable (probably they majored in it). (This video breaks the trope down perfectly.) I’d read about MPDGs in a few articles and on a few blogs, and then started seeing the term in internet comments and Instagram bios. And now it had become a real-life thing, and it was being applied to me.

On a purely superficial level, I guess you could say I match the description. My haircut is very similar to that of Zooey Deschanel, an actress who is often blasted as the MPDG poster girl. And to be honest, before I really thought about what the MPDG archetype means in terms of women and agency and all that, I was as obsessed with them as their love-struck suitors tend to be. They dress whimsically, like to have fun, live in adorable apartments, go on dates, and did I mention FUN? In middle school, when I watched Stranger Than Fiction, a 2006 movie in which Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Ana Pascal, a kooky baker who runs a “weekly evil-conspiracy and needlepoint group,” I didn’t hate her like a lot of people did—I wanted to be just like her. And I’ll admit that I coveted Zooey’s perfect bangs and her wardrobe of retro cotton dresses in (500) Days of Summer. (SIDE NOTE: If we’re going to play Six Degrees of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I believe the movie Elf from 2003 subverts the phenomenon: Will Ferrell plays a totally whimsical man-child who shows the jaded, deadpan Zooey Deschanel [!] how to loosen up and enjoy life. But it was released several years before the MPDG was identified and analyzed to death.)

But just because I like cute stuff doesn’t mean I’m shallow, or that I live to make guys feel more adventurous and deep. For example, I would never ask a guy to lie down in the street with me and look at the stars, because I don’t want to get hit by a car. I’m way too cynical to ever fall in love with a boy over a mixtape. And to be honest I find cupcakes kind of stupid. (I get the convenience factor, but prefer cake slices, which give you an even distribution of frosting and cake in every bite.)

My point is, likening real-life women to MPDGs is offensive. It implies that our habits and interests are affectations designed to attract dudes so we can improve their lives. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl does not actually exist—she is by definition a fantasy. We should restrict the use of the phrase to when we’re criticizing one-dimensional characters in fiction. Otherwise it’s just another way to put women down. Calling an actual living girl an MPDG because she likes traditionally domestic things like baking is akin to calling a girl a bitch because she’s confident or a slut because she enjoys sex. It’s just a derisive, limiting label, often delivered as the euphemistic Q-word. “Oh, what’s that? You crochet small replicas of fruit? How quirky!” (Never mind that crochet is an interest you’ve had since you were little and that brought you closer to your grandmother.) “You’re wearing that polka-dot dress again? Your style is sooo quirky.” “Whoa! You’re eating yogurt? Quirky! I have no idea why, but you have pink streaks in your hair, so I’m just assuming.”

There are many things I do that no one would describe as cute, including: interrupting people midsentence to share my opinion, being judgmental, and writing furiously on feminist themes in Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book. And I don’t really want to let go of some of my twee-er tendencies like figuring out how many ways I can incorporate Funfetti cake mix into my diet or embroidering portraits of my favorite pop stars.

Maybe one day I’ll have nothing but black turtlenecks in my closet and green juice in my fridge, who knows? In the meantime, though, I’m not bad at being a woman (or a feminist) if I’m not embodying the refined courage of Eleanor Roosevelt combined with the fierce independence of Beyoncé combined with the physical strength of Xena: Warrior Princess. My tastes are not designed to attract disaffected men whose lives lack zing. They’re definitely partly an attempt to cling to my childhood—or, more precisely, to hold on to my enthusiasm for life. But honestly, who cares? If I want to be curious and goofy and make crafts, who’m I hurting? I’m not “manic-pixie-ing myself,” so please don’t manic-pixie me. ♦


  • Abby April 18th, 2013 7:43 PM

    I LOVE YOU. Thank you.

  • lishbish April 18th, 2013 7:44 PM

    THANK you. (luckily) Nobody has every called me a MPDG, but I find it ridiculously offensive when people bash Zooey and Natalie Portman and (the admittedly fictional) Ramona Flowers.

    Also, I have always hated the word quirky and when people apply it to me.

    • Katherine April 19th, 2013 2:42 AM

      How can anyone bash Natalie Portman? She is such a boss.

      I used to really like the word quirky, but its current over-usage makes me sick.

      • baratully April 20th, 2013 5:35 AM

        Re: Natalie Portman bashing – I know! Have these people not SEEN the Natalie Portman Rap from SNL??

    • elsa m April 20th, 2013 10:16 AM

      idk… i think it’s legitimate not to enjoy the characters zooey plays. she does pick one-dimensional roles time and time again.

