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"I accidentally destroyed my self-esteem one fictional bad boy at a time."

I remember hiding out in my room for a month straight, desperate to finish the show Gossip Girl before my Netflix one-month free trial ended. It was the first 'real teen' series I had watched and like most girls my age at the time, I was utterly obsessed. From as early on as the first episode, I had already grown a liking to the “Queen B” (Blair Waldorf), and soon later, her 'will they, won’t they?' relationship with bad boy Chuck Bass.

Chuck was an abusive, alcohol dependent bad boy with serious daddy issues who preyed on young women. Despite attempting to rape both Blair’s protégé Jenny Humphrey, and her best friend, Serena Van Der Woodsen, in the very first episode, the “Queen B” fell for him.

But Chuck’s misogynistic behaviour didn’t stop there. Throughout the entirety of the series, he continuously displayed his abusive traits towards several of the characters, including the so called “love of his life”. From both physical and emotional violence, to selling off his girlfriend, Chuck’s behaviour never really seemed to change, even for Blair - so why were we so convinced that it did? And why by the end of the series, did Chuck become every teen girl’s celebrity crush and blueprint for the “ideal boyfriend”?

Watch Chuck Bass' first appearance in Gossip Girl. Post continues below. 


Video via The CW.

But Chuck Bass wasn’t the only bad boy pulling at our heartstrings. 

*Queue reckless vampire hiding behind his bad boy persona to cover up the fact he feels empty and abandoned inside*. Ah Damon Salvatore, the notorious bad boy from the hit show The Vampire Diaries, known best for his good looks and charming personality. 

Like Chuck Bass, Damon started off as a careless, cold-hearted character but eventually “changed” when he fell for the show’s damsel in distress, Elena Gilbert. A plot point I now recognise as highly unoriginal.

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Despite only having eyes for his brother, the classic “nice guy”, Elena still managed to keep Damon wrapped around her finger. But of course, by the end of the show, Elena ultimately chose the alluring bad boy - even after he attempted to kill her brother along with many other questionable actions, I may add. Yep, she chose the boy who she believed had changed for her

Image: Vampire Diaries

So, after years of fantasizing about these characters, I had succumbed to the desire of finding a bad boy who would change his wild ways for a simple gal like me who he would consider “different from other girls”.

That very term is a popular one commonly used by men in an attempt to compliment women by making them feel special. To highlight that any girl previously hadn't had the right ingredients to settle them down, to steer them onto the right path, to stop their damaging behaviour dead in its tracks. 

Shows like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries love to display these toxic relationships where the bad boy usually falls for a girl who they insist “changed them”. Leaving girls from a young age believing that this is a reality, and if they are “special enough” they too can “fix” a bad boy just like their favourite characters.

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It took me until moving to university to realise that the reason behind my low self-esteem and constant need for male validation was due to my obsession with fictional bad boys. 

I had spent most of my high school years developing meaningless crushes on boys I hoped would find me “different from the other girls” and magically fall in love with me. Self-centred? Or brainwashed into thinking that this was something achievable? Whatever the reason, my 'situationships' with boys always ended up a toxic mess and far from the fairy tale I had imagined.

Constantly wondering “what is wrong with me?”, I found myself taking extreme measures to not only change my appearance but alter my personality to please other people. 

I would drive myself insane chasing after boys I thought fit the mould of a 'bad boy', desperate to make them fall for me or at least want to date me. I was wasting all my energy fixating on this desire, that no surprise, left me distracted from my schoolwork, my family, and most importantly myself. I found myself unhappy, unsatisfied, and left wondering what is so special about these fictional characters who seem to have every boy chasing after them. What were these characters doing that I wasn’t?

Listen to The Undone, Mamamia's weekly entertainment podcast. In this episode, co-hosts and roommates Emily and Lucy talks about the different red flags that you might have overlooked in your relationships. Post continues below. 


But that's the thing with these fictional characters, they are fictional. 

These characters who somehow made bad boys “change for them” aren’t real, and their entire relationship has been scripted by dozens of writers who know just how to make impressionable young girls obsess over them. No matter how great it may seem to have a 'bad boy' fall for you, they should never dictate your self-esteem.

Now as a twenty-year-old, I can confidently say that I have never been in a relationship, and I'm fine with it! Yes, I still re-watch my favourite teen shows from time to time, but I now view them in a completely different light. 

The all-consuming relationships I used to romanticise, now remind me I don't need male validation (or fictional bad boys) to make me feel worthy.

Feature Image: Netflix.

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