Watch Me Shine: ‘Legally Blonde’ and My Path to Girl Power

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This guest post by Kathryn Diaz appears as part of our theme week on Movie Soundtracks.

I was 9 when Legally Blonde first sparkled in movie theaters. I didn’t understand what the Bend-and-Snap was all about, half the jokes went over my head, and I was only mostly sure that a sorority was some kind of real thing. What I did know was that “Watch Me Shine” by Joanna Pacitti was my new favorite song, like, ever.

Here was a song that felt commanding and fun, something that was opening a gate to me that my Mary-Kate and Ashley makeup set never did. I played “Watch Me Shine” in the car while my mom drove me to school every morning. I stumbled over the rapid-fire lyrics at the top of my lungs and whipped my pony tail back and forth with shameless enjoyment no matter how sleepy or cranky I’d woken up. At school, I replayed the montage over and over in my head. If I just thought about the song long enough, I was sure I would become as confident and fearless as Elle. When I met my challenges, I would march through them with determined glares and that song. If this was what the rest of Girl Power sounded like, I wanted to listen non-stop.

Studying never looked so fierce.

My love for the Legally Blonde soundtrack eventually expanded to include Hoku’s defiantly happy-go-lucky tune “Perfect Day,” “One Girl Revolution” by Superchick, and “We Could Still Belong Together” by Lisa Loeb. “We Could Still Belong Together” was, and still is, an unexpected win. Legally Blonde plays the song as Elle makes the trek from home to Harvard to kick off her quest to win back Warner, but the whole song is something of a give-away about the film’s real philosophy on love: couples that belong together are ones that let the partners be their imperfect, interrupting, complicated human selves without any fuss.

Why yes, women can be in a relationship without walking on a perfection tightrope.

 

As I hit that sweet spot between anger and anxiety with the rest of puberty, “Can’t Get Me Down” by Lo-Ball climbed to the top of my favorites from the soundtrack. By this time, my life looked even less like the positive friendship-driven fairy tale Legally Blonde existed in, but my CD had transcended its origins. My attachment wasn’t about Elle Woods or embracing hallmarks of traditional femininity that get belittled by western mainstream society (that would come later). I was all about lyrics like, “That’s not the way/ Nice girls behave/ Oh yeah I know/ You told me/ It’s not your choice/ I have a voice/ I guess you just don’t hear me.” It spoke to me on a spiritual level.

Much angst was set to this song.

 

One day some of my friends and I ended up pulling out our overstuffed CD collections and taking safety pins and paper clips to their surfaces. Scratching CDs, especially ones we’d had for a long time, was a common pastime whenever we felt “bored,” that heavy catch-all for everything we didn’t want to name or didn’t know how to. I didn’t have a lot of CDs in the first place, so my fun was usually in carving swirls and rain clouds over the discs everyone else had finished with, but that day I couldn’t get out of contributing something. I’d already pretended to complain about how much I hated my pink CDs. Surprisingly, my friends didn’t believe I had any, that they weren’t “me” and I was clearly making something up. This was true, but I was not about to correct them. My love for my pink CDs would stay a deeply guarded secret for a long, long time. Through the maze of 12-year-old peer pressure logic, I decided I had no choice but to show them something and dismantle the hell out of it.

I sacrificed my Princess Diaries soundtrack. It was pinker than pink and, more importantly, it was not Legally Blonde. Legally Blonde was hidden under my Evanescence album where no one would question my cool. I wanted to hold onto it more than I wanted to be approved of. My Legally Blonde soundtrack was important, even if that idea seemed ridiculous and bizarre.

I held onto it for as long as I could. When no one was around to listen, I made the CD the big mainstay in my Walkman. My favorite song circled through the tracks and my emotions fluctuated as much as the genres from track to track. It was my big, bolstering secret. But eventually I found other movies, other albums, and inevitably other means of listening to music. My head filled up with more ideas, more role models and anthems. I stopped worrying about having too many sparkles or not enough. By the time I lost my Legally Blonde soundtrack, I was more put out than crushed.

I was in college when I resolved to track it down again. I had finished my first Women’s Studies class, I had just bought a new iPod, and I wanted to party like it was 2001, or at least have a nostalgic dance session to commemorate my gateway ticket to feminism. I blasted all the old songs on YouTube and made my friends dance to “Perfect Day” with me.

This song still nails that “last day of term” feeling for me.

 

We were young women starting our lives for ourselves, and when I rocked out to cotton-candy light pop, I was going to do it without being ashamed of sparkles or silliness. I knew the Bend-and-Snap was a little problematic, at least one of the stereotypes employed for the side characters was unfriendly at best, and the movie that had lead me to my gateway ticket to feminism wasn’t perfect. But Legally Blonde was still about finding strength in yourself and female friendship and defying the patriarchy with style, and the sparkle-covered soundtrack was still bursting with a shameless power that made me feel like I could conquer the world. That was plenty of reason to shout, “watch me shine” just a few more times for me.

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Kathryn Diaz is a writer living in Houston, Texas. You can follow her at The Telescope for more of her work.