  • catpower44 April 18th, 2013 7:48 PM

    Gabby this is amazing I feel exactly like this sometimes. And the ‘quirky’ thing has happened to me, except it was replaced with hipster. And Ana, I absolutely love your illustration! :)

  • Amy Rose April 18th, 2013 7:52 PM

    This essay fucking ruled, and not just because you are a fellow Shonagon head.

  • Kimono Cat April 18th, 2013 7:53 PM

    This was a great article! Age of Innocence has one of my favourite Rookie themes ever, generally. Several things I’d like to point out:

    1. Gabby’s pink flats in slide seventeen of the Vogue article are AMAZING!

    2. On a similar note, anyone who has a drawer dedicated to glitter and food shaped erasers is automatically one of my favourite people ever.

    3. This article really resonated with me. Sometimes, my mother accuses of trying to be like Zooey Deschanel’s character in New Girl, and this always frustrates me. Firstly, how dare you compare me to such a thin parody of femininity and quirkiness!? And secondly, I try very hard to be myself, and I should be allowed to pursue my niche interests like Japanese paper tape without being called a poser.

    • Kimono Cat April 18th, 2013 7:55 PM

      I forgot to say, the picture for this article was so fitting, perfect and fantastic that it leaves me awed and speechless!

      • rhymeswithorange April 18th, 2013 9:48 PM

        Agreed! I LOVE the picture too!

    • lydiamerida April 18th, 2013 8:06 PM


    • poetess April 18th, 2013 8:08 PM

      Just wondering– why, in your opinion, is New Girl “such a thin parody of femininity and quirkiness”?

      • Kimono Cat April 19th, 2013 10:09 AM

        Poetess, I live in the U.k. THus, when I wrote that comment it was about 1 am. My point is, after a good night’s sleep, I’m not sure what I mean myself! Now, in my less drowsy state, I recall that my mother was referring to the other negative side of MPDG, the vague hint of Aspergers. Now, I am socially awkward, but my mother often accuses me of putting on quirks to be like “New Girl”. But to get back to your original question, no I don’t think New Girl is a thin parody of femininity and quirkiness. I was drowsy when I wrote that, and I liked how the words sounded together. I actually think that Jess is a well developed character who subverts some of the MPDG stereotypes.

        • Pashupati April 22nd, 2013 4:59 PM

          Maybe you said that because when people say that to or about *you*, you feel like they make you a parody by implying you’re just “acting” similarly to the character? But even if you tried deliberately to act like that, it would not make you a parody.
          I almost posted that comment before reading that, so here it is because it can still be relevant to some:
          I don’t like it, but I know she wrote the character based on herself, saying the character is a parody just because it’s a comedy (I assume) is like saying another character is a parody while reading autofiction. You’re kind of also insulting the person it’s based on.
          It’s not because her way to be feminine and quirky isn’t likeable to you, that it’s parodic.

  • makeawish3653 April 18th, 2013 8:00 PM

    I’m curious. Is Noone actually your last name?

    • Gabby April 18th, 2013 8:29 PM

      YES. It’s pronounced like “noon” the time of day, not like “no one.” :)

    • Gabby April 18th, 2013 8:31 PM

      Yes. It’s pronounced like the time of day, “noon” not like “no one” :).

  • lydiamerida April 18th, 2013 8:05 PM

    Yes! I totally get this :)
    In middle school and freshman year of high school I always beat myself up about how boys would never like me because I’m not all cutesy and happy and chipper (do people even say that?) all the time. After a while, I realized that the movie characters I was trying to emulate were really two dimensional, and that I shouldn’t try to change myself into something I’m not. So, yeah…..

  • poetess April 18th, 2013 8:06 PM

    OMG. Gabby, it’s like you’re in my head / my soulmate. Rock on Rookie.

  • izzyohgeezy April 18th, 2013 8:08 PM

    Did anyone see Ruby Sparks? So MPDG it made me want to walk out of the cinema, which i didn’t but i really wish i did.

    • MaddsBeMe April 18th, 2013 8:34 PM

      I kinda loved Ruby sparks!! I felt like it was a criticism of the way people fantisize abou the non-existent MPDGs. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but the whole point is that she is a figment of his imagination and being such could not possibly be a real woman. Anyway that’s just how i saw it :)

  • marineo April 18th, 2013 8:10 PM


    I hate being called quirky. It’s just a…a… non-plement.

  • o-girl April 18th, 2013 8:12 PM

    Agh! I feel bad that people made you feel bad cuz that shouldn’t happen to people who are just being who they are (aka cool people). The reason I feel like there has to be a word for those characters is because I like to have the ability to say that that flawless (but with “flaws”) person is impossible, and you can’t expect a human being to fit into that mold. This article is SO awesome and SO important <333 luv u gabby grrrl

  • lavieeeeee April 18th, 2013 8:17 PM

    I love this article. I’ve never been called an MPDG but people automatically label me as ‘quirky’ and ‘hipster’ because I like to write and I’m a film studies major. It’s ridiculous how people can write off others so fast based on how they dress or what their interests are.

