‘People are gonna label you. It’s how you overcome those labels — that’s what matters.’
These iconic, inspirational words were uttered by our self-aware Queen Brooke Davis while posing for her yearbook photo, covered in insults fired out at her throughout high school.
Yet, the beauty of Brooke, played by Sophia Bush, is that she is impossible to label – because she’s so many things and that is why she’s my ultimate inspiration.
Brooke refuses to be defined by one aspect of her personality and encourages her friends to behave in the same way. For me, she’s the first time I remember watching an actress and wanting to be her character, and not just wanting their boyfriend.
Sophia will soon be undertaking her next creative endeavour as Lauren in 2:22 A Ghost Story, and as she’s proven she can take on complex female roles, so I’m excited to see what she does with the theatre run.
But first let’s rewind – 20 years ago, One Tree Hill opened with an episode all about the rivalry between the Scott half-brothers – Nathan (James Lafferty) and Lucas (Chad Michael Murray).
They may have been the intended focus of this high school drama set in a small town in North Carolina, but Brooke proved that a strong woman can always steal the spotlight from men.
Maybe that’s why they chose to keep her first appearance until episode two. She is the ultimate scene stealer, and it would be a struggle to care about brothers bickering when she’s around.
Brooke is initially introduced as a preppy cheerleader seemingly existing to seek admiration from the male characters. But it doesn’t take long for her to challenge all our preconceived notions and become the feminist icon we all needed. Here are a few examples from the nine series run that made her that for me.
Brooke doesn’t wait for a man to pursue her, she’ll simply let them know in not-so-subtle ways. She literally got into the backseat of Lucas’s car in her underwear to inform him of her crush.
Iconic, and slightly illegal but we’ll let that slide as it’s a fictional show.
Someone wants to break her heart? No worries, she’ll just casually start a multi-million-pound clothing brand called Clothes over Bros in between high school classes. At the time, I really wished it actually existed because some of her ’fits were impeccable.
Single but wants a child? Well, she’ll just go foster one. Of course, in real life, these things are never quite that simple but we appreciate the principles.
The scenes made me realise that there is no such thing as being too ambitious, and I didn’t have to wait for men to create my dream life. Although, another great thing about Brooke is whenever she does get hurt in the romance department, she picks herself back up again and gets back out there.
Every single woman should try to have Brooke’s bouncebackability when they are forced to re-download Hinge after another failed talking stage for the 15th time.
I was so inspired by Brooke that when she ironically joined the Clean Teens – a group of high school kids purposefully abstaining from sex to avoid getting caught cheating on a maths test (yeah, it’s complicated) – I walked to my local printing shop and got myself a T-shirt made.
Unfortunately, mine wasn’t ironic so my feminist activism kind of missed the mark but I appreciate teenage me for trying.
Of course, Brooke eventually tore down the ridiculous notion that not having sex makes you ‘clean’. She comforted group leader Shelley (Elisabeth Harnois) when she admitted to not actually being a virgin but instead being scared of sex after an abortion.
Brooke helps her navigate a new relationship guilt-free. She always remained strong in the face of slut-shaming, and knew that every woman was more than her sexual experiences.
That wasn’t the only way she affected my life choices. When I went to university, I needed a sports club in order to make friends in a new city. Of course, Brooke’s run as head cheerleader was firmly in my head so I joined Cardiff’s squad. I have to admit, though, cheering for American football on muddy fields is far less glamorous than the basketball courts that Brooke frequented.
Brooke’s storylines with men were always secondary to her business deals, friendships, and even her social calendar, and that was refreshing for young girls to see. I love a good rom-com as much as the next person, but watching a woman value her career and self-worth above all else I believe played a part in shaping my view of life. I will never feel guilty for valuing my career, and me time.
She loved Lucas but his feelings for her bestie Peyton Sawyer (Hilarie Burton) were clear, so she loved herself enough to be the one to walk away. Pretty inspirational stuff.
Her relationship with Julian (Austin Nicholas) was what she truly deserved, but she never really needed him. We remember Brooke, not Brooke and Julian, which was rare. Carrie felt like she needed Big to progress in Sex and the City, Summer had Seth in The OC, while Peyton and Hayley (Bethany Joy Lenz) were intertwined with Lucas and Nathan respectively in One Tree Hill.
All incredible characters but they kind of relied on their men, sometimes even letting them define who they were. Brooke was more than enough as a singular entity. She showed that being a supporting character to your best friends ultimately makes you the main character in the end.
It reminds me that I don’t need to be competing with my friends to make it up the aisle first, and their happiness isn’t going to take away from mine.
And that is only what was going on in front of the camera. Behind the scenes, actress Sophia has accused a male showrunner of predatory behaviour, as well as discussed the pressure put on her to ensure husband (for a short while) Chad made it to set on time.
In an interview on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen she she was asked why she got married: ‘Because how do you let everybody down, and how do you — what’s the fight? And when you have bosses telling you that you’re the only person who gets a person to work on time, and 200 people either get to see their kids at night or they don’t because our days start on time.’ It’s amazing that while going through all that she was still able to deliver such a perfectly flawless flawed character.
Since the show, Sophia has behaved how I imagine Brooke would in the real world too, devoting a lot of her life to activism focusing on getting young people to vote in elections, gay rights, and supporting the Me Too movement.
She’s also remained close to Hilarie and Bethany, and the trio hosts a podcast called Drama Queens where they analyse each episode of their hit show one by one.
I’m so grateful that Sophia is a good person so it doesn’t taint what she created because separating the art from the artist can be difficult.
I’ve already bought my ticket to go see her in 2:22 A Ghost Story and I know, like Brooke, she won’t let me down.
I believe that Brooke Davis walked so that characters like Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf and even Desperate Housewives’ Gabrielle Solis could run. These women make you think they are one thing – superficial and for the male gaze – then flip it all on its head.
My Clean Teen T-shirt may have ended up at a charity shop, and my cheerleader uniform is covered in dust in my parents’ shed, but I’ll hopefully always carry a symbolic piece of Brooke Davis with me.
After all, she proved that we’re more than just our clothes and the image that the world sees.
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