Arts & Life

The perils of being the good girl

For when you realize it’s time to shed that “good girl” skin

There’s something to be said for playing the part of the good girl. This is especially true as you get older, when the parameters of “the good girl” are less defined and maintaining this identity becomes a battle. You become less and less good. You make worse decisions, loosen your guard and slip deeper into bad girl territory. Having grown up the good girl, the one with the grades and potential, the early expectations have left a wounded complex that reopens and bleeds, becoming more painful with each passing adult year.

The definition of good shifts as we mature, switching instead to not good enough as we weigh the basis of our goodness on merits of accomplishment rather than any other defining characteristics. When we are unrealized we expect to leave that innate struggle to make our parents proud back in our youth, but it follows us into adulthood and seeps into our moral decisions. It runs across our mind as we say yes instead of no when we burn a bridge or slam a door. It’s a doomed diagnosis – the good girl – because once you’re the good girl you’re not supposed to be anything else even if you were never truly her to begin with.

Growing up, it was my sister’s role to be the bad one. She threatened to burn down schools and received weekly suspensions to the point my mother would cry the entire drive from her work to the principal’s office where she would pick up a little, evil package hidden under a mop of Latvian blonde hair. While she was busy being disruptive, I was busy getting ready to go places. The expectations were different, not that my sister was expected to be bad so much as I was expected to be so good it made up for both of us. I was supposed to set an example.

As a result, any hint of my badness became hidden rebellion. Bottles of vodka would go missing and I would plead the fifth. I would stay out too late and forget to call and say I fell asleep. I would go to friends’ houses to study and instead write punk songs and hang out in garages. I fell for college boys and musicians and disappeared on weekends. I got in fistfights with other girls and banned once from the high school woodshop and another from the local bowling alley. By the time I entered university at 17, I drank and had a fake ID. I hid it all behind honours, completed my courses in the top ten percentile of my class and didn’t get in trouble, so no one asked questions. My goodness overshadowed my recklessness, as always.

Then I graduated. Suddenly that familiar veil of goodness ceased to exist when no longer measured by academic successes. How could I pretend to be the good girl? I was no longer being tested. It became harder to impress people. I watched my fellow good girls fall into depression and drugs. I watched them struggle to define their worth as they fought to break into their careers. I watched them take jobs they didn’t like, then spend their weekends wasted into oblivion. I spent summers in warehouses and at after hours staring into reflections of “good girls” just as lost as I was.

It used to be easy to appear good; it always is when you aren’t caught. If you don’t flunk out of school, if you don’t wave your demons and ill intentions on white flags, if you held a job and you didn’t live at home. When you never get caught, you never feel like you’re wrong even when the screaming “good girl” inside you knows otherwise.

Many writers have talked of the good girl curse, but this is more about the stigma of when your good girl image is a façade. Is a good girl good because she is nice, successful and goes to bed at a decent time? Or is she good because that’s what she wants you to think?

I tried my best to preserve my good girl image, but on one swift occasion I ruined it all. I had just been fired from my first job out of university. I found myself broke and dejected. To compensate, I sold a bunch of my stuff including a treasured gift from my parents that I felt I no longer needed. When they found out, they were furious. I lost my good girl status entirely. The charade was over. Years later, I still haven’t gotten it back. But that’s all right.

Being the good girl is a lot of pressure and I am happy to have shed it. It was a tough disguise to maintain and a much more transparent one than I’d have like. People feel betrayed when they discover traces that you’re not an angel. To be called and become the black sheep does not do it justice, though it almost makes it easier. It took me a long time to realize this. That most of us aren’t really good just as we’re not really bad. That sometimes we impress people and sometimes we don’t. That nothing is ever as it seems.

I am hanging up my good girl guise like last year’s Halloween costume. I am no longer defining myself by either. I am embracing everything that makes me good and bad and I am accepting it as part of who I am. I recognize this as character. My sister, once the bad one, is absolutely the most straight edge girl I know. She trains animals like a Disney princess and works on a farm and has her own car. She is the country mouse to my city mouse. She is a good girl with a bad side – just like me.

And I’m okay with that.


Sheena Lyonnais is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais


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