My brother is eight years older than I am.
I was a big surprise. A wonderful surprise, my mom would be
quick to tell you. Although having a baby at forty is a commonplace
fool’s errand these days, back in 1970 it was pretty unheard-of.
Women around my mom’s office referred to her pregnancy as
“Mrs. Fey and her change-of-life baby.” When I was born I
was fussed over and doted on, and my brother has always looked out for
me like a third parent.
The day before I started kindergarten, my parents took me to the school
to meet the teacher. My mom had taken my favorite blanket and stitched
my initials into it for nap time, just like she’d done for my
brother eight years earlier. At the teacher conference my dad tried to
give my nap time blanket to the teacher, and she just smiled and said,
“Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” That’s when I
realized I had old parents. I’ve been worried about them ever
While my parents talked to the teacher, I was sent to a table to do
coloring. I was introduced to a Greek boy named Alex whose mom was next
in line to meet with the teacher. We colored together in silence. I was
so used to being praised and encouraged that when I finished my drawing
I held it up to show Alex, who immediately ripped it in half. I
didn’t have the language to express my feelings then, but my
thoughts were something like “Oh, it’s like that,
motherfucker? Got it.” Mrs. Fey’s change-of-life baby had
entered the real world.
During the spring semester of kindergarten, I was slashed in the face by
a stranger in the alley behind my house. Don’t worry. I’m
not going to lay out the grisly details for you like a sweeps episode of
Dateline. I only bring it up to explain why I’m not going
to talk about it.
I’ve always been able to tell a lot about people by whether they
ask me about my scar. Most people never ask, but if it comes up
naturally somehow and I offer up the story, they are quite interested.
Some people are just dumb: “Did a cat scratch you?” God
bless. Those sweet dumdums I never mind. Sometimes it is a fun sociology
litmus test, like when my friend Ricky asked me, “Did they ever
catch the black guy that did that to you?” Hmmm. It was not a
black guy, Ricky, and I never said it was.
Then there’s another sort of person who thinks it makes them seem
brave or sensitive or wonderfully direct to ask me about it right away.
They ask with quiet, feigned empathy, “How did you get your
scar?” The grossest move is when they say they’re only
curious because “it’s so beautiful.” Ugh. Disgusting.
They might as well walk up and say, “May I be amazing at
you?” To these folks let me be clear. I’m not interested in
acting out a TV movie with you where you befriend a girl with a scar. An
Oscar-y Spielberg movie where I play a mean German with a scar? Yes.
My whole life, people who ask about my scar within one week of knowing
me have invariably turned out to be egomaniacs of average intelligence
or less. And egomaniacs of average intelligence or less often end up in
the field of TV journalism. So, you see, if I tell the whole story here,
then I will be asked about it over and over by the hosts of Access
Movietown and Entertainment Forever for the rest of my
But I will tell you this: My scar was a miniature form of celebrity.
Kids knew who I was because of it. Lots of people liked to claim they
were there when it happened. I was there. I saw it.
Crazy Mike did it!
Adults were kind to me because of it. Aunts and family friends gave me
Easter candy and oversize Hershey’s Kisses long after I was too
old for presents. I was made to feel special.
What should have shut me down and made me feel “less than”
ended up giving me an inflated sense of self. It wasn’t until
years later, maybe not until I was writing this book, that I realized
people weren’t making a fuss over me because I was some incredible
beauty or genius; they were making a fuss over me to compensate for my
I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as
if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this
has all been a wonderful misunderstanding. And I shall keep these Golden
Globes, every last one!
Growing Up and Liking It
At ten I asked my mother if I could start
shaving my legs. My dark shin fur was hard to ignore in shorts weather,
especially since my best friend Maureen was a pale Irish lass who
probably doesn’t have any leg hair to this day. My mom said it was
too soon and that I would regret it. But she must have looked at my
increasingly hairy and sweaty frame and known that something was
A few months later, she gave me a box from the Modess company. It was a
“my first period” kit and inside were samples of pads and
panty liners and two pamphlets. One with the vaguely threatening title
“Growing Up and Liking It” and one called “How Shall I
Tell My Daughter?” I’m pretty sure she was supposed
to read that one and then talk to me about it, but she just gave me the
whole box and slipped out of the room.
I finally got my “friend” today!! Yay!! It’s about
time! If I roller-skate while I’m MEN-STRU-HATING, will I die?
