This is a bit of fan fiction I wrote based on my theory that Eleven from Stranger Things (played by Millie Bobby Brown) grows up to be Elle Woods in the 2001 movie Legally Blonde (played by Reese Witherspoon). Spoilers for both (although, c’mon, you’ve had 15 years to watch Legally Blonde, it’s a comedy classic, get on it).
From the moment Eleven put on that wig, she felt powerful in a way she never had before. The boys’ physicality around her changed: when they stood in a circle, there was a space for her; Dustin and Lucas relaxed, stopped flinching when they caught her in their peripherals. Mike looked at her a lot, but not the way prey watches a hunter. She liked it. The first time the wig came off, she panicked, turning to him. “Still pretty?”
Years later, at Harvard Law, Emmett Richmond would tell her that her blonde hair gave her a power she underestimated, and that he hoped she would channel it to use for good. She smiled a little: here was somebody who had an inkling of what she was. Elle had never been seriously intimidated by the Harvard admissions process – she’d strode through high school and college knowing she could break arms with a tilt of her head. Her self-worth came from knowing that she chose not to harm.
Woods was not her given last name. It was a name she had taken for herself. Woods, for the place where she had found Mike and Lucas and Dustin. It felt like her life had started when she found those boys in the forest. In college, she discovered the joyous support of other women in sorority, but never quite shook off the self-preservation instinct to be amenable to men. It wasn’t physical protection she needed from them – if only they knew what kind of a protector they had in her – but psychic reassurance. Like the Eggos she still ate sometimes when she was nervous, friendly men reminded her of the first time she’d felt safe.
She was glad of her adoptive parents, who gave her a comfortable life and never asked anything of her. They knew nothing of her previous existence in Indiana, except that she was an orphan and had been traumatised. They’d wanted a beautiful daughter and they found that in El (the spelling soon after changed to “Elle” to avoid confusion at her expensive new school in the Valley). It was an easy relationship between them: she was grateful and they were happy to be appreciated. When she expressed her wish to study law, they were surprised, but it never occurred to them to try to stop her. It rarely occurred to people who knew her to try to stop Elle.
Elle surrounded herself with soft, pink things – fluffy pillows, sweet fragrances – and avoided anything that would make her seem intimidating. It took her a long time to work out that she was still trying to prove she wasn’t the monster. Self-care was prime: she carried her service animal Bruiser with her everywhere. Being a survivor is an ongoing act. Elle took good care of herself.
Warner’s betrayal was a turning point. This was the only way Elle could view his sudden break-up with her – as a betrayal – because the first thing she had learned about healthy relationships was that “friends don’t lie”. When Warner brushed her off, Elle’s shock was complete. “So when you said you would always love me, you were just ‘dicking around’??” she shouted. However, still vulnerable to the suggestion that she was the problem, Elle vowed to become worthy of him. She took Warner’s assertion that he needed a “serious” girlfriend seriously, because under the bouncy hair and earnest smile, Elle was always serious.
In some ways, Harvard was like being back in the isolation tank at the Department of Energy. People only cared about what she could do with her mind. It was frightening, that first speech of Professor Stromwell’s, exhorting her class to consider their convictions as life-or-death. Under Elle’s outrage at being ejected from the seminar that day was her fear of once again having responsibility for someone’s life – or death. She hadn’t really considered that aspect of the law. Fashion merchandising had always had safe stakes. But she was much older now and knew who she was.
She was Elle Woods. First named by a boy, last named by herself. A lost kid who became homecoming queen. The girl who came back to life. She had powers no one suspected.
There was more in her valedictorian speech than the rest of the graduating class could have detected. Elle spoke of the unreliability of first impressions, looking down at her friend Vivian. But she was also thinking of her first friends, who had misgendered her and called her “freak” and came to rely on her for survival. At the podium, she encouraged her classmates to step forward into the world with a strong sense of self, something people like Warner took for granted. He rolled his eyes while she spoke and Elle fleetingly thought about dropping an SUV on him. She finished her speech with the conclusion for which she had fought hardest all her life: “You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.”
Whether facing down sexual harassers in the courtroom or corrupt politicians on Capitol Hill, Elle was shaken but not afraid. She would say what she always said under her breath when she looked at bullies. “Enough.”