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Goshdarnit, I’m a puppy — why it feels so embarrassing to be a Good Girl

| Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Last year I was participating in a virtual internship when, in a classic Zoom silence-filling tactic, we were asked to share what we had for breakfast. The grid on my computer lit up with choruses of “toast,” “yogurt,” and “pancakes,” everyone nodding politely but with relative disinterest. 

When I shared that I ate cereal for my early morning meal, though, another boy in the call unmuted himself and said “Aww … how wholesome.” Though hardly a noteworthy statement in most circumstances, his comment immediately got under my skin. To me, it cemented what I already knew: I’m a goddamn puppy. 

Coined by my former roommate and fellow Observer podcaster, Bridget Kelley, the term “puppy” explains the plight of us “wholesome” folk, where people always interact with us as if we’re “adorable” rather than an equal. Admittedly, the “puppiers” aren’t trying to be condescending, but they carry themselves with a certain worldliness and talk to puppies in a way that establishes us as decidedly not. 

When I was a sophomore Welcome Weekend Ambassador, I introduced myself to every freshman I could, excited to finally join the ranks of the cool upperclassmen. Inevitably, at the first lunch, the freshmen I so generously graced with my presence put me back in my place, cooing and calling me cute. At my on-campus job calling alumni, I earned a reputation for long conversations. One day, when discussing why I always seem to ring up the chatty Cathys, a coworker informed me that my call length likely stems from my “innocent voice,” since people “feel bad hanging up on a child.” When classmates see me at bars, they still react in shock at my presence, despite my going out fairly regularly. 

I know I’m not alone in being bothered by a goody-two-shoes classification. Who can forget the classic episode of Good Luck Charlie where Teddy Duncan learns she’s been nicknamed G.G. for “Good Girl” and decides to skip school to prove she can be bad? We’ve all sung along to Grease’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” mocking Sandy’s naivete. Time and time again, our on-screen heroes taught us that a squeaky clean reputation only signified a lack of experience. That being cute is mutually exclusive with being sophisticated. That puppies are inherently uncool; that bulldogs are at the top of the food chain and leather pant-clad Sandy will always earn the guy over the poodle skirt-wearing girl at the beginning of the movie.

Last year, fed up with my public puppy persona and languishing on my best friends’ futon, I announced it was time to take drastic measures. “Caroline,” I said, “I’m just going to have to smoke opium in the middle of South Quad.” Ignoring the inherent puppy-ness of selecting opium as my drug of choice (“What are you, 19th-century Chinese royalty?”), I ultimately decided a public spectacle proving my worldliness wouldn’t create the effect I wanted. Even if opium was cool, with my luck, I’d come across as one of those babies in Zoot suits. An adorable mini mobster rather than a respectable drug addict. 

On the last day of fifth grade, my teacher had our class write anonymous affirmations to each other. When I unfurled my scroll of praise, all of them said some variation of “smart” and “nice.” Comparing my compliments to those of my friends, I felt devastated that they received an assortment of accolades while I seemed to earn only the most basic of kudos. Assuming nice meant bland and smart meant stuffy, I decided to “rebrand,” making an effort to downplay my knowledge and become ditzier in an effort to earn laughs. To this day, I consider my humor one of the defining characteristics of my personality.

True, no one was asking me to change. No one told me anything was wrong with the way I was. But to an insecure, shy girl who desperately wanted to fit in, I couldn’t help feeling that if only I was like “them” — if only I was funnier or edgier, if only I could give them some reason to know me — they’d realize I really was cool and fun. They’d realize they liked me.  

Now, reflecting back on all the additions and adjustments I’ve made, all the times I’ve accommodated the expectations of the people around me, I wonder who I’d be if I hadn’t taken to heart every comment people made about me. 

Last week a friend asked me if I was going to the 86 days senior dance, I typed “damn right,” changed the ‘m’ to an ‘r’ and pressed send.

Julianna Conley is a senior studying sociology and pre-health studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Though she is forever loyal to Pasquerilla East B-team athletics, Julianna now lives off campus. She can be reached for comment at [email protected] or @JuliannaLConley on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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