Of course you can roller-skate! Don’t be silly! But be careful of
odor, or neighborhood dogs may try to bite your vagina. Friends forever,
Sometimes I get stomach cramps on the first day of my period. My mom
showed me some stretches I can do, but I also heard that drinking peach
schnapps will work.
Schnapps will work. Act like you’re putting orange juice in it,
but then don’t.
I’m supposed to go to a pool party this week, but my “Aunt
Blood” is still in town. Can I go?
Of course you can still go! Modess makes great feminine-protection
products that are so thick and puffy, you’ll be super comfortable
sitting on that bench near the pool telling everyone you’re sick.
“Growing Up and Liking It” was a fake correspondence between
three young friends. Through their spunky interchange, all my questions
and fears about menstruation would be answered.
“How Shall I Tell My Daughter?”
As I nauseously perused “How Shall I Tell My Daughter?” I
started to suspect that my mom had not actually read the pamphlet before
handing it off to me. Here is a real quote from the actual 1981 edition:
A book, a teacher or a friend may provide her with some of the facts
about the menstrual cycle. But only you—the person who has been
teaching her about life and growing up since she was an infant—can
best provide the warm guidance and understanding that is vital.
Well played, Jeanne Fey, well played.
The explanatory text was followed by a lot of drawings of the human
reproductive system that my brain refused to memorize. (To this day, all
I know is there are between two and four openings down there and that
the setup inside looks vaguely like the Texas Longhorns logo.)
I shoved the box in my closet, where it haunted me daily. There might as
well have been a guy dressed like Freddy Krueger in there for the amount
of anxiety it gave me. Every time I reached in the closet to grab a
Sunday school dress or my colonial-lady Halloween costume that I
sometimes relaxed in after school—“Modesssss,” it
hissed at me. “Modesssss is coming for you.”
Then, it happened. In the spring of 1981 I achieved menarche while
singing Neil Diamond’s “Song Sung Blue” at a
districtwide chorus concert. I was ten years old. I had noticed
something was weird earlier in the day, but I knew from commercials that
one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like
laundry detergent onto maxi pads to test their absorbency. This
wasn’t blue, so… I ignored it for a few hours.
When we got home I pulled my mom aside to ask her if it was weird that I
was bleeding in my underpants. She was very sympathetic but also a
little baffled. Her eyes said, “Dummy, didn’t you read
‘How Shall I Tell My Daughter?’ ” I had read it, but
nowhere in the pamphlet did anyone say that your period was NOT a blue
At that moment, two things became clear to me. I was now technically a
woman, and I would never be a doctor.
When Did You First Know You Were a Woman?
When I was writing the movie Mean Girls—which hopefully
is playing on TBS right now!—I went to a workshop taught by
Rosalind Wiseman as part of my research. Rosalind wrote the nonfiction
book Queen Bees and Wannabes that Mean Girls was based
on, and she conducted a lot of self-esteem and bullying workshops with
women and girls around the country. She did this particular exercise in
a hotel ballroom in Washington, DC, with about two hundred grown women,
asking them to write down the moment they first “knew they were a
woman.” Meaning, “When did you first feel like a grown woman
and not a girl?” We wrote down our answers and shared them, first
in pairs, then in larger groups. The group of women was racially and
economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost
everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude
did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a
guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!’ ” “I was
babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled,
‘Nice ass.’ ” There were pretty much zero examples
like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me
out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was
mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let
girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? If so, it’s
I experienced car creepery at thirteen. I was walking home from middle
school past a place called the World’s Largest
Aquarium—which, legally, I don’t know how they could call it
that, because it was obviously an average-sized aquarium. Maybe I should
start referring to myself as the World’s Tallest Man and see how
that goes? Anyway, I was walking home alone from school and I was
wearing a dress. A dude drove by and yelled, “Nice tits.”
Embarrassed and enraged, I screamed after him, “Suck my
dick.” Sure, it didn’t make any sense, but at least I
didn’t hold in my anger.
Thankfully, blessedly, yelling “Suck my dick” is not the
moment I really associate with entering womanhood. For me, it was when I
bought this kickass white denim suit at the Springfield mall.
I bought it with my own money under the advisement of my cool friend
Sandee. I wore it to Senior Awards Night 1988, where it blew
people’s minds as I accepted the Sunday School Scholarship. That
turned-up collar. The jacket that zipped all the way down the front into
a nice fitted shape. The white denim that made my untanned skin look
like a color. Just once I’d like to find an Oscars or Emmys dress
as rad as this suit.