    Also have you tried making funfetti cookies???

  • GlitterKitty April 18th, 2013 8:18 PM

    Ahh yes this is awesome!! When I was reading the first paragraph about MPDG I was literally thinking “so like Zooey Deschanel then?” the entire time. I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with being called quirky but I’ve never been called that so maybe I don’t really know. I think glitter is amazing and I really don’t see anything wrong with that. Yes, it is a little childish but as long as I can be mature when I need to be, why can’t I love glitter and fluffy tutus?

  • Naomi Morris April 18th, 2013 8:24 PM

    i love you gabby. I LOVE YOU

  • cole123 April 18th, 2013 8:36 PM

    OHMYGOSH! Thank you for righting this! I get called “hipster” or “adorable” way too often. I know that it is meant to be a compliment but it gets SO annoying! It sometimes makes me feel bad for dressing up and loving vintage. I feel like people may think I am shallow and spend way to much money on clothing. Honestly I’v collected vintage for as long as I can remember and I do it because I like it, not to appeal to guys more!

  • AnaRuiz April 18th, 2013 8:51 PM

    1. Wow your dorm room IS amazing
    2. I want to be a MPDG, but in the sense that I want to be a complex, surprising individual (hopefully fun too.) But it’s not something I’m going to force. (Especially if I’m forced to dress cutesy in order to do so.)

    Like all archetypes, the MPDG can be sort of one-dimensional, but I like the direction she’s pulling me in… to search for a marked identity, but being faithful to myself and to my spontaneity on the way. I dislike the way that the Zooey Deschanel character has made the MPDG so SPECIFIC, but if you see Garden State, Natalie Portman’s character does not wear vintage or anything. And Alaska from Looking for Alaska is moody and even is suspected to *spoiler alert* commit suicide. Yet they’re both generally considered MPDGs.

    Maybe in a few years I’ll discover that the MPDG IS stupid and chauvinistic, but, whatever, right now I’m 17 and allowed to have stupid dream models, as long as they make me happy. Feminism allows me to!

    PS. Great article, by the way. Thought provoking!

    • rhymeswithorange April 18th, 2013 10:04 PM

      Part of the theory of MPDGs is that they don’t have real character growth, they just “enrich” the men that love them. But as long as you want to be a “complex, surprising individual” (which is awesome), I wouldn’t worry about admiring aspects of MPDGs!

    • Sunshine April 19th, 2013 10:34 AM

      Hahaha I’m seventeen too and I totally love emulating the MPDG, in the sense that being unpredictable and adorable and unbashedly adorable appeals to me. :D

  • saralovering April 18th, 2013 8:54 PM

    i have never even heard of the manic pixie dream girl trope, but now i realize that these movies have inspired a lot about the type of person i want to be. now i’m kind of confused

  • Camillekit April 18th, 2013 9:11 PM

    oh my goodness, I love this piece, and I feel I can totally relate. And your room is amazing!
    Also, I will going to Barnard next year! I’m so excited to see that there will be Rookie writers on campus!

    • Katherine April 19th, 2013 2:43 AM

      Congrats! I hope to get in there someday. Have fun!

  • Milagros April 18th, 2013 9:11 PM


  • jane alice April 18th, 2013 9:12 PM

    I really loved this piece. All of the content this month has been so so good!

  • meganjanie April 18th, 2013 9:22 PM

    I am so worried people will think this about me because I am finishing a Master’s Degree in Historic Textiles and Fashion. (“WHAT? That’s a real degree!” “OMIGOSH that’s so cute and fun…”)
    I can only hope that getting my research published and some of the awards and grants I have received will help lessen the feeling that what I do is inferior to say, earning a law or business degree.

    • julietpetal April 18th, 2013 9:55 PM

      SAME. Only mine is in Fashion and Textiles majoring in Knitwear. People think it isn’t a real thing, like “You have a degree in KNITTING? What, do you just sit there and knit all day?”

      • Manda April 19th, 2013 4:45 PM

        Knitting and knitwear have to be one of the most underrated things ever. Rookie knitters ftw! I knit for pleasure and for adorable articles of clothing. Is your coursework a lot of mathematics and designing patterns?

  • rhymeswithorange April 18th, 2013 9:28 PM

    Wow great article! I never thought about how “man children” are never criticized in the same way youthful women are.

  • Manda April 18th, 2013 9:32 PM

    Rookie, can you please make an article about “hipsters” and why it’s a stupid label?

