I was a baby when the Golden Girls wrapped in 1992 — long before I would hit my twenties, a decade that began with me unsure of how I was going to navigate and balance the world I lived in. Thankfully I had grown up not only surrounded by strong and confident women, but watching them as well. Every Saturday morning, I would wake up early to watch reruns of the show with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia sitting around their kitchen table talking about exactly what I was now trying to navigate on my own: life. Over countless cheesecakes, these women gave me slices of wisdom that created the confidence I have now.
I can thank Dorothy for my sarcasm and brutal honesty ("No! No I will not have a nice day!," she screams as she can't find Frank Sinatra tickets), but also, more surprisingly, my sexual agency and confidence. Usually, when you're holding The Golden Girls up to a self-confidence magnifying glass, you'd expect Blanche to be the source of sexuality (the premise that started the show identified Dorothy as the smart one, Blanche as the promiscuous one, and Rose as the lovably dull one). But Dorothy's experiences helped to show me that it was OK to enjoy sex — when Barry Glick, an old high school crush, calls her out of the blue, her excitement is contagious — and gave me some of the wisdom I needed to understand that adult romantic relationships aren't fairy tales; they're complicated:
Dorothy: [barely believing Rose's naïveté] "His cappuccino maker. Sex, Rose, I am talking sex. We don't go to dinner, we don't go to the movies, we just go to bed, and it is terrific."
The other gift Dorothy gave me is this: When I walk through a CVS before a date, I picture the following:
Blanche, everyone's favorite Southern belle (probably only beat out by Scarlett O'Hara) was definitely the most confident of the four. Her Southern drawl, poise, and ability to feel and look good in any situation opened my mind to the idea that beauty doesn't go away with age if you can manage to exude pure confidence. Blanche was also someone who didn't allow anyone to slut-shame her (though the other women are very guilty of this) and wore her reputation with pride and a slight sense of humor. She wasn't just libidinous — she was proud of it.
She made jokes about fantasies, the glory days of her youth, and continued to do something that many struggle with as they age : loving the changes of their body. At one point Blanche considers plastic surgery and ends up opting out, and her deflated breasts during the community play were an embarrassing lesson she took with grace. Plus, with lines like the one below, Blanche gave me a healthy sense of exploring fantasies, while being able to love my body throughout puberty and into my twenties:
Blanche: "I mean, if she's gonna have fantasies, they oughtta be the normal, healthy kind, like… sweaty Argentinian cowboys whippin' things while they ride naked on the back of Brahma bulls."
Yet, the most vital lesson I learned from her goes deeper than the importance of solid self-assurance. There is one line that Blanche says in an early episode that pushed me through a lot of depressive episodes in my teens:
Blanche: "Feeling magenta that's what I call it when I get that way. All kinds of feelings tumbling all over themselves."
She goes on to explain how sometimes you don't feel quite sad, jealous, or angry, so your emotional state better resembles a hodgepodge of colors. This, in my young mind, gave words to feelings I was unable to accurately express. To this day, when I feel a depressive episode, I find comfort in describing it as "magenta."
Rose moved from St. Olaf, Minnesota, to Miami seemingly to bring side-splitting laughter, long, pointless stories, and a touch of kindness into her new friends' lives. Many viewers might overlook Rose's wisdom because of her absent-mindedness, but Rose is actually a character built on strength and perseverance.
Rose may not be as blunt as Dorothy, but she is certainly as honest. She rarely minces words, which always catches viewers off-guard. Her honesty comes with a tone of innocence, but it always showed me that there is no reason for anyone to be walked all over, no matter how sweet they may seem. When Rose had to get her childhood teddy bear back from a Sunshine Cadet (played by a young Jenny Lewis) who holds him hostage until Rose meets her high demands, you would think she would have just let it go and allowed the seemingly innocent-looking middle schooler to keep the bear and leave. No, not Rose.
Life can push you toward being passive and compliant , but Rose was never any of these things. She spoke up, she kept her honesty, and was never afraid of stepping up to a challenge when needed. Rose taught me that you can be a compassionate and kind (and yes, sometimes an absent-minded) person, but that's never an excuse to allow anyone to walk all over you.
But the most important thing I learned from Rose, which is another attribute that's consistently overlooked, is her incredible dedication and work ethic. At one point in the show, she loses her job as a Grief Counselor, but continues to advise her patients: "He's such a royal pain in the butt, but it's just a part of my job," she says, until Dorothy has to remind her that it's no longer her responsibility. Her compassion and drive to work hard has continued to influence me as I've gotten deeper into the professional world : Don't lose your kindness just because you're on your grind.
Sophia, Dorothy's 80-year-old mother who moved in with the other women at the onset of the show, taught me the most about aging gracefully and without fear, and not just because she's the oldest of The Golden Girls.
Sophia was a pistol who lived a life of adventure—"Quit being an idiot! I stole 40 bucks from you while you were listening to that cockamamie story!," she screams at Rose while trying to find out her surprise birthday gift. In the same episode, she tells the women that she was the inspiration and former lover of Pablo Picasso. And in a later episode ("Sophia's Wedding: Part 1"), Sophia shares a story with Dorothy that proves, despite being in her eighties, there is nothing Sophia or her friends had ever really feared:
Dorothy: Ma what's the matter?
Sophia: Esther Weinstock is dead. We grew up together, she was my best friend.
Dorothy: I'm so sorry, what happened?
Sophia: She was fighting an oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico. She was 88!
Rose: Well it's great that she was able to work right up till the end.
And yet, the main thing instilled in me by Sophia? "Don't be an idiot." She says this throughout the seasons, to each of the women, in a variety of circumstances. Sometimes, you need to check yourself, and I do it with Sophia's tone in mind.