When I was a kid, and all the other kids I knew were watching something like “You Can’t Do That On Television” or “The Electric Company”, my sole reason for watching TV was to catch reruns of that iconic TV show, “Little House on the Prairie“. How many girls of the tender age of 8 or 9 glued themselves to that show every day? I don’t know, but I do know that I re-negotiated my bedtime so that I could stay up and watch it, and sacrificed staying up late on Friday nights so that I could go to bed at 8:30 on the rest of the weekdays. That was big for someone who still can’t make proper decisions about her life today. But let me tell you – it was worth it. I have never regretted doing that since.
Growing up, I knew that I always wanted to be Laura Ingalls, or Half-Pint, as she will be referred to in this blog. Who wouldn’t? Played by Melissa Gilbert, she was an awkward little girl with an awkward toothy smile and a really big heart and sense of bravery. As a feminist, I recognize the real-life Laura Ingalls Wilder as being ahead of her time, a successful writer and entrepreneur, and a kick-ass lady. At the time, I just thought TV- and book-Laura was cool and would make a fun best friend. Nearly everyone I know wanted to be Laura. No one, of course, wanted to be Mary. She was so stuck-up and prissy. And very few of my friends really wanted to be Carrie. Poor bumbling Carrie spent the majority of her TV life either in bed, going to bed, or getting up from bed. No one wanted that existence, though I’m sure we’d all kill for it now.
But in the back of my head, in a place where I’d never admit it, I thought the coolest character on that show was Nellie Oleson, played by the hilarious-in-real-life Alison Arngrim. I know, right? Nellie Oleson, the notorious bully, prissy-pants, overdressed, really mean girl who constantly plagued Laura? But hear me out. Nellie Oleson always got everything she wanted. Oh, I know. Her mother tried to half-ass discipline her. Sometimes her dad warmed her butt with whatever implement they used back in the 1880s. But the point was – she got what she wanted, AND looked good doing it. Who can argue with that? I always looked closer to ol’ Half-Pint there than I ever did to blonde, blue-eyed Nellie, but the lessons she taught me about being assertive, strong, and always well-dressed have followed me all my life. When she turned from being a complete brat to a sweet, calm lady in the second half of the series, I knew that her crappy behaviour as a child was just a front. Nellie had to surprise everyone. She had to show that you can’t judge someone by how they dress, but damned if she wasn’t going to look good even while slinging mud on the playground.
And so, this homely, short-arsed little girl watched and learned. You’re never overdressed without a scowl. And honestly, why would you want to be? You can be a strong lady and look amazing. Nellie told me so.
I’ve always been one to rock the Little House on the Prairie braids. Listen, when you have a fat face, your hairstyle is always going to be secondary to people tracing the contours of your round cheeks with their eyes. Again, like Half-Pint, I’ve been able to rock “cute” more than “stunning” the majority of my life. But I also realized that while my smile was never going to be the eye-catcher that Cosmo magazine talks about, I did have a repertoire of expressions that make me look better in Instagram pics than an awkward toothy smile ever has. And who did I learn those from? Nellie Frickin’ Oleson. Oh, yeah.
Now look here:
Case 1: Expressions. Half-Pint’s awkward toothy smile taught me how to look cute to get what I wanted. Dimples! Sparkling eyes! Rounded cheeks! Messy braids! It works for a 9-year-old. It worked for me. But going into adulthood, you just can’t create an aura of mystery with these skills. I had to turn to Nellie for lessons on how to make people look deeper. How to make them want to know more.
Sulky? Dark? Brooding? No. FIERCE. Look at Nellie almost glowering at the camera. Look at the way she seems to be saying, “Come at me, bro. Just tell me what you want from me. At your own risk, son!” Plus, attractive angles. You really can’t go wrong. Nearly all of my Instagram selfies utilize fierce expressions taught to me by the iconic Nellie Oleson. Amazing.
Case 2: Dresses. Now, I know. The dress is a tool of the patriarchy and all. Maybe. Right? I don’t know anymore. I’m a bad feminist these days. I do know it requires that you shave your legs and in my case, carries a risk of thigh-chafing. Ah, dressing for plus-sized women in the summer. Anyway, so while Half-Pint wore dresses that were utilitarian and allowed her to jump and play and muck out stalls and cure scarlet fever and whatever prairie girls did then, Nellie was a fashion-plate. Sometimes I saw the allure of this, and sometimes I didn’t. But what I did know is that Nellie looked good and got shit done while doing it. Plus, she never underestimated her ability to carry off ridiculous dresses. The Lady GaGas and Katy Perrys of the world could learn a thing or two from young Nellie.
Here is a montage of Nellie Oleson’s finest fashion:
All I have to say is, you can try to command a room in a gingham dress covered in mudstains or you can rock a purple silk bodice with mother of pearl buttons. I know how I dress for presentations.
Case 3: Ridiculous hair accessories. My hair is long, boring, and reddish-brown, much like our good friend Half-Pint. She chose braids until she became a teacher in Season 6, and then she finally started pinning it up in a more professional manner. And most of the time, that’s how I roll. A ponytail or braids, man. I gotta get shit done.
But Nellie? Oh, Nellie perfected those huge blonde ringlets and she wore them on her flipping WEDDING DAY. Because RINGLETS, dude, do you know how much time those take? But she didn’t stop there. Because why stop at blonde ringlets when you can have oversized bows?
YES. I mean, just look at them. They’re things of beauty and they offset those cold, pointed expressions perfectly. In fact, I was so enamoured with the idea of crazy hair accessories that I took my latest author pictures with a peacock feather headband in my hair. Because come on! Who wouldn’t want to look fierce in front of a castle setting? (Originally, I did want to go for “serious author picture that befits a historical fiction anthology”, but the idea of dressing up like a character from the Great Gatsby was too good to pass up. And it turned out amazing. Taking risks and kicking ass, aw yeah. Thanks again, Nellie!)
Now, lest you think I’m criticizing poor Half-Pint and her fashion decisions, you’d be right. No, I’m kidding. I actually do think that the Ingalls children were dressed as well as they could be for their station. They were farmers, and Nellie’s parents owned a mercantile. When you get expensive cloth at wholesale, who wouldn’t want to rock that out as much as possible? I work for a wholesaler. My house is full of things I don’t need, just because I CAN. And Laura was as kick-ass as Nellie was. That’s what makes them so fun to watch on-screen. Two strong ladies engaging in respectful debate? Sign me up! Plus, I did enjoy when Laura pulled Nellie’s hair accessories off or ruined her dresses, if only because Nellie carried her awesomeness through without looking 100% amazing. It’s a good lesson. Fierceness is inborn, not taken on and off like so many puffed sleeves.
And through these lessons offered to me by a show that had its prime before I was born, I grew from being a starry-eyed little homely child to a less-starry-eyed, homely plus-size woman who enjoys fashion from afar. I don’t always dress like Nellie, but when I do, I look amazing. This girl rocks her boring brown hair and fat body just as well as she would with blonde hair, blue eyes, and society’s perfect image. Feminism for the win!
And because I know you’ve wanted to see it since I mentioned it a few paragraphs ago, here is my new author picture, peacock feathers and all:
I think Nellie would be proud. Right after she finished pushing me in the mud for being a nerd. Ah well. You win some, you lose some.
- Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated (nonamesquirkyideas.com)
- Drew Droege Reveals Why Playing Nellie Oleson Is Anything But A Drag (queerty.com)
- The banks of dumb creek (shelleytougas.wordpress.com)
- Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend (MISSOURI BIOGRAPHY SERIES) e-book downloads (anjupiju.wordpress.com)