    • Tavi April 18th, 2013 9:34 PM

      oh i have zillions of thoughts on this

      • ladyjenna April 18th, 2013 10:13 PM


        Please please please

        Maybe look into the origins of the phenomenon and then move into how COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY RIDICULOUS its become

        • zombiesockmonkey April 18th, 2013 11:09 PM

          My cardigans and I would love that so much.

      • catpower44 April 18th, 2013 11:06 PM

        please share your zillions of thoughts!

      • thebrownette April 19th, 2013 10:54 AM

        PLEASE DO THIS. I get called that all the time and I’m just like “I could label you too, but I AM NOT GOING TO.”
        Ironically, my guy who calls me a hipster the most is offended at the stereotypes of comic readers perpetuated by The Big Bang Theory.

    • Caitlin H. April 19th, 2013 3:29 PM

      If I had a pound for every time I was called a hipster…..

  • Ella April 18th, 2013 10:14 PM

    A “hipster” article would be great! *turns on whiny little kid begging voice* pleasepleasepleaseplease!

  • TessAnnesley April 18th, 2013 10:16 PM

    Aahhhhh this is incredible. It really resonates with me and it’s SUCH a coincidence that you published it now because these are LITERAL words I LITERALLY wrote in my journal yesterday:
    “You might look like an Irene Adler gangster or a twisted fairy princess, but you could kick the shit out of oppression either way.”

  • Allyssa April 18th, 2013 10:19 PM

    Oh gosh, this was awesome and I’m SO glad you addressed this <3

  • Dylan April 18th, 2013 10:34 PM

    Awesome, Gabby!

  • zombiesockmonkey April 18th, 2013 11:08 PM

    I love love love Zooey Deschanel’s own quote on the subject
    “I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f–king feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar. So f–king what?”

    Perfectly sums up the feelings I have about feminism and the unfairness MPDG stereotype.

    • ArmyOfRabbits April 19th, 2013 2:07 AM

      Ahhh, thanks for this quote!

    • elsa m April 20th, 2013 10:29 AM

      i remember what you’re referring to. she also said something like ‘now we don’t have to be the women who dress like men to get ahead.’ which is kind of offensive. she was suggesting that being feminine= dressing cute + girly as opposed to it just being one expression.

      idk. my dislike of zooey has less to do with how she dresses and more how in the past 10 years she started acting more and more airheaded… she always kind of plays these helpless characters and the men are there to help her. in one ep of New Girl, she falls and can’t get up and the guys have to help her. in another episode, she, a 30 year old woman can’t say the word ‘penis’! why is that found adorable? if we witnessed that behavior in a man it would be disturbing. in interviews she seems to be quite similar to her character… so even if she isn’t like this in real life, it’s the persona she wants to get across

      look. perhaps this is the way zooey is… and that’s fine. but unless you’re gorgeous like she is, don’t expect people to put up with the level of cluelessness and helplessness she displays in her characters and in her interviews.

  • anton April 18th, 2013 11:10 PM

    This piece is amazing!

  • crapbag April 18th, 2013 11:10 PM

    HmmMmm I like the premise of this article but I feel like what I got from it was a “don’t call me a hipster” vibe. Idk. BTW all of those things sounded ‘quirky’ to me. And it’s ok to be quirky.

    Quirky: Characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits: “quirky charm”

    I highly doubt anyone was reducing you to a shallow character whose sole purpose is to serve sad dudes happiness and excitement. Let’s be honest, they were probably just meanin’, “hey, don’t get too hip now.”

    !! !

    I’m sorry if this sounds really rude, just got a little bit under my skin. Just from the points made, it seems like a big deal is being made out of nufffin.

    • farawayfaerie April 21st, 2013 7:09 PM

      the problem with quirky is that it can be so patronising! I mean, i dislike the word because i dislike the way it sounds, but more importantly i dislike the way it sounds when it comes from people who can’t seem to give you a compliment but will rather label you as quirky, which is so vague, and calling someone peculiar or unexpected isn’t always good.

      I could really relate to this article, but everyone is different and gets annoyed by different things i guess.

      Also, i always feel like quirky is something grandmothers or aunts would say when they don’t quite understand your style, but feel the need to comment on it anyway.

  • azultardis April 18th, 2013 11:55 PM

    great esssay! I agree, I really dislike how people analyzes and says that girls try too hard to be cute or something,or when the bash Zooey or Taylor just because they wear dresses and have gorgeous fringes haha
    we should be able to just be ourselves without people comparing us to a movie character or something

  • Hayley April 19th, 2013 12:42 AM

    I sometimes manic-pixie it up–I make collages, I like colored pens, I like children’s music, I wear flower-print dresses and too many colors at once, et cetera, et cetera. And I’m gay as shit. I’m doing it for me, not for a guy, and not for a girl either. People are people. I do what makes me feel good.