Suburban Girl Seeks Urban Health Care
It may have been a mistake to have my first-ever gynecology appointment
in a Planned Parenthood on the north side of Chicago. I was twenty-three
and honestly, there was no need. My whole setup was still factory-new.
But I had never been and I had some insurance, so why not be proactive
about my health like the educated young feminist I was? I slipped on my
pumpkin-colored swing coat with the Sojourner Truth button on it and
headed to their grim location in Rogers Park. All the windows were
covered, and you had to be buzzed in through two different doors. This
place was not kidding around.
I sat among the AIDS posters, proudly reading Toni Morrison’s
Jazz. Maybe later I would treat myself to sweet potato fries at
the Heartland Café!
I was taken to an examining room where a big butch nurse practitioner
came in and asked me if I was pregnant. “No way!” Was I
sexually active? “Nope!” Had I ever been molested?
“Well,” I said, trying to make a joke, “Oprah says the
only answers to that question are ‘Yes’ and ‘I
don’t remember.’ ” I laughed. We were having fun. The
nurse looked at me, concerned/annoyed. “Have you ever
been molested?” “Oh. No.” Then she took out a speculum
the size of a milk shake machine. Even Michelle Duggar would have
flinched at this thing, but I had never seen one before.
“What’s that device f—?” Before I could finish,
the nurse inserted the milk shake machine to the hilt, and I fainted. I
was awakened by a sharp smell. An assistant had been called in,
I’m sure for legal reasons, and was waving smelling salts under my
nose. As I “came to,” the nurse said, “You have a
short vagina. I think I hit you in the cervix.” And then I fainted
again even though no one was even touching me. I just went out like she
had hit a reset button. I’m surprised I didn’t wake up
speaking Spanish like Buzz Lightyear. When I woke up the second time,
the nurse was openly irritated with me. Did I have someone who could
come and pick me up? “Nope!” “You’re going to
have to make another appointment. I couldn’t finish the Pap
smear.” “WHY DIDN’T YOU FINISH IT WHILE I WAS
OUT?” I yelled. Apparently it’s against the law. Then she
asked if I could hurry up and get out because she needed to perform an
abortion on Willona from Good Times.
All Girls Must Be Everything
When I was thirteen I spent a weekend at
the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey, with my teenage cousins Janet and
Lori. In the space of thirty-six hours, they taught me everything I know
about womanhood. They knew how to “lay out” in the sun
wearing tanning oil instead of sunscreen. They taught me that you could
make a reverse tattoo in your tan if you cut a shape out of a Band-Aid
and stuck it on your leg. They taught me you could listen to General
Hospital on the radio if you turned the FM dial way down to the
Wildwood is a huge wide beach—the distance from your towel to the
water was often equal to the distance from your motel to your towel. And
“back in the day” the place was packed exclusively with
very, very tan Italian Americans and very, very burned Irish Americans.
As a little kid, I almost always got separated from my parents and would
panic trying to find them among dozens and dozens of similar umbrellas.
One afternoon a girl walked by in a bikini and my cousin Janet scoffed,
“Look at the hips on her.” I panicked. What about the hips?
Were they too big? Too small? What were my hips? I didn’t
know hips could be a problem. I thought there was just fat or skinny.
This was how I found out that there are an infinite number of things
that can be “incorrect” on a woman’s body. At any
given moment on planet Earth, a woman is buying a product to correct one
of the following “deficiencies”:
lunch lady arms
nipples too big
nipples too small
breasts too big
breasts too small
one breast bigger than the other
one breast smaller than the other (How are those two different things? I
nasal labial folds
“no arch in my eyebrows!”
FUPA (a delightfully crude acronym for a protruding lower belly)
crotch biscuits (that’s what I call the wobbly triangles on
one’s inner thighs)
calves too big
“green undertones in my skin”
and my personal favorite, “bad nail beds”
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure Janet meant the girl’s hips
were too wide. This was the late seventies, and the seventies were a
small-eyed, thin-lipped blond woman’s paradise. I remember
watching Three’s Company as a little brown-haired kid
thinking, “Really? This is what we get? Joyce DeWitt is our brunet
representative? She’s got that greasy-looking bowl cut and they
make her wear suntan pantyhose under her football jersey
nightshirt.” I may have only been seven or eight, but I knew that
this sucked. The standard of beauty was set. Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah
Fawcett, Christie Brinkley. Small eyes, toothy smile, boobies, no
buttocks, yellow hair.
