Pop Culture

Defecting to the Other Deschanel

I got my heart broken three days before She & Him released their second record, Volume 2, in 2010. In between sobbing at old Facebook pictures, writing bad poetry, and not bothering to shower, I downloaded the album and found in those break-up lyrics some self-indulgent mirrors. I pouted my lips and cooed along with Zooey Deschanel as she sang, “There’s thieves among us, painting the walls” and “I still think about you every time I’m ridin’ in my car.”

The lover in question had introduced me to She & Him in the first place when he gave me their CD for my twenty-sixth birthday. We were both a little enamored of The Pinup of Silver Lake. Those blueberry eyes! That New Wave hair! I listened to Volume 1 almost every day and even learned the chord charts. Her songs were easy to play on the piano and her jazzy drawl was fun to approximate when I wanted to pretend I was a sexy chanteuse. But I wasn’t. And when the affair went south, my girly crush on Zooey began to sour. Listening to her seductively flat lazy croons only widened the gulf of loneliness I’d just been swept into and convinced me how far short I’d fallen of cool California womanhood.

THAT DOES IT, I thought. Zooey, I’m done with you! Why do you have to ruin the curve for us earthlings? My dejected heart eclipsed all capacity for reason until Zooey became more than an actress, more than the Nerdy-Chic It Girl, more even than her cutely packaged brand, but a projection of all my romantic insecurity and a flashpoint for my sublimated body hatred. It was like she was the Platonic Form of the Educated Creative Woman, and I was just running on a treadmill trying to reach that embodiment of desirability hovering beyond me.

However a Sisyphian task trying to become Zooey was, I didn’t give up. I wore floral sundresses and styled my hair with heavy fringe bangs. I bought six Polaroid cameras and an antique typewriter that I didn’t even learn how to use and I made hibiscus champagne cocktails for DesignSponge-inspired garden parties; everything was so damn precious back then that just smiling at me put you at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. I did everything short of learning ukulele.

But giving myself a little hipster makeover hardly bolstered my confidence. Besides, it was a losing venture. It’s almost as if being spellbindingly gorgeous is easier with an armada of hairstylists and makeup artists by your side. (Who knew?!) I grew despondent, and wistfully yodeled along to She & Him’s “Change is Hard” as Zooey confessed, “I was never enough, never enough, never enough.” Me neither, Zo! I’d never be a cupcake of a crush like that.

That summer, I started watching Bones, starring Zooey’s older sister, Emily. Amazingly, it took me months to realize the two were related. I almost stopped watching when I figured it out (my resentment dies HARD) but it’s an entertaining show, and it comforted me on a few depressing let’s-eat-peanut-butter-out-of-the-jar nights. The consistency of television serials is welcome in times of emotional transience, and I found the formulaic denouements of Bones’s crime-fighting procedural soothing. The more I watched, the more I was taken with the warm, off-kilter brilliance of the title character, played by none other than the sister of my sworn celebrity nemesis.

In all seriousness, I don’t have anything against Zooey Deschanel. I think she gave a compelling performance in All The Real Girls. It’s not her fault the architects of the Hollywood beauty myth chose her as the newest darling for us women to compare ourselves to. I’d rather not be part of the problem by aiming my hate at the messenger instead of the message. Yes, Zooey’s tendency to choose Manic Pixie Dreamgirl vehicles that perpetuate her image as a quirky helpless bunny rabbit has probably warranted the recent jabs from Saturday Night Live, but I suspect she takes herself seriously as an actor and I applaud her for identifying as a capital F Feminist. I can get behind her Third-Wavey defense of wearing tiaras. But it’s Emily who has won me over. You know, in a sister empowerment kind of way.

Most people don’t understand when I wax poetic about Emily Deschanel, and maybe my regard for her is all circumstantial. Had I chosen Ghost Whisperer as my newly-single guilty pleasure TV, I might now be extolling the virtues of Jennifer Love Hewitt. I can’t explain it, but watching Emily Deschanel’s character Temperance “Bones” Brennan study skeletons and knock down murderers imbued me with the take-no-shit kind of badassery that attempting to emulate Hipster Gidget had leeched out of me.

Okay, yes, Emily Deschanel is also a celebrity; her character is fictional (though she is based on the real life of anthropologist Kathy Reichs). And yes, like her sister, she’s also stunning in a way that completely conforms with beauty standards. She’s tall, thin, and white. Her cheekbones could cut diamonds. Etc., etc. But as I sat on my couch in day-old sweatpants and unwashed hair, watching Bones pulling the decomposing flesh off unidentified murder victims with cobra-like focus while giving the men around her a verbal smackdown with her arsenal of scientific knowledge, I thought, YES. I should be more like that. Not that I should go digging in my backyard for human remains, but I could stand to be a little more direct and unattached to other’s opinions, and trust my own intelligence. I could stand to let myself be a little weird again.

I found Bones’s use of her social clunkiness to a fine-edged advantage refreshing. I wondered what my romantic life would look like if I told people exactly what I did and did not want, exactly what I thought of that stupid, boundary-less thing they just said to me. Bones answers rhetorical questions literally. She pulls no punches, unless you’re a criminal—then she literally punches you. She isn’t trying to be adorable, though when she wants to be, she is charming as all get out.

She is also absolutely unapologetic about her corny sense of humor.

If Bones got dumped, would she be wallowing about thieves among us? Hell no. She’d be chasing those thieves down, flipping them to the pavement with karate moves, and locking them up. She wins arguments with a triumph that makes me dream of one day verbally slamming against a wall every dismissive man I’ve ever met. I appreciate her staunch yet humanist atheism, her commitment to scientific integrity. And who wouldn’t want to have the security to state outright, “Yes, I am the best in my field,” or “I am very attractive,” as if those qualities were objective facts? Her gravitas allowed me to lose almost all interest in becoming a Frenchified indie peachblossom.

Lest you think that I merely went from coveting one Deschanel to coveting another, let me reassure you. I’ve always been a girl who draws inspiration from spunky heroines: Jo March, Anne Shirley, Witch Baby, Harriet The Spy, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The tenacious and strong Temperance “Bones” Brennan gave me a jolt of extra energy to stick to my guns, and for that, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her.

I still snap polaroids while wearing sundresses, and I still bake pies to impress my crushes. They are usually impressed, because I’m a damn good baker. I even, on occasion, listen to She & Him. That’s simply the flavor of middle-class bohemian girlishness that’s popular at this moment, and I can play with that for awhile with no hard feelings towards its “adorkable” mascots. Feminist misgivings notwithstanding, I’m cool with whatever Zooey is trying to do with her career, and I sincerely hope she can unpigeonhole herself from the elusive cypher of infantilized femininity that she has come to represent. But I still jokingly say that I’m on Team Emily. Because in my silly little world of finding empowerment in any way you can, I’m learning to relinquish the quest for the unattainable aesthetic, to shake the simpering pleas for approval out of my system, and to become as sturdy, as stubborn, as bones.

Lauren Eggert-Crowe's writing has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, L.A. Review of Books, and DIAGRAM, among others. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, The Exhibit and In The Songbird Laboratory. She lives in Los Angeles.