  • Selle April 19th, 2013 1:40 AM

    Yes yes and YES I can fully relate to this. These thoughts exactly were nagging at me ever since the day a close friend described me as a real-life asian embodiment of the main character in the french movie Amelie, which BTW I ADORE and come to think of it is pretty amazing comparison; but I’m pretty sure it was just a longer way to say the Q-word.

    And all this time I felt like people were judging me as if I were JUST these random idiosyncrasies that people found whimsical, like my fondness for crochet and vintage clothes and my fringe-and-thick-glasses combo. It took a strange toll on my self-confidence for a while before I realised eff this! I like flouncy skirts and cats and I don’t have to apologize to anyone! I have no reason for anyone to patronize me unless I let them! And oh I’m 24 so it took me THAT long to figure this stuff out, but it was all worth it.

    Quoting my fave babe Jess Day : “I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children. And I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. It freaks me out. I’m sorry that I don’t talk like Murphy Brown. And I hate your pants suit. I wish it had ribbons on it or something just to make it slightly cuter but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.”

  • ArmyOfRabbits April 19th, 2013 2:59 AM

    Thank you so much for this article! I think sometimes people do not understand the MPDG trope versus an actual girl’s bubbly personality, interests and tastes in spontaneous things.

    Although, I am not quite bubbly (quite shy like Amelie, who actually isn’t really a MPDG either) and because of my supposedly “quirky” aesthetics in fashion, music, and lifestyle– not long ago, I got compared to a MPDG trope.

    This is off-topic: but I also get the hipster label a lot too. Is it supposed to come off as an insult? I just thought of that term as our generation’s beatnik. I don’t see anything wrong with liking independent music, thrift clothing, being avant-garde and bringing in new ideas.

    • Sunshine April 19th, 2013 10:44 AM

      I don’t think hipster is really an insult. I actually enjoy being called a hipster, because it’s self-affirming.
      (On a totally unrelated note, I realize that saying being called “hipster” is pretty lame, because while I feel it’s self-affirming, it just goes to show you that I find comfort in a label. But, it’s whatever. Yolo, right?)

    • Manda April 19th, 2013 4:57 PM

      I think that the term “hipster” started out as a positive label, as oxymoronic as that may sound, but it has since transformed into a stereotype of somebody who is, essentially, vapid and condescending. That’s why I dislike to be called a hipster. That is not to say that my friends and I don’t joke around and call each other a hipster, but it’s always for stupid things and followed by something along the lines of “you think toast is too mainstream.” We play around with the exaggerated stereotype, but I will never label somebody as one.

  • prouddaydreamer April 19th, 2013 3:05 AM

    THIS. Thank you SO MUCH for this. I get judged on a daily basis by my love for cute things and crazy colored hair and people keep telling me to ‘just get over it’. So yeah, I have nothing else to say just.. thank you!!

  • rayano-banano April 19th, 2013 3:38 AM

    Don’t worry about it Gabby, just remember, all of the things you just described doing, MPDG or not, aren’t bad things.

  • futheradventuresoflydia April 19th, 2013 6:32 AM

    I agree with this sosososoososoooo much! Great article, Gabby.
    I used to get really annoyed at people who were all like “MDPG’s are really unfeminist b/c …(all the reasons why MDPG’s are unfeminist).” I used to be all like, “Crap! I like to knit, bake (rn I’m looking up how to make funfetti cake because omg it sounds amazing and they don’t sell it in the uk, I don’t think), and listen to cutesy music and weirdo classical music because I don’t think I ever got the message that I’m a teenager.” But the thing is I’m not a MDPG. I’m doing that stuff for me. If some cute person comes along and likes me for all that, that’s great. But point I’m getting at is though MDPG’s are unfeminist, being kooky isn’t. In fact doing quirky stuff (I’m cringing so hard writing this, I NEED a better word) is freeing and wonderful and makes me feel good.
    Anyway, to conclude this rambling comment, I want to suggest a book. It’s called “Love, Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli. You’ve probably heard of its preceding novel, “Stargirl”, a story in which a high school boy becomes enamored with this eccentric new girl who calls herself Stargirl. She’s been home-schooled her whole life, so wowza she has weird habits and customs and clothes. Anyway the first book is essentially a MDPG-fest, but the second book (which is told from Stargirl’s POV) completely deconstructs the trope. The point is that Stargirl isn’t a MDPG, she’s just like you and me. I dunno, I’m struggling for words right now, so I’m just gonna submit the comment :)

    • Lillypod April 19th, 2013 7:23 AM

      i have read stargirl maybe 10 times! when i think about it she definitely fitted MPDG trope. I guess that’s why the 2nd book was so necessary.