Let’s talk about the hair. Why do I call it “yellow”
hair and not “blond” hair? Because I’m pretty sure
everybody calls my hair “brown.” When I read fairy tales to
my daughter I always change the word “blond” to
“yellow,” because I don’t want her to think that blond
hair is somehow better.
My daughter has a reversible doll: Sleeping Beauty on one side and Snow
White on the other. I would always set it on her bed with the Snow White
side out and she would toddle up to it and flip the skirt over to
Sleeping Beauty. I would flip it back and say, “Snow White is so
pretty.” She would yell, “No!” and flip it back. I did
this experiment so frequently and consistently that I should have
applied for government funding. The result was always the same. When I
asked her why she didn’t like Snow White, she told me, “I
don’t like her hair.” Not even three years old, she knew
that yellow hair is king. And, let’s admit it, yellow hair does
have magic powers. You could put a blond wig on a hot-water heater and
some dude would try to fuck it. Snow White is better looking. I hate to
stir up trouble among the princesses, but take away the hair and
Sleeping Beauty is actually a little beat.
Sure, when I was a kid, there were beautiful brunettes to be
found—Linda Ronstadt, Jaclyn Smith, the little Spanish singer on
The Lawrence Welk Show—but they were regarded as a fun,
exotic alternative. Farrah was vanilla and Jaclyn Smith was chocolate.
Can you remember a time when pop culture was so white that Jaclyn Smith
was the chocolate?! By the eighties, we started to see some real
chocolate: Halle Berry and Naomi Campbell. “Downtown” Julie
Brown and Tyra Banks. But I think the first real change in women’s
body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time
that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of
mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were
free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt
like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg
meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And
from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that
all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally
messing with you. All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the
laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now
every girl is expected to have:
Caucasian blue eyes
full Spanish lips
a classic button nose
hairless Asian skin with a California tan
a Jamaican dance hall ass
long Swedish legs
small Japanese feet
the abs of a lesbian gym owner
the hips of a nine-year-old boy
the arms of Michelle Obama
and doll tits
The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian,
who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our
athletes. Everyone else is struggling.
Even the Yellowhairs who were once on top can now be found squatting to
a Rihanna song in a class called Gary’s Glutes Camp in an attempt
to reverse-engineer a butt. These are dark times. Back in my Wildwood
days with Janet, you were either blessed with a beautiful body or not.
And if you were not, you could just chill out and learn a trade. Now if
you’re not “hot,” you are expected to work on it until
you are. It’s like when you renovate a house and you’re
legally required to leave just one of the original walls standing. If
you don’t have a good body, you’d better starve the body you
have down to a neutral shape, then bolt on some breast implants, replace
your teeth, dye your skin orange, inject your lips, sew on some hair,
and call yourself the Playmate of the Year.
How do we survive this? How do we teach our daughters and our gay sons
that they are good enough the way they are? We have to lead by example.
Instead of trying to fit an impossible ideal, I took a personal
inventory of all my healthy body parts for which I am grateful:
Straight Greek eyebrows. They start at the hairline at my temple and,
left unchecked, will grow straight across my face and onto yours.
A heart-shaped ass. Unfortunately, it’s a right-side-up heart; the
point is at the bottom.
Droopy brown eyes designed to confuse predators into thinking I’m
just on the verge of sleep and they should come back tomorrow to eat me.
Permanently rounded shoulders from years of working at a computer.
A rounded belly that is pushed out by my rounded posture no matter how
many sit-ups I do. Which is mostly none.
A small high waist.
A wad of lower-back fat that never went away after I lost my “baby
weight.” One day in the next ten years, this back roll will meet
up with my front pouch, forever obscuring my small high waist, and I
will officially be my mother.
Wide-set knockers that aren’t so big but can be hoisted up once or
twice a year for parades.
Good strong legs with big gym teacher calves that I got from walking
pigeon-toed my whole life.
Wide German hips that look like somebody wrapped Pillsbury dough around
a case of soda.
My father’s feet. Flat. Bony. Pale. I don’t know how he even
gets around, because his feet are in my shoes.
I would not trade any of these features for anybody else’s. I
wouldn’t trade the small thin-lipped mouth that makes me resemble
my nephew. I wouldn’t even trade the acne scar on my right cheek,
because that recurring zit spent more time with me in college than any
boy ever did.
