Here. Go look at the Too Much Eyeliner Tumblr. Full disclosure, my friend Anika started it as a response to our conversation about the character of the Too Much Eyeliner Girl. Note the subtitle/tagline of the Tumblr: wearing their damage with defiance.
In many of the formative movies and tv shows I watched, there was a character. A girl, not the lead, but a friend of the lead. (Unless the movie was an after-school-special sort of message movie. Too Much Eyeliner Girl might be the lead of that.) If the lead was a blond, her friend was a brunette. If the lead wore fashionably nice clothes, her friend wore too-tight clothes with too much jewelry. If the lead was quiet, her friend was loud, or vice-versa. The lead wore the right amount of makeup, and her friend wore too much eyeliner. Sometimes you got Too Much Eyeliner Girl in an ensemble cast, without quite having a nice girl female lead. And in horror films, the lead could certainly be Too Much Eyeliner Girl, though not always.
Rayanne Graff in My So-Called Life.
Gloria Dinallo in Misfits of Science.
Nancy Downs in The Craft.
Taryn White from Nightmare on Elm Street III.
Billie Jean, after her makeover in The Legend of Billie Jean.
Allison Reynolds from The Breakfast Club.
Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful has the wrong sort of eyeliner.
Jet Girl in Tank Girl.
Kim Kelly of Freaks and Geeks.
Suzie Toller in Wild Things.
There are more, of course. These are the ones I could remember off the top of my head and was willing to go find pictures of on the internet.
There is something about these characters, something the plots never quite explain. Something I as the audience was just supposed to understand. And, I suppose I did understand. I knew Leslie Finch in seventh grade.
Leslie Finch (that’s not her real name) was, as everyone knew, a bad girl. Leslie swore, a lot. Everyone knew she smoked cigarettes. Everyone knew she gave blow jobs. Everyone knew she dated older guys, not just high school guys, but college guys. Everyone knew she’d threatened a kid with a knife. Leslie wore a lot of black eyeliner.
By some chance, Leslie and I were assigned lockers next to each other in P.E. class. So we were in line next to each other for most gym activities. Leslie was shorter than me, as most girls were. She had shorter hair, chipped nail polish, and wore glossy, scented lip balm. She frequently showed up at school looking like her clothes hadn’t been laundered. She once told a boy who was making fun of me that she’d punch him in the balls. Leslie took food from my lunch on a regular basis, leaning in over my shoulder and eating out of my lunch bag in the cafeteria. I don’t think I ever saw her in new shirts or shoes.
She did date, she was in some way sexually active, and she talked about her high school boyfriend — who was, as it turned out, a freshman, and only two years older than her. I asked her, once, about the college guy rumor. She told me people are fucking liars. And she told me that her mom had a lot of boyfriends, not her. I saw Leslie get into a fistfight once, with another girl she was supposedly friends with. Leslie held nothing back, all fists and kicking and headbutting and shrieking rage.
Now, as I type this, I can piece together the sorts of things Leslie said and did and make some adult observations. I’m guessing that she was from a household lacking stability. Not enough money, lots of relationship turnover for her mother. I’m guessing her mother had some sort of substance abuse problem. I have no data as to whether Leslie was sexually abused by the men who came through her home, but I wouldn’t be shocked.
This was Too Much Eyeliner Girl. Leslie didn’t hide the things that were wrong in her life. She wore them openly. She smoked, and fuck you if you didn’t like it. She dated older guys, and fuck you if you didn’t like it. She behaved in a lot of ways that were representative of things being wrong and unhealthy for her, but she kept those behaviors anyway. Her smoking and sexual activity and fights were partially igns that she needed help, certainly, but they were also her ways of saying “this is what I am and I’m not looking to hide or lie.” Whatever was wrong in her life, it hadn’t beaten her. It hadn’t made her afraid, or smaller. It made her stand tall. Whatever was wrong in her life may have made her think she had nothing left to lose; I don’t know. But the effect was a kind of fearlessness.
As I got older I began to understand what the character of Too Much Eyeliner Girl was coding. A kind of sexual availability without agency. A growing-up too fast. Damage, that’s what the eyeliner and the clothes and the unkempt hair coded. She was either too loud because she wanted the wrong kind of attention, or she was too quiet because she was afraid of getting it. The hidden and secret core of the Too Much Eyeliner Girl stereotype is sexualized harm of one sort or another.
Wearing her damage with defiance. This is Too Much Eyeliner Girl. This is the woman who is hurt, and is angry, and she wants you to know it — but whether she wants your help or not is an entirely different matter. She can’t decide entirely whether what’s wrong is something she should be blamed for or not. There’s a rage and an ambivalence to her.
I love the character of Too Much Eyeliner Girl. In any show or movie, I will see that character and remember her name.