    • Sunshine April 19th, 2013 10:43 AM

      AMEN. I so agree. I’m a MDPG, to a point, (but far less bubbly) and a raging feminist. It’s so unfair to put “feminism” in a box, because that, like, destroys the whole meaning of feminism in the first place.

  • trassel April 19th, 2013 8:29 AM

    Thank you for this article! I have been thinking about this a lot, since I like a lot of characters who some people consider to be Manic Pixie Dream Girls. I feel like a lot of the time people forget that it’s the character itself and the part it plays in the story that makes a MPDG, not the way they dress or wear their hair or their interests or whatever. Thus people will argue that cfor example a character like Juno is a MPDG beacuse of her “quirky” style and so on.
    If you are telling a story in any way I think that you should of course be careful with the stereotypes, but I find it really oppressive when people accuse other REAL people of being stereotypical. I feel like we should be allowed to be any way we want, noone is responsible for the stereotypes that society label them with. All human beings are complex and no one needs to prove that.

  • raggedyanarchy April 19th, 2013 9:25 AM

    Gabby, I just wanna say I LOVE your dress in the Teen Vogue shoot. Just Sayin’.

    Anyway, I’ve had people say things like “Aww you read YA fantasy how QUIRKY and CUTE” and I wanted to throw up (or throw my box set of the His Dark Materials series at them–either one). Like, I don’t read them because they’re “cute,” I read them because from what I’ve seen, the YA fantasy books have more oomph to them than adult fantasy books (at least nowadays–I do love me some C.S.Lewis and Charles De Lint, though) and the fantasy genre is just more exciting. I don’t choose the books I read based on how “quirky” they make me look. I don’t grow herbs because they’re “quirky” (I grow them so I can poison those who say so and also so I can make my own teas). I don’t obsessively watch Hiyao Miyazaki because the movies are “quirky.” Nevermind that these things are all ways I relax and unwind after a long school day of *srs bsnss* and sometimes I just don’t want to be an adult.

  • Grenade April 19th, 2013 9:33 AM

    Really enjoyed this! I’ve been placed in the same category myself sooo many times, although here in europe it usually goes “You remind me of Amelie” (The ultimate manic pixie dreamgirl of europe). It’s an annoying category to fall into, because it makes people confused when you turn out to be an actual person with a history of your own and complex feelings.

  • Chloe22 April 19th, 2013 10:27 AM

    Ugh, I totally know how this stuff feels. I’m one of those girls that people sometimes describe as a ditz. I like One Direction, knitting, cats, fluffy dresses, all that. A lot of people dismiss me as a ”quirky crazy girl.” They just laugh and pat my head, because I’m just so silly! UGH! I hate it. Why do certain interests have to be lesser or better than others? Some people actually make jobs out of baking and crocheting (yarn shops, bakeries). I hope someday crafts and baking can be just as legit as sports.

  • yourenotfunny April 19th, 2013 10:30 AM

    On the use of “quirky” as a compliment: In middle school I was so disappointed that I was voted “most unique” instead of anything else, like artistic or funny. Like, my defining quality is how different I am from the rest of you? Idk, it made me feel more like a pet than a friend.

    • Tyra April 24th, 2013 2:45 PM

      I can see why you’d be disappointed, ‘most unique’ just seems so vague and patronising, like it depends on other things to be defined which is kind of paradoxical. Don’t worry girl you ARE artistic and funny <3

  • dlaebe April 19th, 2013 10:32 AM

    For real, quirky and arty are two words that make me want to punch things, repeatedly.

  • Velvetmary April 19th, 2013 10:39 AM

    This essay was so good, but it left me feel so bad, because I fell and still fall for MPDGs all the time. I loved Summer in 500 Days, I loved Clementine in Eternal Sunshine, I loved Ramona Flowers and I always wished to be one of these girls… But I agree at the point that these wonderful young ladies don’t exist to save guys, they save them because they exist, do you understand?
    I think the MPDG can be such an inspiration, because they see the pretty little things and give them a special meaning and because they have the corage to have a different view to the world.
    Let’s take Amélie Poulain as the best example: she’s almost a MPDG, with the difference that she saves herself by helping others and has her own life, her own character and still the playful, loveable personality of the dream girls.

