Sure, I loved Disney Princesses. I loved watching Aurora wander through the forest and talk to magical owls; I sang along with Ariel as she swam through her grotto; I flew on the magic carpet ride with Jasmine. Although I loved them, I aspired to be them; I never saw myself in them. The first character in whom I saw myself reflected was decidedly not a Disney Princess.
She wore all black clothing; she was pale, and small; she looked like me, and her effortless cool-girl attitude made me think perhaps I could be cool, too. Her dad was aloof and her mom was obsessed with image, just like mine were (although my parents aren’t nearly as horrible as the Deetzes); when she’d roll her eyes and snark, I almost exploded. She was saying everything I’d always wanted to say! One quote of hers will always stick out to me: when her father says they’ll build her a darkroom in the basement for her photography, she says, “My whole life is a darkroom. One. Big. Dark. Room.” With her funeral veil covering her face, and the low, sarcastic grumble of her voice, I saw myself for the very first time.
Don’t get me wrong. My childhood was great, and I love my parents, but something was always not right. Something is still just not right, but I know what it is now. I was struggling with depression before I even knew what it was, or why I was so sad and angry all the time. I lashed out at people I loved, especially my parents, who dismissed me as having a bad attitude. To this day, I still don’t exactly remember why they let me see a therapist, but damn, am I glad they did. I learned there that this wasn’t my fault; there were things I needed I wasn’t getting; that even though other people left me with messes, I would have to fix them instead of being upset about it. Hard things for an adolescent, but that’s how it was back then: hard.
I was the only middle-schooler dealing with depression… or at least I thought I was; probably the others who were thought so, too. My parents discouraged me from talking about the therapist or being sad or letting other people know how awful everything felt. I thought what I was going through was unnatural and something was wrong with me. In Lydia, though, I saw it was okay. It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to feel like you don’t fit in, it’s okay to be a little dark. It is okay.
That’s not to say I took her example as a reason to be miserable for the rest of my life. One of my favorite moments in Beetlejuice is the ending where Lydia comes home from school after getting a good grade on a test. She dances with the ghosts while they levitate her in the air. She’s still pale, she’s still wearing dark clothes, and she’s still got the snark; but she’s dancing, lively, and happy, looking like a young girl for the first time. Lydia showed me, in a time when I needed to know it, that even if your life is one big, dark room, you can still step out of it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Friedemann can be found writing, baking, playing with her dog, or shoveling pasta into her mouth. Right now, her writing is a work in progress, but you’ll be hearing from her soon. She can be found on Twitter @katiefriedemann.