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Appalling Adolescent Angst

August 21, 2010

(Also, Arvik adores alliteration)

I mentioned last time that most of the books I brought to the cottage were duds. Desperation drove me to my younger sister’s books… these are books wherein the sturm und drang of high school life is painted in lurid detail. I’ll admit to craftily reading them, but I have so many issues with them, I don’t know where to start.

Let’s look at the extent to which these books glorify meanness (and no, I’m not sharing specific authors/titles). Fact of life: teenage girls have a huge capacity for cattiness. I’ve seen it. But are all girls like that? Heck, no. There are plenty of pleasant, caring teenagers out there. Unfortunately, they rarely exist in these books, and if they do, they’re the naive dorks who finish last. Message sent? Being mean/manipulative/self-centred is not only acceptable behaviour, it’s the best way to get what you want.

And what do the heroines (a term I use here with the utmost reluctance and caution) actually want? Popularity, status, and boys. Again and again, those are the driving desires. No one seems to look past high school, when their existing pecking order will disintegrate before their made-up little eyes. So, grades? Only nerds worry about those. The future? The future ends at prom. Global issues? If it doesn’t affect them personally, who cares? The lifestyle being flaunted astounds me. There is no sense of perspective. If these so-called heroines can’t deal with wearing knock-offs, how will they cope when life throws them real problems?

Now for the big one. Body image is a central issue in these books. On the one hand, at least they bring it into the open. On the other… Every single “popular girl” (ie, the ideal to which the heroine/reader looks) is described along the following lines: “underfed,” “enviable size zero,” “thin thighs,” “concave stomach.” I could go on, but my head hurts from being pounded into the keyboard. The correlation between a certain body type and social success is so strong, I could build a tank out of it. So I have to ask, Why on EARTH would you feed vulnerable, insecure teenagers this crap?

Being underfed is a bad thing. Size zero is a farce, not an ideal. Thighs come in all shapes and sizes, and a concave stomach, particularly on a female, typically indicates poor health/nutrition. And yet, this preoccupation with body size/shape is presented as the norm. In one book, the girls eat yogurt for lunch. Yogurt! And you know what’s truly frightening? The casual portrayal. Little Suzie reads this book and then looks at her ham sandwich, milk, and apple. What does she see? Waaaay more food than the pretty, successful girls are eating. And just look at her convex stomach. What, oh what, might it occur to Little Suzie to do?

I’m not saying these books cause disordered relationships with food. But I am saying that, in a girl who’s already teetering on the brink due to stress/insecurity/genetics/who knows, they might provide that final, fatal push.

Some of you might be saying, “But, Arvik, if you don’t like these books, don’t read them.” Fair point. Morbid curiosity aside, I don’t intend to. But that doesn’t mean I have to be silent. Young girls are capable of so much. Why are they being taught that their bodies and place in the pecking chain are the only things that matter? Why are singledom and happiness presented as being mutually exclusive? Why is it only the prudes and prats that abstain from drugs and alcohol?

The adolescent years are hard enough. So yes, let’s write about the issues they’ll face. But let’s have some intelligent, decent, confident protagonists tackle them. No more puppets; I want some real girls.

-Arvik

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One comment

  1. Very good article, well written and very thought out.



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