Claudette Bakhtiar, Contributor
Writer, Lawyer, Mom
I was the bookish child of immigrants and she was my hero.
Much has been made about the strength and butt-kicking righteousness of the new incarnation of Wonder Woman but one thing she does not have that Wonder Woman of the 1970’s TV series did have is sheer nerd power. Wonder Woman of 2017 overpowers the bad guys; Wonder Woman of the ’70s also overpowered them but, just as often, she outwitted them. Before Dana Scully (X-Files), Abby Sciuto (NCIS), Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons), before a billion dollar tech industry made nerd culture sexy, there was Diana Prince in my TV. I was the studious, dark-haired, 7 year old daughter of a Colombian mother and an Iranian father when the series debuted and, almost immediately, Wonder Woman made me feel better about myself.
What was it about that show that was so fascinating to me? It was a show full of grownups, something that, I know, today, would be a turn-off for my own little girl. And yet I watched the show faithfully. I had the Wonder Woman doll. She was store-bought, not like the yard-sale Barbies I owned that she spent hours rescuing during my imaginative play. I was Wonder Woman for the kids next door – they allowed me that because of my black hair. I would hold my arms out and twirl, the way she did, emerging with spectacular powers to defeat whomever was designated bad guy. I was even Wonder Woman one Halloween, wearing the red-white-and-blue star-spangled outfit I had begged my mother to make, a turtleneck and thick stockings underneath to ward against the October chill.
I went back to watch some episodes of the series to discover why it had had such a powerful hold on me. I saw that Wonder Woman of the ’70s validated qualities I had that were not validated at the time anywhere else.
First, let’s talk about her black hair. Given how diverse programming has become in the past two decades, it is hard to believe that there was, back then, absolutely, no one on TV who looked like me. There was no Kim Kardashian, Mindy Kaling, Kerry Washington, Sandra Oh or Jennifer Lopez. For every one Beverly Johnson, there were 10,000 Cheryl Tiegs, Farah Faucets, Jerry Halls, Lauren Hutton, Patty Hansens and Marsha Bradys. Ethnic features made rare appearances in movies, TV commercials, after-school specials, magazine advertisements, clothing catalogues, school textbooks and picture books and, if they did appear, they were usually neutered by “whiteness” in some way. This was true, too, of Wonder Woman. Lynda Carter, the star, was tall and slim, like a European fashion model, but she had the look of a mix – she had a mass of black wavy hair (like mine), black eyelashes (like mine)(I didn’t care that the eyes were blue) and full lips (like mine). No one knew back then (including me) that Lynda Carter, is, in fact, half-Mexican (her mother was Juanita Cordova from Chihuahua, Mexico). Forty years later, I know it now but how happy it would have made me to have known it then! That, in addition to black hair, Wonder Woman and I both had Latin American mothers, with their funny accents and mortifying foreign ways.
I had spent my preschool years drawing princesses with straight, blond hair and asking my mother why I couldn’t have light hair and now here, at age 7, I discover a character who is considered desirable not despite her ethnic features but because of them. Lynda Carter, as Diana Prince, was always the dark-haired beauty entering a room full of blonds, and yet all the men would turn and gape. She was different but, rather than being shunned for her differences, she was celebrated for them. It was something that my 7 year old self desperately needed to see – me, with my black hair and olive skin that turned nut-brown in the sun, no matter how much sunblock my mother applied.