I’ll admit I underestimated Hannah Brown.

I doubted whether the 24-year-old beauty queen had the presence and poise for the role. Could she string together “real, real words” for an entire season after struggling to do so in her first one-on-one date with Bachelor Colton Underwood? At the very end of Colton’s season, when Hannah met five of the men who would go on to compete for her heart, and she had to give one a rose, it was … awkward. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. Even Chris Harrison, the show’s host, later admitted that he worried they’d made a “huge mistake” in casting her.

But over the course of her season, Hannah surpassed expectations, proving to be an eloquent voice of empowerment. The season ended without a fiance, or even a relationship — a big step forward for a show that often pushes single women into a traditional version of happily ever after.

She was decisive in getting rid of men who weren’t there for the right reasons. During her premiere, she quickly booted Scott for having a girlfriend back home. She was open with her contestants, and with viewers, about her struggle with anxiety and depression.

Her season wasn’t all helicopter and yacht dates. When Hannah had to go to the hospital after passing out, rather than cancel a one-on-one date she had scheduled with Connor, she invited him to come hang out in her hotel room instead. It was a casual and authentic moment, as her suitor and the audience got to see Hannah without makeup or a flashy gown.

And even though it was frustrating for viewers to see Luke P., the season’s villain, stick around so far into the season, the way Hannah dismissed him decisively (and stood firm when he tried to return) was extremely powerful. Hannah would not let Luke demean her for what she did with the other men she was dating, which sounds simple, but for this show is huge.

“The Bachelorette” doesn’t have the strongest record when it comes to sex positivity. The show often appears to be judging the lead for her decision to have sex. In 2014, contestant Nick Viall pointedly questioned Bachelorette Andi Dorfman’s over why she “made love” to him if she wasn’t “in love” with him, implying that she should have only slept with him if he was going to be the winner. When Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe slept with a contestant — also Nick Viall — before the Fantasy Suites during her 2015 season, she ended up telling the camera that was a “mistake” and the other contestants were furious with her.

So seeing Hannah stand up to Luke when he judged her for having slept with at least one of the other finalists, saying “I have had sex . . . and Jesus still loves me,” wasn’t just an example of a strong woman standing up for herself, it was a strong woman standing up to the entire franchise.

But the most inspiring thing Hannah did: She had the courage to break up with her “winner” before the episode aired. In the finale, Hannah chose Jed Wyatt and accepted his marriage proposal. But then she read in People magazine that Jed had a girlfriend until the day he left to start filming “The Bachelorette.”

Later, Hannah and Jed met in a house in Los Angeles. Hannah confronted Jed about this relationship — and rather than feel pressured to keep him around, she let him go just as decisively as she had done all season. Again, this may sound like an obvious choice: He had lied to her, on multiple occasions, about the seriousness of his other relationship. But in Bachelor Nation, showing up without a ring for your “After the Final Rose” victory lap is often cast as failure.

Though “Bachelor” couples usually break up eventually, those on “The Bachelorette” usually do stick together. (One Bachelor Nation expert posits this is because the female leads are more practical about who will be a better match in their everyday lives.)

As Hannah sat on the couch, answering Harrison’s questions Tuesday night, she was disappointed but not defeated. “I want a husband. I don’t need one,” she said. She’d made the right choice in breaking up with Jed, she said, and had zero regrets over going on a dating show and emerging from it single and stronger than she was when she started. It was an important message to hear on a show that often casts being single as a problem to solve.

Remember Hannah’s preseason special where Harrison took one look at Hannah’s overstuffed closet and declared that he suddenly knew why she’d “been single so long”?! He said it in jest, sure, but the teasing comment echoed the impossible standards the show often places on its female stars: Always be camera-ready. Be beautiful but not too sexy. Be independent but not so strong-willed that no man will want you.

“That’s a good representation of my life: messy,” she responded. As her season unfolded, Hannah wasn’t afraid to shy away from any messes, be it her own exhaustion during filming, or dismissing a man who disagreed with her sexual choices — or one who was dishonest with her.

When she turned to her runner-up, Tyler, and asked if he would like to get a drink sometime, it was sweet and it was uncertain. And in a way, it was more satisfying than any definitive “happy ending” would have been. Real relationships don’t resolve all conflict the moment two people get engaged or walk down the aisle. Rather they stumble, thrive and grow in the mess.

Correction: An earlier version of this story noted that Hannah Brown slept with two of the finalists on “The Bachelorette.” It’s unclear whether it was one or more.

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