15 Years On, Mean Girls Is Still Ahead Of Its Time
A lot of things happened in 2004; first and foremost, it was my last year of primary school and I couldn’t wait to leave and finally feel like a grown up.
At 10 years old, I should have felt like I had my whole life ahead of me but then Charlie announced he was leaving Busted and quite frankly, I was heartbroken.
All drama aside though, there were some moments of light in my otherwise misery-filled life (okay, now the drama’s being pushed to one side – promise). That being the fact Mean Girls was released that same year.
Watch the trailer if you feel like being personally victimised by Regina George:
Yep: Fifteen years ago today, Mean Girls introduced us to the concept of fetch and ensured choruses of ‘You go Glen Coco’ every time someone needs a bit of motivation.
Feel ancient yet? I do. I still remember sitting down to watch the film with my friends a couple of years after it was first released (it was a 12 rating, duh) – and I’ve been quoting it ever since.
An American teen comedy, the film had me in stitches with Karen’s first cousin dilemmas and Kevin G’s mathlete rap. Oh, and not forgetting Damian’s performance of Beautiful at the Winter Talent Show. Inspired.
But Mean Girls was actually so much more than that. Unafraid to tackle issues of self-love, slut-shaming, and bullying (in all its forms), the film resonated with so many young girls and guys my age.
And it still does, which explains why the film remains so relevant today. Mean Girls tackled issues other teen comedies were afraid to touch upon, hence why it’s still unrivalled 15 years later.
So why was this teen comedy so different to the rest, I hear you asking. At first glance, it might seem like just another superficial film about teenage girls trying to navigate their way through high school. After all, there’s enough talk of boys, cliques and fashion to finish off Kevin G’s rap for him.
But if we take a closer look at the themes Mean Girls tackles, and the journeys each character embarks upon throughout, it becomes clear just how far ahead of its time the film was.
Take, for example, the way Mean Girls handles body image. Almost immediately, we see the school population describing Regina as ‘flawless’, and ‘pretty’, and yet she is still persistently striving to lose three pounds.
Why? It soon becomes clear; as Cady befriends the Plastics, she becomes aware that despite being the most popular girls in school, none of them particularly like their bodies very much.
As they stand in Regina’s ginormous bedroom, Gretchen bitches about her hairline, Regina complains about her supposedly huge pores, and Karen declares that her nail beds suck. Looking expectantly towards Cady (because obviously she must hate something), the newbie panics and blurts out, ‘I have really bad breath in the morning’.
The scene is funny, don’t get me wrong. But it works because it emphasises just how ridiculous it is that girls are encouraged from a young age to compete in this vicious circle of loathing for our looks and for our bodies.
For the three mean girls, it was incomprehensible that Cady could look at herself and not find something to complain about. But she genuinely couldn’t, hence the hilarious and slightly gross morning breath comment.
And then comes the clincher, as Cady narrates:
I thought there was only fat and skinny, but apparently there are a lot of things that can be wrong with your body.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? As a teenage girl, there are so many things that can be wrong with your body – if we believe what we’re told in magazines and on social media, that is.
From as young as 11, I remember desperately trying to change the way I looked. From plucking my eyebrows beyond repair because a boy told me I had ‘Charlie from Busted eyebrows,’ to only eating Cup a Soups because I felt as though I was fatter than all of my friends, I felt like an anomaly.
Looking back now, I can see that my eyebrows were perfectly fine – as was my body – but try telling that to a teenage girl who thinks she needs to look like the models we see on magazine covers.
And that’s exactly why Mean Girls was so spot on, because it shone a light on the bullshit high school mentality that you have to be thin, pretty, and popular in order to be successful in life. It showed that that just wasn’t true.
As soon as Cady started acting like a mean girl and changing her sense of self, she lost everything that was important to her. Her friends fell out with her, ‘you’re plastic. Cold, shiny, hard plastic’; her parents didn’t even recognise her, ‘who are you?’; and she lost the boy of her dreams, ‘you know what? You are just like a clone of Regina’.
And for what? Just so she could wear pink on Wednesdays and take over from Regina as queen bee? What was the point?
One of the most important lines in the film, for me, comes when Ms. Norbury (aka Tina Fey, a legend) talks with all the girls about how they speak to and about one another.
As they bicker in the gymnasium, Ms. Norbury addresses the entire room and says:
You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.
It’s true; in just 90 minutes, we see the words ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and ‘ho’ getting thrown around way too much. And each one of them is uttered by the girls in the film.
First, we hear it from Janis Ian, who – when describing Regina to Cady – says that although she might seem like your ‘typical selfish, back-stabbing, slut-faced ho-bag,’ she’s actually so much more than that.
Then we hear it from Cady, who describes Halloween as the one night of the year when girls can dress as ‘total sluts’ but no other girls can say anything about it. The queen bee herself also says her fair share of the word, telling Cady that Karen should be Spring Fling Queen because she’s pretty, but ‘people forget about her because she’s such a slut’.
Interestingly, when Regina describes herself from the others’ perspective as she’s putting her own picture in the Burn Book, she uses the terms ‘nastiest skank bitch’ and ‘fugly slut’.
Now, she could just be trying to use the most offensive terms possible to get her friends in trouble and shit stir even further. But I think it’s more than that; I think, because the girls have become so accustomed to throwing the insult around, it’s left its mark and Regina might actually believe those things about herself.
So when Ms. Norbury calls out this kind of behaviour and says it needs to stop if the girls want to be treated with respect by other people, it’s a real wake up call. Both to the girls in the movie and to those watching at home.
Because let’s face it, how many times have we – as women – judged another woman for what they’re wearing? How many times have we slut-shamed because someone might act slightly different to us?
It’s all well and good getting outraged when we witness a man calling our friends demeaning names, or sticking up for another woman when she gets catcalled in the street, but we can’t ever hope for it to end until we stop doing it behind each other’s backs.
Tina Fey shone a light on internalised sexism before most of us knew it was a thing, and taught us we need to treat each other with respect and stop tearing each other down. That’s just, like, the rules of feminism!
What’s interesting to me is the fact that, as a teenager, I took the film at face value and didn’t grasp how important it truly was. Sure, I thought it was funny in places, but I think it was all a bit too close to home for me to ever really grasp the genius of it.
When Regina kept saying she needed to lose three pounds, teenage me thought: ‘I need to lose five’. When Cady dumbed herself down to get Aaron’s attention, I thought: ‘maybe I should do that too’. And when that random girl said she wished she could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, I thought: ‘she doesn’t even go here!’ Lol, jk.
Tina Fey – the mastermind behind Mean Girls – has alluded to exactly that, saying adults are the only ones laughing when they see the film because it’s too much like reality for teenagers.
As per Cinema Jam, Fey said about the film:
Adults find it funny. They are the ones who are laughing. Young people watch it like a reality show. It’s much too close to their real experiences so they are not exactly guffawing.
Now, I watch Mean Girls and realise just how inspired it was. Upon rewatching it (and rewatching it, and rewatching it), I’ve realised the true message of the film is just to do you and not care about what others think.
The ending emphasises exactly that; with Regina having transformed from queen bee into badass jock, Janis and Kevin G putting on some serious displays of PDA, and Karen becoming a weather girl, it’s made clear that the preconceptions of popularity which ruled the school only days before just don’t matter.
And if they don’t matter, why do we need to bother with them in the first place? The film captured the voice of teenagers perfectly and showed that, regardless of what clique you’re in or what clothes you wear, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
Which is exactly why, for me, the film is timeless and remains ahead of its time – even 15 years after its release. Turns out the limit really doesn’t exist on the number of times you can watch it.
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