At the end of the day, I’m happy to have my father’s feet
and my mother’s eyes with me at all times. If I ever go back to
that beach in Wildwood, I want my daughter to be able to find me in the
crowd by spotting my soda-case hips. I want her to be able to pick me
out of a sea of highlighted-blond women with fake tans because I’m
the one with the thick ponytail and the greenish undertones in my skin.
And if I ever meet Joyce DeWitt, I will first apologize for having
immediately punched her in the face, and then I will thank her. For
while she looked like a Liza Minnelli doll that had been damaged in a
fire, at least she didn’t look like everybody else on TV.
Also, full disclosure, I would trade my feet for almost any
other set of feet out there.
Delaware County Summer Showtime!
(All names in this story have been changed, to protect the fabulous.)
In 1976, a young Catholic family man named
Larry Wentzler started a youth theater program in my hometown called
Summer Showtime. It really is a terrific model for a community program.
Young teenagers would put on daily Children’s Theater shows for
the community, giving preschoolers access to live theater at a very low
cost for parents. The older kids would direct those Children’s
Theater shows and perform in Broadway-style musicals by night. In the
process, all the kids would learn about music, art, carpentry,
discipline, friendship, and teamwork. It’s a fantastic program
that continues to this day, and I can’t recommend it highly
Larry didn’t set out to create a haven for gay teens, but you know
how sometimes squirrels eat out of a bird feeder? Larry built a
beautiful bird feeder, and the next thing you knew—full of
I took a job as the night box office manager at Summer Showtime because
my eleventh-grade boyfriend said we’d have fun there. He promptly
broke up with me to date a hot blond dancer girl to whom he is now
married, God bless us every one. I should have known he and I
weren’t going to make it when for my seventeenth birthday he gave
me a box of microwave popcorn and a used battery tester. You know, to
test batteries before I put them in my Walkman. Like you give someone
when you’re in love.
Those first few nights of being freshly, brutally dumped and sitting
alone in the box office were not so great. I was heartbroken and,
because no one had central air back then, I had to cry myself to sleep
on the floor under the air conditioner in my parents’ room. But
then, like Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz, my world went
from black-and-white to color. Because, like Dorothy in The Wizard
of Oz, I was embraced by the gays. They loved me and praised me. I
was so funny and so mean and mature for my age! And with my large brown
eyes I really did look like a young Judy
Garland Lorna Luft.
Before my evening shift, I would hang out with my new friend Tim, who
ran the costume department. Tim had the highest, loudest voice
you’ve ever heard. I could sit there for hours listening to him
screech along to “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”
while hot-gluing Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat together
because none of us could really sew. Parents of the world, this is where
you want your seventeen-year-old daughter spending her
summer—snorting her DQ Blizzard out her nose from laughing so
hard. The only person funnier than Tim was his meaner, louder,
higher-pitched brother Tristan. One family, two impressively gay
That summer I got to know four families in which half the children were
gay. In case you’re interested from a sociological point of view,
they were always Catholic and there were always four kids, two of whom
were gay. What Wales is to crooners, my hometown may be to
homosexuals—meaning there seems to be a disproportionate number of
them and they are the best in the world!
Tristan would egg me on to trash-talk the little blondie who had
“stolen” my boyfriend. Of course I know now that no one can
“steal” boyfriends against their will, not even Angelina
Jolie itself. But I was filled with a poisonous, pointless teenage
jealousy, which, when combined with gay cattiness, can be intoxicating.
Like mean meth. And guess who played Joseph in Joseph and the
Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, by the way? You guessed it, old
Battery-Tester Joe. I got to watch him in the show every night and then
count my stubs in a four-foot room while he and the blonde left to get
pizza. He would’ve never given her a crappy battery tester. And if
he had, she probably would have shoved it up her twat and tried to turn
it on. (This is the kind of mean stuff Tristan and I bonded over.
Clearly it’s very toxic.)
The unstated thing that Tim and I had in common was that we had crushes
on all the same boys. The only difference was, I was allowed to talk
endlessly about my feelings and Tim was in the half closet. Nobody
thought he was straight, but he wasn’t “out” either.
He certainly never made a move on anyone. His crushes would manifest
themselves in other ways. Tim had a real job working at Macy’s,
and sometimes he would use his disposable income to, you know, buy Rick
McMenamin a baseball glove. “You were saying the other night after
rehearsal how you needed a new glove, so… anyhoo,”
he’d trail off. The nice thing was, the straight boys didn’t
freak out about this, and they definitely kept all the free stuff.
Excerpted from "Bossypants" by Tina Fey. Copyright © 0 by Tina Fey. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.