I didn’t miss the significance when Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air the same week I graduated high school. My favorite show, the show that ushered me through my adolescence, was ready to move on at the same time I was. After seven years, we had both put in our time and were ready to walk away from our own version of the hellmouth. I no longer relied on Buffy to navigate me through my teen years, but I would never forget the way it helped me.
Buffy’s pilot episode began just when I needed it. I was in the middle of sixth grade and on the cusp of my teen years, and like most middle schoolers, I was awkward and weird. These particular years weren’t kind to me. Girls were mean just because they didn’t like the kind of pants I wore. In class, I sat quietly and kept to myself, drawing pictures and wondering where or how I would fit into this world. I’m sure every girl with the slightest bit of eccentricity has her own version of this experience.
But then Buffy came into my life, and she gave me a teenage role model that no other female protagonist could. I had already outgrown Punky Brewster, yet wasn’t old enough to relate to Phoebe Buffay. I was in the market for a new role model. I could relate to Buffy in some, but not all, ways. Unlike me, Buffy was a beautiful teenager who had a hot – albeit undead -- boyfriend. But like me, Buffy was independent, witty, tenacious, resilient and 100 percent true to herself, no matter the circumstance. And because of that, she was never popular. Her struggle with being herself was something I could understand.
As much as I wanted to be a Buffy, however, I was Willow to the core. Thirteen years later, I embrace being a Willow because there are few characters that have grown and evolved the way Willow did throughout the show. She started out as a meek, nerdy, unpopular teenager and ended up surpassing Buffy to be the most powerful character in the series. What Willow taught me was that no matter how weird or unpopular my interests and talents were, there would be a chance for me to use them. Through Willow, I learned that no matter what happens in middle school or high school, it won’t always be that way. It wouldn’t always majorly suck. And as Willow promised, I did make a nice place for myself in my adult life. Even though I was a Willow, I still needed both her and Buffy to make sense of my teenage world. Through the two of them, I learned that by being my true self, things eventually fall into place. And when they did, and I found my strengths, I couldn’t be stopped.
When Buffy ended on May 20, 2003, it was time for both of us to move on. I was heading to college in the fall, ready for my life to really begin. I didn’t need Buffy anymore. Instead of relying on the show, I started to appreciate the impact it had made on my life. Thirteen years later, it’s still my favorite show. There’s probably some aspect of nostalgia behind my favoritism, but mostly, it’s because Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a really great show.
The reason why Buffy is so relatable is there is no way the viewer could miss its metaphors. They were one step below walking out of the TV and punching you in the face, that’s how obvious they were. But that’s also what made the show so fantastic. What teenager doesn’t compare high school to hell? In Sunnydale, high school was a literal hell. The Sunnydale High library was situated right on top of the Hellmouth, a portal of supernatural energy that is a hotbed for evil – just like high school. Boyfriends turned into monsters and magic had its own addictive qualities. With Buffy, fantasy has never been so realistic. The show provided a way to take the typical teenage struggles, turn them into monsters and watch those monsters be obliterated by a highly capable, witty, empathetic, kick-ass woman.
It’s weird to think that 20 years ago, Buffy premiered on The WB, but that’s how space and time works – there’s no slowing it. Twenty years have gone by since I was in search of a role model and 13 years have passed since I no longer needed my Buffy crutch. Could I have lived without it? Absolutely. But what Buffy taught me was the importance to be true to myself no matter what. And today, on the anniversary of the final season’s end, I’m thankful that this show came into my life at just the right time.
Lindsay Patton-Carson is a Philadelphia-based writer and vice president of customer engagement at PiperWai Natural Deodorant. Her favorite topics to write about are pop culture, feminism and animal rights. In her spare time, you can find her going on a run, looking at memes and avoiding getting peed on by her two dogs. She was born during the same time the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. Because of Lindsay, the Tigers have yet to win another series. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayPatton.