White Middle-and-Upper Class Teenage Girls in Popular Culture
Looking in the Popular Culture Mirror Essay
Have you ever heard someone say “She’s so white” about a teenage girl? This statement has a negative tone to it. White middle-and-upper class teenage girls are often portrayed in a negative light in popular culture media; however, some artifacts in today’s popular culture media are beginning to challenge and make fun of those stereotypes. There are some dominant stereotypes that stick out about white middle-and-upper class teenage girls. A lot of the time they are portrayed as being stuck-up, obsessed with appearance, and all about having fun. White middle-and-upper class teenage girls are also quite often portrayed as being very reliant on and spoiled by their parents. In addition, they are portrayed as divas who don’t care about anything that “really matters.” According to some of our popular culture media, their biggest problems consist of a bad hair day or smudged eye liner. While white middle-and-upper class teenage girls are often portrayed in a negative light, some artifacts challenge and make fun of those stereotypes.
Mean Girls is a movie about a girl who grows up in Africa and moves to Illinois when she is 16. She has been home schooled for her entire life. On her first day at a real high school, Cady meets three girls who are known as “the plastics.” These girls are an exclusive clique who take Cady in as one of their own. In the process, they influence her to become like them. Cady, who is very intelligent and studious, starts out making fun of the plastics with her friend Janis. However, the more time she spends with them, the more like them she becomes.
The fact that these four girls, who are all white teenagers in the middle and upper class, are known as the plastics in their high school says a lot about how white teenage girls are portrayed in popular culture media. The name itself implies that these girls are fake, materialistic, and obsessed with appearance. It also makes them sound like they are all about fashion and have no brains, which is exactly how these girls are portrayed in this movie.
One of the first things Regina, the leader of the plastics, says to Cady when they meet is “You’re really pretty.” When Cady says thanks, Regina jumps on that and asks if she agrees that she is pretty. This is an example of how white teenage girls are portrayed as being obsessed with appearance. In addition, the plastics feel that they need to make Cady like themselves, both in appearance and personality, in order for her to become one of them. As a result, they influence how she dresses, how she does her hair and her makeup, as well as who she associates herself with. On day one, they lay out all their rules for Cady. They tell her what she can wear and when she can wear it, how she is allowed to do her hair, and who she can be friends with. These examples illuminate how white teenage girls are portrayed as materialistic divas who are obsessed with their image and reputation.
On the other hand, one could make the argument that Mean Girls is acknowledging the stereotypes associated with white middle-and-upper class teenage girls by making fun of those stereotypes. For instance, the plastics’ role in the movie could be to make fun of these stereotypes. In addition, one could make the argument that Cady represents a different type of white teenage girl. Although she does eventually become influenced by the plastics in many ways, in the beginning of the movie she is very bright, studious, diligent, and not materialistic in the slightest. She is an example of a white teenage girl who is not stuck-up. In fact, her goal in the beginning of the movie, along with her friend Janis, is to become one of the plastics in order to spy on them and make fun of them behind their backs. In this way, she is nothing like the three plastics and does not want to be one of them. I argue that Mean Girls is making fun of popular culture stereotypes about white middle-and-upper class teenage girls. Roger Ebert, who reviewed Mean Girls, agrees, arguing that Mean Girls “even contains some wisdom.” He says that the movie excludes many cliches that most teenage comedies “cannot do without.”
Another movie that portrays stereotypes about white middle-and-upper class teenage girls is Legally Blonde. In this movie, Elle Woods, who is a blonde college student, gets her heart broken by her ex-boyfriend. In order to win him back, she works hard to get into Harvard Law School and succeeds. In the end of the movie, she becomes a very bright, educated, and successful lawyer.
In the beginning of the movie, Elle is portrayed as a dumb blonde party diva who is all about having fun with her sorority sisters. She is very girly and materialistic. A. O. Scott describes Elle as “a perky sorority sister who resides in a cloud of pink fluff . . .” However, the second half of the movie depicts Elle in a completely different light. Even though she is still girly and loves fashion, in the end of the movie, she is very diligent, studious, and successful. In this way, Legally Blonde challenges stereotypes about white teenage girls. Scott argues that Elle “is smarter than the movie.” He goes on to point out that the movie makes fun of her in one scene, yet admires her in the next. I argue that the reason Elle is both made fun of and admired at the same time is because the makers of the movie want to poke fun at these stereotypes, yet show that there is more to Elle than the stereotypes that apply to her.
There is a video on YouTube entitled “Types of White Girls.” In this video, a girl (who is not white) lists and acts out the types of white girls that she perceives to exist. Some of these types of white girls are seen in both Mean Girl and Legally Blonde. The main one that sticks out is the dumb blonde. The plastics in Mean Girls and Elle in Legally Blonde are portrayed as dumb blondes. Another type from the video that applies to these two movies is the spoiled brat. The only girl who is not spoiled by her parents in Mean Girls is Cady. In Legally Blonde, Elle is definitely spoiled in every way. Next is the emo white girl, which applies to Cady’s friend, Janis, in Mean Girls. The intent of this YouTube video could be one of two things. It could either be pointing out the types of white girl stereotypes to make fun of them as the two movies do, or it could be pointing out the types of white girls that the maker of the video perceives to exist. It is hard to tell which is the case, because in her introduction to the video, the girl says “These are the types of white girls,” while her caption to the video says “These are the types of white girl stereotypes.”
In an ABC Family show called Pretty Little Liars, there are three white middle-and-upper class teenage girls (there is a fourth girl; however, she is Asian American). They are not spoiled, even though their parents are very well off, nor do they act bratty. Instead, these three girls are depicted as bright, independent, pretty, fashionable young women. Even though they are fashionable, they do not come across as being appearance-obsessed or materialistic. Spencer Hastings represents white girls in the best light. Daughter of two successful lawyers, her family is very well off. Everyone in her family is intelligent and works hard. Spencer is exceptionally bright and is one of the top of her class. However, she is not stuck up or prideful about any of her accomplishments. Rather than being arrogant, she is loving and caring and tries to help others whenever she can. Next, Hanna Marin is the fashionista of the group. However, her love of clothing and lip gloss does not take away from her other qualities. She is bright, kind, and confident. Still, she is not stuck up or superficial, as white teenage girls are often depicted as in popular culture. Lastly, Aria Montgomery has a style of her own. Like Hanna and Spencer, she is pretty, sweet, and bright. She genuinely cares about others and their well-being.
It is important to point out the characteristics of these three girls, because rather than portraying popular culture stereotypes about white teenage girls, Pretty Little Liars portrays white teenage girls in a better light. In real life, not every white middle-and-upper class teenage girl is fashionable, intelligent, and kind. However, portraying Spencer, Hanna, and Aria in a positive light gives white teenage girls a new representation.
While white middle-and-upper class teenage girls are often portrayed in a negative light in today’s popular culture media, some movies and TV shows are beginning to recognize stereotypes that exist and are making fun of them. By doing so, they portray white middle-and-upper class teenage girls in a better light. Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, and Pretty Little Liars are just a few media artifacts that give white teenage girls a chance to be represented in a more positive light.
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