  • Sunshine April 19th, 2013 10:41 AM

    I’m constantly labeled as “hipster” and “princess.” I’m that girl who wears tutus and high waisted polka dot shorts to school, flower crowns and giant bows. :) I’m not really bubbly, I’m actually rather detached from others and fairly absorbed in literature and photography and horror books from the 1960s.
    People always tell me “You dress so CUTE!” and “You’re just so QUIRKY and UNIQUE!” I always smile to myself at the way their voices go up-uP-UP when they’re telling me about how UNIQUEEE I am.
    I love to bake, I love collages, and while I’m a raging feminist, the ideal of a 1940s housewife (at least in terms of fashion and hair and makeup) seems suuuuper glam to me.
    While MPDG seems a little cookie-cutter for my taste, I think it’d be wrong to classify it as “annoying,” because I’ve always thought Zoey was adorable and MPDG was an ideal to emulate. But that’s just a normal personality type, if you ask me. I’ve met bubblier versions of myself, and I think they’d qualify as MPDG. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think MPDG rock. And while, from the outside eye they don’t seem to “develop” or “change,” well, internally, perhaps they possess a wealth of wisdom and insight and feminism that they simply don’t choose to broadcast. Detachment and adorableness forever :D

  • chestnutsumo85 April 19th, 2013 12:41 PM

    My ‘MPDG’ label really pisses me off. People don’t take me seriously because I’m physically “cute” and upbeat, which is actually a front as if I don’t watch out i’m overly opinonated, sarcastic and callous. When I don’t fit these stereotypes, e.g. recently I told friends that was on meds for anixety, the way people have reacted has been downright cruel; there is a rumour circulating at the moment that I “fake panic attacks for attention”. I highly recommend this which discusses the fetishisation of mental disorders.

    As a feminist I also feel uncomfortable when people refuse to acknowledge my sexuality. I get attention exclusively from a) true to trope, socially awkward self centred indie boys who “don’t find me intimidating” (i.e. feel able to patronise me, view my protesting against this as ‘adorably quirky’ and as the perfect contrasting setting for their own ‘deep deep angst’) or b) creepy older guys who want to “bang me because i’m innocent”. Actually, no. I’m not innocent, i’m 18 years old with sexual feelings that I would feel perfectly comfortable expressing if you didn’t twist them into something gross and Lolita-ish.

    Alright, so I have pink hair and a penchant for glitter – but i’m intelligent, articulate, capable of complex emotions and sexual expression and i’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t pat me on the head like a puppy doing a trick every time I evidence one of these traits. Sorry for the rant, but it cheered me up to see others with the same problem. Down with the judgement!

  • Julia April 19th, 2013 1:58 PM

    i really like this because it’s SO important for feminists to make the distinction between criticizing female characters and criticizing real life women’s self expression. female characters SHOULD be analyzed because they are so often products of misogynist thought. it’s not misogynistic to criticize female characters, including MPDGs. it is misogynistic to dismiss women based on their appearance just because they look like they fall into a trope. thanks for making that distinction, gabby!

  • Caitlin H. April 19th, 2013 3:26 PM


  • Sssophiabh April 19th, 2013 4:11 PM

    The movie Ruby Sparks addresses this issue really well!

    • Cruicked April 19th, 2013 7:02 PM

      I totally agree. If you found this article interesting I definitely recommend watching Ruby Sparks to you. I just recommend it anyway because I love it.

  • Anya N. April 19th, 2013 7:07 PM

    First off, amazing article! I can completely relate to this!

    But one thing is confusing me here, and has crossed my mind several times frequently: why does everyone hate the word “quirky”? I’ve never found it insulting; the first time I was called quirky it was by my best friend, and ever since then I’ve felt much less insecure about liking different things and expressing myself. I have grown tired of people overusing the word, but do I have a different idea of what the word means? How is it offensive? I’m not disagreeing with anyone, I just would really like to hear some other people’s opinions.

  • Manda April 19th, 2013 9:10 PM

    Isn’t Maude from Harold and Maude considered an MPDG?

  • whodatgal April 20th, 2013 4:12 AM

    omg this article was perfecctttion Gaby! Yeah a hipster/indie related articleeee would be awesome!

  • sepiawriter April 20th, 2013 1:28 PM

    I saw myself in this article, thank you!!
    Also, YES to something hipster/indie related! I’d love to talk about my experience with “being hipster”

  • eliza dolittle April 20th, 2013 6:44 PM

    this was perfectly said! i don’t get the MPDG label too often, but holy crap in response to everything i say or do someone will feel the need to say “you’re so weird” or “only you could get away with that”, and ok if i turn up in a latex catsuit at 3pm then sure, fine, but when i’m literally just trying to share something i find interesting and get shot down with “you’re so weird” it rejects my thoughts and feelings and mode of expression and honestly kinda hurts.

    you’ve clearly touched a lot of people, so thank you for that and this great article :3

  • barbroxursox April 21st, 2013 2:47 PM

    Wow, this was such a good article! I agree that labeling someone as MPDG is just as degrading as calling someone a “slut” or a “bitch” based on their sexual preferences or levels of confidence. People, no matter what their interests are/how much sex they have/amount of confidence/what their gender is, are multi-faceted! Why can’t everyone understand this!

