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Beauty in the Movies: Mean Girls

This week for Beauty in the Movies I ask you to head back to what was either the best or worst time in your life—high school, in the hysterically funny and alarmingly accurate film Mean Girls.

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) grew up in Africa where she was home-schooled by her research zoologist parents, but at 16 after her mom lands a tenure teaching position she finds herself thrown into a new kind of  jungle; the American high school. Cady quickly learns that the poisonous snakes and carnivorous cats of her former home have nothing on the teenage girls who roam the halls of North Shore High. She is adopted by creative misfits Janice (Lizzy Caplan) and Damien (Daniel Franzese) who give her the low-down on the school’s social hierarchy starting at the top of the food chain with Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and her dim cronies Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried), who they’ve aptly nicknamed “The Plastics”. When the Plastics unsurprisingly take an interest in the hot new girl, Janice convinces Cady to infiltrate the group and expose Regina for the evil bitch she really is. She agrees, but being new to the dangerous world of girls she is easy prey for the cruel trickery of The Plastics, especially Regina. Before Cady knows it she is turning into cold, hard, shiny, plastic herself.

There are “plastics” in every school, they are equally worshiped and hated. Some are evil, but most are just lost or trying to fit in and win enough favor to avoid being tortured. I myself can relate so closely to the character of Janice that I find it eerie. It’s comforting to know that girls like me are just as prevalent as girls like Regina George in high schools across the country, most likely Tina Fey was one of them too. Janice is a direct reaction to Regina, she is the antithesis of everything the Plastics represent. While her plan to bring down Regina is fueled by revenge, fighting fire with fire is never a good idea, and although she has the best intentions, it’s hard not to see her, and Damien, as mean girls too.

This film has a great ensemble cast, Tina Fey and other SNL talents deliver laughs as expected (particularly Amy Poehler as Regina’s “cool” mom), McAdams, Chabert and Seyfried eat up the scenery and steal the show with their pitch-perfect teen girl hysterics and bitchery. Watching this film I can’t help but be sad about what has become of Lyndsay Lohan, she is so cute and brimming with potential in this role. Many of us thought this was just the first of many charming performances, but sadly both her career and her personal life seem to have gone downhill since Mean Girls hit theaters. I still remain hopeful that it’s just a phase and the bubbly, bright, redheaded girl onscreen in this movie will leave the tabloid madness behind and make a comeback sometime in the future—stay strong Lyndsay!

Tina Fey wrote her screenplay based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Wiseman’s book was written as a guide to help mothers understand the confusing and often brutal world their daughters navigate everyday. Tina Fey is a comic genius and this film proves that. She took instances from the book that many women could relate to and found not only humor in the ridiculous way girls treat each other, but also an opportunity to send a message without seeming preachy. Teenage girls can be ruthless and Mean Girls holds up the mirror, the actions of the girls may seem absurd, but if you’ve spent time with teens—and unfortunately some grown women as well, you know this film is filled with truth.

One of Mean Girls greatest moments comes when Fey’s character attempts to breakthrough to her female students “you’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores, it just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores” she begs. Before women can be respected by men, we have to respect one another and see other women as our equals instead of our opponents. It’s a deeply valuable lesson for women of all ages and it simply cannot be repeated often enough. Gossip and name calling are as innocent as a sucker-punch to the face, if we don’t take those abuses seriously then we deserve the sort of leaders that are born of that behavior. The sad part is that, like Cady, most girls and women have a natural instinct to be a friend, but all it takes is one mean girl to put everyone else on the defensive. The best way to deal with a queen bee is not to give her any power and the only way to do that is to be yourself no matter what she thinks of you.

While there are many aspects of the film that could come off as cliché, it wouldn’t be high school without them. Archetypes are more prevalent in high school than anywhere else—the jock, the homecoming queen, the lap-dog, and so on. For some it’s a survival method; stick with the pack, go unnoticed, avoid abuse. For others, it’s the opposite, if you can’t fit in then be as different as possible and embody it to the fullest—the goth, the stoner, the nerd. Most of us fit into some category when we were in high school. Whether we chose our character to blend in, or had it thrust upon us as a way of sticking out, as adults we have learned we can be many things at once. Yes, you can be prom queen and a mathlete at the same time, and it actually makes you more interesting in the end.

At one point Cady comes to the realization that “calling someone else fat doesn’t make you any skinnier” and the same goes for any mean thing you can say about someone, it doesn’t do anything to change why you feel bad about yourself. Which is really the only reason we talk about each other aside from plain old boredom. In the end there is a lesson for all women in this film; stop being so mean to each other. It’s a hard habit to break after so many years of practice and reinforcement, but if we work together instead of tearing one another down there is no doubt we could rule the world.

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