From 2003 to 2006, I wanted to be Mischa Barton. I wanted hair that didn’t frizz upon meeting water. I wanted to wear Polo shirts and A-line skirts without looking like a warped pear. I wanted to pull off a small shoulder bag with ease. I wanted her height, her O.C. house, and I wanted Marissa Cooper’s access to name-brand (read: American Eagle) clothing. I wanted to woo the likes of Ben McKenzie and/or Ryan Atwood, and, like Marissa, I wanted a few life montages set to Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” (Minus the very last one, duh.) Which, considering that Mischa Barton is only one year younger than I am, made sense. At the time (between the ages of 18 and 21), it was easy to project my ideas about her character and red carpet persona onto a real, live, human person. So her fall from the A-list seemed like a sad and disappointing surprise, instead of an understandable effect of the unrealistic expectations (see: “Be Marissa!”) we were all throwing at her. When Marissa Cooper was killed in The O.C.’s season-3 finale, it shook us (me) all to our (my) very cores — especially since what followed for Barton was a very public downward spiral. At the time (and at ages when I don’t think many of us were willing to really understand addiction, mental health, and the effects of growing up in Hollywood), Barton’s name was a constant in tabloids. Perez Hilton cruelly nicknamed her, she was subjected to digs about her fluctuating weight, she made an unfortunate (and bizarre) appearance on a 2010 episode of Fearne Cotton’s series, and eventually revealed in a 2013 interview with People that all of this led to a breakdown. In short, she turned out to be a human, and not a TV character. Which makes her return to television even more exciting. Last week, it was rumored that after a few years on the sidelines, Mischa Barton would be joining the next season of Dancing With the Stars alongside the likes of Jodie Sweetin and The Facts of Life’s Kim Fields, and today on Good Morning America, it was confirmed. And to that I say, yes: Dance, Mischa, dance. Dance like you’ve never danced before. I mean, we can pretend that we’re beyond watching our former obsessions appear on reality television. We can tell ourselves that gigs like that are just an attempt to stay in the spotlight, or that we wouldn’t take the opportunity if it were offered to us (we would for sure). We can act superior and judge in 140 characters or less (while still watching religiously). But let’s not forget that Dancing With the Stars isn’t Celebrity Big Brother or even Celebrity Apprentice (not that there’s anything wrong with those), and has instead delivered us the likes of Brandy, Maya, and Nicole Scherzinger — a.k.a. artists we actually care about — in choreographed-and-competing form. And then let’s remember that we don’t actually know any of these people, and if we’ve got a problem with celebrities we recognize learning to dance well, we don’t have to watch them.
Or we could watch them. Because while we may all remember Mischa Barton best as the 2000s-era Teen We All Wanted to Be™, a decade later she’s a grown-ass woman who’s been through more than the rest of us have put together. And that means her return to the public eye should be on her own terms. It should be representative of the person she is now, and in no way tied to the woman she once was. And, considering the furthest thing from Newport Beach is a dance competition stacked with famouses, a turn on Dancing With the Stars could be a harmless (and fun!) way to return to “celebrity” without putting on a Polo shirt and denim mini. Because I only want to see Mischa re-ascend the throne if she’s having a blast doing it — which should be a sentiment echoed by anyone who followed and sounded off on her early-aughts career. When she was on The O.C., we weren’t as aware of the expectations placed on actors under the microscope, which means catching reruns of our former go-to teen drama also offers a reminder that we obsessed over a young person who was very publicly flailing. We may have loved Marissa Cooper, but Mischa’s reality was entirely different. And now, as ever, she deserves to navigate it in her own way. So I’m here for Mischa Barton living her best reality TV life. I’m excited for her to be herself and start another professional chapter in the wake of an arguably painful one. I’m happy whenever anybody gets a chance to rise like a phoenix (especially through dance, let’s be serious), and considering Marissa Cooper was once my queen, I hope the woman that brought her to our TVs and dorm rooms (here’s to O.C. nights with our respective posses) can re-ascend the throne with a gig that requires far less melodrama. Or, more specifically, I hope we celebrate Barton's re-emergence and her choice to re-enter the celebrity landscape in a way that makes her feel most comfortable.