I Chatted with the Dirty Girls, 17 Years Later
The sisters, the stars of Michael Lucid's recently viral documentary, were the most bad ass, riot grrrl high schoolers ever to be captured on VHS. I caught up with them to see what they are up to today. Guess what? They're still awesome.
Earlier this week, a video called "Dirty Girls" went viral on YouTube—and not for the reasons you'd expect, given the title. The documentary video, originally shot in 1996 by filmmaker (and then high school senior) Michael Lucid, was released in 2000 and chronicles a group of outcasts, refered to by their tormentors as the "Dirty Girls," who pride themselves on riot grrrl ethos, being different, and just not giving a fuck. The video focuses on the two leaders of the Dirty Girls, sisters Amber and Harper, who speak clearly and eloquently (as eloquently as an eighth grader can be expected to) about their convictions, while girls in sunglasses and jean jackets talk smack about them behind their backs. Not only is the documentary a perfect time capsule for people who went to high school in the 90s, it also perfectly captures two strong, independent young people speaking their minds and doing their own thing.
When I first watched "Dirty Girls," I loved it. I sent it around to everyone in the VICE offices, and they loved it, too. We all decided that we really needed to track down the original Dirty Girls and see what they were up to today. It proved to be not that difficult a task. Harper lives in New York City and was gracious enough to visit our offices, where I chatted with her and her sister, Amber, who joined us via Skype.
VICE: When is the first time that you guys saw the video?
Harper: Pretty much right after it was made when we were still in high school. Around 2000, he did a screening of it at a gay and lesbian film festival in LA. He had taken it down from an hour to 20 minutes, so that was the first time we saw this short, really well-put-together documentary. We haven’t seen it since then... so 12,13 years or so.
How did you find out that it was taking off online like it has?
Harper: A close friend of mine had it forwarded from somebody from high school. Someone forwarded it me and said, “I’m blown away. Oh my god, I love you girls. You’re such strong little ones. So confident. I’m so impressed.” And at that point, there were 2000 views. That was the first day. And then it just went from there, and more and more people contacted us.
Amber: I only really just watched it again fully yesterday. I felt like I remembered it really well 13 years ago. I had a certain amount of emotions about it at that time and was sure that I would feel the same now. But when I watched it yesterday, it was totally different. It’s amazing to me, because I think it’s a reflection on us and where we’re from. I’m the same person who watched it 12 years ago, and I’m also so different in how I’ve developed and what I think now. It was a completely different perspective. It was the miracle of life. I love it. It’s fascinating.
How do you feel when you watch the video now? Are you proud? Embarrassed?
Harper: I’m excited about it. I think it’s great. I remember in the moment feeling like we were given a voice that we didn’t have without that video being shown to the rest of the school. So I felt proud of the commentary then, and I do now too. I’m also just so blown away by the positive reactions from everybody. Just looking at the YouTube comments where everyone is so inspired, impressed by us. That just makes me feel so happy. I think back then we were dedicated to giving people voices that maybe didn’t have them. And I think both of us would agree that neither of us have any hard feelings toward any of those people, the older students making comments about it.
Amber: The first time it came out, I was like, “Whatever. We’re different from most of the other kids, so I can see why he’d have an interest.” But being in our 20s, watching 13 years ago, I was always sort of like, “This is awesome. We did something. Not just sitting around being kids, but making a statement.” So I’m proud of that, but I did have that little twinge of, Why didn’t I speak up more? Now watching it, I just think it’s the most perfect high school period piece of history. You couldn’t have written it better. Everyone had issues. The kids that were doing things, the opinions, the bullying, the fancy kids, the dirty kids. All of it is so perfect. It’s so high school. I just think it’s the most perfect high school period piece of history. When I look back right now on 17 or 18 year olds, I think that they’re so young, like, “God, what does anybody know?” That’s what genius about it, though. You’re at a time in your life where this is the first time where you are testing the boundaries, you’re trying to find your independence from the institutions around you. We’re really lucky we have this video, because it’s like we get to go back in time, and it’s a very rare experience.
The video itself is also an amazing time capsule of the 90s. The Liz Phair song, the girls in the car with the sunglasses, even making the zine. How long after the video did you guys keep in tune with the riot grrrl movement? You know, the attitude and the ethos?
Amber: I really identified with Kurt Cobain and basically idolized him. He had a quote that said, “I hate myself, and I wanna die.” So I wrote that in a textbook, and no one else knew where that came from, so when somebody found it, it was like, “Emergency. Get this girl on medication.” I was just kind of writing a quote that I wanted to be extreme, and that’s what I identified with at that time.
After that year, I left that high school because I wanted to go to an art high school, because I was like, “This is a lie. This is supposed to be a liberal arts high school, and here we are being liberal, and it’s not flying.” So I transferred to an arts high school and was there for a year. And there, I didn’t know anybody. I definitely wasn’t a Dirty Girl anymore. I didn’t have a label, I wasn’t a certain type of person. I think I started listening to slightly different music. Just the natural progression. I wasn’t into high school at all, so I got my GED and went to college early. So after 10th grade, I just went to community college. I just wanted to be around a more mature crowd.
Harper: I remember at a certain point going to the riot grrrl conventions and attaching myself to the basic beliefs behind women in society, and everything I mentioned in the video. I also felt I was surrounded by a lot of angry people. For me, that didn’t settle. When I started to feel that, I started to step away from it. I wanted more options in the world, and I wanted more positive energy.
The Dirty Girls today.
What do people who know you say when they see the video? Like your friends or your parents?
Amber: They really see my personality in there. Almost everybody says, “Oh, that’s so you. That’s your personality!”
Harper: People are loving it. They say they are so impressed by us specifically that we were able to be so confident and not give a shit what people were saying about us, that we were dropping knowledge at 13 years old. From friends and family, people are proud of us. “We loved you now, we loved you then.”
Amber: You do go, “Wow, like, that’s sort of an intense piece of information to have blasted out there, especially if you’re a professional, which we both are today. Some of the family assets are held with an investment firm, so I work very closely with the vice president of that firm. She’s from this sort of Las Vegas Mafia family—wears 80s Gucci pants, very professional and fancy and tough. I was like, “Oh, no, she saw it. What if she thinks I’m not a professional?” And she totally was like, “You guys rock!”
So, the world wants to know what became of the Dirty Girls?
Harper: I’m a photographer and videographer. I’ve been living in New York for six years. Amber and I have had some opportunities to work together, which was awesome. I graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and straight out of graduation, the two of us had an opportunity to go travel and do some filming together. I’ve done a few feature films. We just got back from India a week ago, maybe 10 days ago.
Amber: I’ve done a lot of things. Today, I work with the family business. We manufacture a shatter-proof wine glass. It looks like crystal, but it bounces. Our family is very entrepreneurial. We do that, and we also have some real estate. I basically flipped one of Lucille Ball’s first homes in Palm Springs and turned it into an event space. That’s careerwise, but who we are lifewise is just a moving forward with a frontier, pioneer spirit, trying to figure out how to live life bigger and better.
More stuff about online videos, Riot Grrrls, and High School-