    • barbroxursox April 21st, 2013 2:50 PM

      Oh, and along with a lot of other commenters on here, my friend and I get labeled “hipster” a lot, and it’s really annoying… Just because we like indie music or other sterotypically “hipster” things does not mean we don’t do other things too or hate “mainstream” music/things. I love to get down to one direction, yo!

  • Lola the ladybug April 21st, 2013 5:37 PM

    I saw some one else mention the movie Ruby sparks in the comments.I just watched it on Netflix and wanted to mention it here. I had been freaking out a little while ago because when I read the tv tropes page on manic pixie dream girls I realized I had watched these movies and had started to act this way more because had already been pushed into that mold and when I found out it was desirable i tried to act like these impossibly different girls who seemed so cool and pretty.I felt like a total loser when I realized that but I don’t any more.
    I am glad that people are starting to talk about this more and address this concept.

  • farawayfaerie April 21st, 2013 7:15 PM

    Gabby, please embroider me a portrait of your favourite pop-icon? Or of you? Or of David Bowie? (my favourite ever ever)
    that is the kewtest thing i’ve ever heard.
    And this article is wonderful, all i want to say is: I kno dat feel

  • galaxypirate April 22nd, 2013 8:33 PM

    Ugh, I totally agree! I used to love Zooey Deschanel in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Failure to Launch, but she’s become such an MPDG stereotype. I wish she could play individualistic characters again. It really felt like she used to stand for that.

  • Tyra April 24th, 2013 2:53 PM

    Personally I LOVE MPDGs, though I only started making that connection from reading this essay. Alaska, Ramona Flowers, Summer, Sam, Clementine- I just adore them. I know they’re perceived as two dimensional and borderline misogynistic but cmon how can you not love them they’re such lovely girls.

  • reginageorge April 26th, 2013 9:53 PM

    I agree with this. I’m not like this at all but I have several friends who are and there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like.

    My only problem is when girls specifically try to imitate Zooey Deschanel/the MPDG type just to appear cute or because they think that makes them more appealing. But then again, my biggest issue is not with them (although I find the aspiring Zooey clones really grating) but with the fact that the media often portrays being childish (which I agree is not the same as childlike) and the sort of person who WOULD get hit by a car by stargazing in the middle of a road as being desirable and interesting.

  • neenbean May 2nd, 2013 9:48 PM

    I’m never given up my rompers. Being four years older I definitely also feel adult in some ways but not in others, and I think the whole idea of what being an adult actually is needs redefining. Yeah I like lots of cute stuff too, and I don’t see myself stopping, because it doesn’t actually mean I’m immature.

    And that word quirky haunts me too. Ugh.

    Basically, you are a complex human being – sure you have cute aesthetic tastes, but at the same time you are intelligent and don’t fit some superficial image of the quirky cute girl, because that isn’t a defining aspect of who you are.

    I honestly find the term “hipster” even more annoying, but as many have rammed down my throat, I only apparently dislike it because I don’t want to admit I am it (so many logical fallacies right there guys).

  • Hailey Mah June 18th, 2013 7:58 PM

    This article was awesome and so articulate. Even though the concept of a MPDG (just serving the typically male protagonists in their ethereal, aloof ways) is something that I don’t like that much, the characters themselves shouldn’t be attacked because of their clothing or choice of haircut.

    It’s so important to realize that tropes are simply a convenience for people to categorize others. People can’t be defined by a single characterization, and by likening someone to a fictional generalization, you’re degrading the person themselves. Thank you.

  • Glasses Girl July 30th, 2013 8:17 PM

    This article really struck a nerve with me, especially the beginning part which contained a subject that I have literally never seen addressed on any part of the Internet ever. I’m literally crying.

    I’ve always had so many conflicting feelings about having to “grow up” and stop doing the things I love to do and stop wearing the things I love to wear because they were no longer socially acceptable that it breaks my heart on a consistent basis. And all of the things you said you do really resonated with me because I’m in the same place! I literally never thought I would find someone who dresses that way or keeps food-shaped erasers in their desk or raises their voice an octave when talking to strangers without noticing it. I had the same sentiments about getting my period when I was 14.

    So I just wanted to say thank you for this article and for being someone else out there that just feels better staying childlike than having to give up being absolutely adorable.

    And just for the record, I don’t really appreciate being called quirky, either.