How Daria Morgendorffer made it okay to not be popular

Why Daria Morgendorffer and her no-nonsense personality resonated with a whole generation of the moody and gloomy

A compilation of stills from MTV's Daria on nostalgic polaroid, camera film and PC video player templates on a purple and pink background
(Image credit: Future/Alamy)

With all of the non-stop, world-shifting change of the past few years—you know, global pandemics, climate change, political strife, the usual—it's no shock that we've all been seeking solace in nostalgia lately, looking back to those simple days of the nineties and noughties when the biggest drama in your life was you not being placed in the same homeroom as your crush, or your BFF loving the same member of NSYNC as you. And it's not just millennials who seek nostalgia because they want to re-live the simpler times, but research shows that Gen-Z does it, too, because they wish they'd lived through those simpler times. Our School Daze series is doing just that: each day, an editor will wax nostalgic about the one high school show that shaped their teenagehood then and acts as a televisual comfort food now.

Growing up, I got sucked into Daria Morgendorffer's Sick Sad World more times than I could count. And I'm not ashamed to admit I regularly visit Lawndale as an adult (come on, we're all a bit obsessed with nostalgic TV).

From an underwhelming Mystic Spiral gig to a pizza outing with Jane, the brainy teen regularly stuck out with her inability to fit in. And, in a way, I saw a bit of my younger self in Daria. I loved (and still love) to read, I kept to myself in class and I most certainly was not popular. If my catholic high school had a fashion club, I wouldn't have been admitted with my oversized Bam Margera sweatshirt (we all make mistakes when we're younger, okay?).

Even though I'm now well past Daria's age, I'll admit, I'll never achieve the same level of badassery as Miss Morgendorffer. The grunge! The comebacks! I've admired the dreary heroine, a '90s icon, for more than half my life. She made it cool to wallow. It was OK to not fit in because of her. Intelligence was admired thanks to her dry sense of humor (and that's saying a lot considering Daria got her start on Beavis and Butt-Head).

Now, as a 32-year-old, I still try to embrace my favorite fictional character’s best qualities—though the likes of the football team would argue the list is slim. You’d think it’d be fairly simple to adopt her “woe is me” attitude, but there’s a lot to it. Daria is, actually, quite deep.

For one, the MTV queen is unapologetic. I bump into mannequins and grocery store shelves and apologize. I can barely squeeze out a sentence without uttering a “sorry” somewhere in between my thoughts. I wish I could care a little less what the world thought and rid myself of this pressure to gain other people’s acceptance that I don’t truly need. 

As much as that nonchalance can seem admirable, even for a cartoon character, I’ll admit, Daria is harsh—“I don’t have low self-esteem, I have low esteem for everyone else," she famously stated.  Regardless of the episode or season, Daria was always hit with an insult, whether it’d be about her looks or lack of social skills, but she never let other’s perceptions change her—she carried on as if the comments weren’t made at all (with a few slip-ups here and there like any teen, of course). As much as I attempt to fake it, I’ll never have that thick skin. It’s unfortunate that I’m not inclined to clap back with a witty response like Daria, because in reality, I get flustered and emotional like Quinn.

Even if some might mistake these qualities for turn-offs, I consider them an ode to her quiet fierceness. She’s independent, she’s comfortable in her own company and whether she likes it or not, she’s got that main character energy on lock. She doesn’t succumb to any pressure and she marches to the beat of her own drum (or one played by Trent's Mystic Spiral). 

Yes, Daria stands the test of time because she is so different than everyone else. Her gloomy ways will ultimately set the stage for future characters (know anything about that, Jenna Ortega?). And of course, she feeds our ‘90s and 2000s nostalgia when we need it. I can't imagine this Sick, Sad World without her.

Daria is streaming on Paramount+. 

Danielle Valente
Digital News Writer

Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few. 

When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.