In a time when the perfectly unhip twentysomething descendants of Daria saturate our TV screens -- c'mon, you just know Girls' Hannah was a fan -- I think it's worth taking a look back at the animated teens and preteens from a decade ago who rarely, if ever, get any recognition for the huge impact they had on a generation of young women. Speaking as a girl who has always been just a little bit too dorky to actually ever be considered "adorkable," and who was actually lucky enough to have had an uncomplicated happy childhood, I found myself gravitating towards the awkward spazzes who just wanted to hang out with their friends and be accepted by the cool kids without giving up everything about themselves. For that reason, these mostly forgotten characters may have been even more influential than Ms. Morgendorffer.
Pepper Ann (Pepper Ann)
As far as TV goes, Pepper Ann wasn't your average middle school girl. She was a burping, snorting, milk-spitting tomboy who could eat a whole pizza and feel no shame about it. She wasn't even drawn pretty, what with her mismatched yellow and green skirt, purple tee, sneakers, glasses and messy ponytail. Instead of being boy-crazy, Pepper Ann was all about individuality and friendship, too busy arm-wrestling with guys while chugging soda to even think about asking them out -- the perfect role model for a ten-year-old who understood her own body about as well as she grasped pre-algebra.
Most Memorable Episode: The Season 4 finale, "The Way They Were," when Pepper Ann and her best friends Nikki and Milo get into a huge blowout and vow to never talk again. Viewers got the flashback of how they all met in a tree, and witnessed the evolution of their friendship.
Modern Day Counterpart: Tessa Altman from Suburgatory. If the ginger hair isn't convincing enough, there's the fact that Tessa's got a hardened, grown-up attitude and perky pessimism that Pepper Ann would have eventually been driven to, as well as the same loyalty to her nerdy friends and her single parent.
Angelica Pickles (Rugrats)
If there was a queen bee of TV in the '90s, it may have been Angelica Pickles. This only child was maliciously smart and bossy, but had a great heart and meant well at the end of the day. She was the world's biggest princess, and didn't get there by being passive -- she knew how to work all the systems around her, manipulating both the babies and her parents into giving her exactly what she wanted. But, at the end of the day, if anyone messed with Tommy and the gang, she was always there to pick them back up. She was the world's first poster child for tough love, because no matter how hard she tried to have the worst intentions, she was really good at heart. She even inspired some pretty crazy (not to mention upsetting) fan theories.
Most Memorable Episode: "The Wild Wild West." Every aspect of Angelica was on display when a bigger toddler tried to take the babies away from her and make them his own minions. In the beginning, he promised them nicer treatment, rewards and more play time, but by the end he just became the Stalin of four-year-olds. Angelica rode into the scene and valiantly saved the babies.
Modern Day Counterpart: Alison DiLaurentis from Pretty Little Liars. A lying, scheming girl who was always down for a little foul play. They even shared important histories with creepy dolls.
Sharon Spitz (Braceface)
A Canadian import, Sharon let girls know that all of the horribly awkward and embarrassing things happening to them were happening to everyone. She frequently tackled hygiene problems, could never hold down a relationship with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Alden and was pretty much consumed by the titular metal in her mouth. To top it all off, she was dealing with separated parents who left her and her two brothers stuck between a psychologist mom and a traveling rock band dad. But no matter what happened in her life, she always had a caring heart. She was a young activist, adopting a vegan lifestyle and protesting for animal rights while also befriending anyone, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation.
Most Memorable Episode: "The Secret." I was a big fan of Sharon's older brother Adam, so I naturally loved the episode when she walked into his bedroom for advice and he refused to talk to her until she used his deodorant because she smelled so bad. This just embodies the idea of Sharon and her awkward phases while perfectly capturing what it's actually like to be a pre-teen girl.
Modern Day Counterpart: Britta Perry from Community. Had Sharon grown up with a rebellious self-destructive phase, she'd definitely find herself at Greendale, protesting any cause she could get her hands on. Looking back, I'm surprised I didn't tell people they Sharon'd something.
Dodie Bishop (As Told By Ginger)
Even though Ginger was the protagonist of the series, I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that I saw myself more in Dodie. Unlike Ginger, she was the conformist who did anything to be the most popular -- she even hated her family because they weren't her definition of "cool" -- all the while knowing she could never compete with Courtney Gripling. Of course, the point of her character was to show the sad truth of what it means to be a girl; dealing with insecurity caused by female competition.
Most Memorable Episode: "Little Seal Girl," where Dodie stood by the wheezing, sneezing Macy during her talent show performance. When everyone else at school laughed at Macy for doing a number from a children's show and dressing up like a seal, Dodie (and Ginger, natch) stood by her in the audience, even though Macy told them not to come because they wouldn't do it with her. She was a true friend there, and continued to care about the other girls throughout the series, even though sometimes it really didn't show on the surface.
Modern Day Counterpart: Dodie was just a few coats of black makeup away from being Gossip Girl's Jenny Humphrey. All the Pretty Reckless ladies ever really wanted was to be loved by the cool crowd. Is that so much to ask?
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