I was a Sandy girl. And not bad Sandy, the sultry sex kitten with big hair and red lips who sashays on screen at Grease’s end. No, no I always preferred good Sandy, the prim goody too-shoes who was just a little too perfect.
Most girls idolized bad Sandy— her effortless, cool girl demeanor, the way she self-assuredly cocked her head and said, “Tell me about it, stud”— not me. Though I loved her tight 50s style hot pants, her bad girl act held little allure. To me, her heavy blue eye shadow was trashy, not sexy, and her red platforms shoes screamed uniform staple of a street walker.
For how much I loved Grease, I’ve always detested the end. Even before Judith Butler and Women’s Studies 101, I possessed a profound sense that the moral of the story was backwards: Shouldn’t the person you love accept you unconditionally? Isn’t love based on mutual respect? “Change yourself” was the disturbing message that seemed to underlie Grease’s light-hearted exterior. Rather than finally stand up to his tough guy friends and date the “good girl,” Danny only accepts Sandy when she metamorphoses into his male fantasy of her. For me, Sandy’s transformation from demure, prudish good girl to tantalizing male play thing always represented a kind of loss: instead of affirm her own identity, Sandy— in conventional fashion—rejects her selfhood to please a man, a major defeat for feminism. All the hallmarks of bad Sandy— the smoky, charcoal eyes, the volumized, over-the-top tousled hair— became tragic symbols of the ways in which women found themselves wanting…and worked to modify themselves.
Like Sandy, I— too— had a hard time accepting my inner good girl. I can remember when my 7th grade science teacher Mr. Thompson would display our grades on the projector. While most kids shuddered at having their mediocre C-s projected on the screen, I dreaded the moment my A+ would be laid out for all to see.
“100%,” I remember Kenton, the class cool boy, saying sarcastically, “sexy.”
In that moment, I had a devastating realization: being a good girl wasn’t attractive. Getting good grades, earning student of the month 8 years in a row: these badges of a good girl were actually telltale signs of a dork. Once I understood scholarly excellence and rule-following as roads to mockery instead of sources of pride, I became ashamed of my As. I was embarrassed when the teacher doted on me in class. Slowly, surely, I became more quiet and reserved. My being a good girl left me alarmingly insecure with myself.
Like most good girls, I eventually rejected my straight-laced nature and experimented with being a “bad girl”: I drank and smoke profusely; I snorted coke in park bathrooms; I swore; and though I didn’t own a pair of 50s style hot pants, I revolted through the skinny jeans I wore.
By 2005, I was a completely different person.
Gone were the days of pristinely copied homework and neat hand-written notes. If I did turn in my homework (which was rare), it was crumpled and torn. Gone were the days of naive optimism and blind obedience. By early high school, I was already wearing the aloof cynicism of much later adolescence. Gone were the days of conservatism and mild manners. Sophomore year had me listening to Led Zeppelin and cheering on my guitarist boyfriend. Good Sandy was dead. And I loved it…or so I thought.
Despite the exhilaration of dispensing with social norms and experimenting with alternate lifestyles, my adolescent years as bad Sandy were a time when I felt profoundly lost. A relentlessly driven, type-A sort of personality by nature, I felt disoriented without a set of rules. Good Sandy wanted things: to be a cheerleader, to get good grades. Bad Sandy had nothing to strive for.
Being a bad Sandy girl, I realized, was nothing but a negation, an anti-thesis of sorts. Her only identity was as a converse; she was good Sandy’s opposite— no identity at all. At the end of Grease, she feels sexy, perhaps, as she flies away with the hunky man of her dreams but she never realizes any of her own ambitions.
Today, I still harbor a secret admiration for bad Sandy girls, those women who are so liberated and carefree, who quite simply don’t give a shit but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve accepted I’m just not one of them. I love my planners and cardigans.