The Mean Girl Trope
Photographed by Mary Gemilhac of Elise Kobayashi, Mariah Thompson, Cami Watkins, and McKenna Gallagher
Styled by Izzy DeMers
Directed by Kennedy Ray
Hair and Makeup by Izzy DeMers
Stylist Assist: Marissa Fisher
Photography Assist: Maddison Hill
By Ashley Chase
Powerful, ambitious, popular, fashionable, assertive, and confident. These all seem like positive characteristics, right? Ironically, these characteristics all describe the classic mean girl. She has many facets: an icon, an idol, a queen, a bitch, an antagonist, and a massive fashionista. We have seen her in nearly every teen movie and show: the Heathers from Heathers, Sharpay Evans from High School Musical, Jennifer from Jennifer’s Body, and Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girls are all famous examples. Perhaps the most prominent example lies in the legendary Regina George from Mean Girls. The mean girl trope, while incredibly entertaining, is inherently problematic in a patriarchal society.
Does the mean girl trope assist in the patriarchal division of women? The mean girl trope has a never-ending tendency to pit women against women. A divided group of women will never be as powerful as a unified one and the patriarchy knows this. It is easier to suppress and objectify a separated group of people. The mean girl trope from has demonstrated to girls from an early age that they cannot trust other girls. They have taught us that girls would rather tear each other down than build each other up. Beyond this, the mean girl trope teaches girls that the way to become powerful and elite is to be cruel to other girls. This is an unacceptable way of behaving and getting one’s way. Furthermore, the mean girl trope is harmful in the ways it places a woman’s worth on external values. Mean Girls showed that a mean girl is “nothing” without her boyfriend, her body, and her followers. Two-thirds of a girl’s power is deep-rooted in patriarchal beliefs. The ignorant belief that a woman needs a man to maintain her status and power is severely outdated and disrespectful. In fact, the whole reason Cady began sabotaging Regina was because she got back together with the boy Cady liked. Thus, suggesting that girls sabotage and hurt one another as a means of getting the man they desire. And, of course, what would a 2000’s teen movie be without the substantial dose of body-shaming? As you may recall, one of the deceitful ways to make Regina lose her popularity in Mean Girls was to make her unknowingly gain weight. This is sending the incredibly harmful message to girls that their worth lies in their weight and the way their body looks.
The mean girl trope is perpetuated by fashion. What does every on-screen mean girl have in common? She has an extraordinary sense of fashion and style. Often, her wardrobe consists of many feminine pieces including mini-skirts, crop tops, tighter clothing, heels, and lots of pink. The mean girl is the epitome of feminine style and fashion. What message does this send to young girls? Does femineity equate to being a mean girl? The more we associate hyper-femineity with being the narcissistic, self-absorbed mean girl, the more afraid girls become of expressing their femineity. Many girls go through a phase of hating pink, could it be because this color is symbolic of the classic mean girls? Did the fun quote “On Wednesdays we wear pink” do more damage than we intended? The mean girl trope implies that girls can only be evil when they are extremely feminine. As Teen Magazine pointed out, “Janis’ darker clothing and judgement of all thing's ‘girly’ made her exempt from being a ‘mean girl’,” (Mccall, 2021). Janis was just as manipulative as Regina but could not have been a mean girl due to her lack of feminine (and pink) clothing choices. This is a famous example of the “I’m not like other girls” phenomenon, feeding into the assumption that being feminine and girly is always a negative thing. As Blair Waldorf eloquently stated, “Fashion is the most powerful art there is…It shows the world who we are and who we’d like to be.” This trope has created a powerful association between feminine ways of dressing and being ‘mean girl.’ Girls are interpreted as being a bitch, a slut, or a narcissist based solely on the way they dress. How many of these associations stem from movies and shows that feature the mean girl trope?
The mean girl is confident, powerful, assertive, and ambitious. The negative portrayal of these qualities in the mean girl trope is insinuating that a powerful girl is a bitch, and a confident girl is a narcissist. The worst part about this portrayal is that girls are also taught that they are weak, that lack of confidence is unattractive. So, if you are powerful and assertive, you are a bitch, but if you are quiet and agreeable, then you are weak. If you are too confident, you are self-absorbed, but if you are not timid, that is undesirable. This really is a double-edged sword: you are damned if you do, damned if you do not. Furthermore, the mean girl is portrayed as an unattainable ideal that all other girls strive to be. This is true even when the mean girl is a murderer, such as in the movies Jawbreaker and Jennifer’s Body. We are taught to want the mean girls’ looks, confidence, power, and status no matter how unrealistic and unattainable. Yet, we are also shown that there is no place lonelier than the top, with backstabbing friends and self-worth dependent on looks.
Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The rise in popularity of being a “girl’s girl” is a positive step in the right direction. Essentially, being a “girl’s girl” means that girls are uplifting and supporting each other instead of tearing each other down. This is a welcome change from the belief that girls are out to get each other. Girls are also becoming more accepting of displaying their femineity and dressing in these ‘mean girl’ styles, as can be seen in the resurrection of the Y2K style (reminiscent of 2000s fashion era). It is time we realize that women can be powerful, confident, ambitious, assertive, fashionable, and feminine without being an antagonistic mean girl.