Why High-Achieving Women Pretend Their Lives Are a Mess
The insidious popularity of ‘Liz Lemoning’
Twitter virality is the cultural diagnostic tool of our time, the DSM for our internet-broken brains. Which is why it’s not surprising that a recent Tweet about Liz Lemon, the quirky heroine of the 2010s series 30 Rock (played by the series showrunner, Tina Fey) struck a nerve:
Jason Sim’s tweet went as viral as it did because he named something we all recognize: One doesn’t need to be a 30 Rock fan to know exactly the type he’s talking about.
Before Liz Lemoning was a meme, Fey’s character showed the world an entirely new kind of rom-com protagonist: the Hot Mess. She was a striver in the workplace, but she also binged on baked goods and watched Real Housewives. She was a singleton on the dating market who was also a raging prude. She was consistently the smartest person in the room. She also sometimes wore plastic Duane Reade shopping bags as underwear.
“From the beginning Liz Lemon was pathetic,” Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker in 2012. “That was what was enthralling, and even revolutionary, about the character.”
Liz Lemon’s messiness is what made her so relatable, and her neurosis so undeniably appealing. And the character embodied an archetype that’s now widely recognizable, reproduced again and again in women (always women!) that we see on the screen and in real life. The Hot Mess has a lot to tell us about our contradictory expectations of high-achieving women under late-capitalist patriarchy.
The Hot Mess is more of a persona than a personality. It avoids the earnestness of admitting to being a flawed human being who tries her best—and often succeeds. Instead, it’s the broadcasted shrug of “that 10th house in Capricorn was a lucky break, I guess.” Her achievements aren’t accidents, but she doesn’t want you to see how much she cares.
She probably isn’t your boss, but she might be your fast-rising co-worker — the one whose viral…