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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interview with Liz Funk, author of Supergirls!

Liz Funk, author of the new book, Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Crisis of Overachieving Girls, is on a virtual book tour--and a mission to widen everyone's tolerance and respect for being the imperfect, interesting, great people we all are.

In this interview with yours truly, Liz talks about how girls today feel they need to be perfect, gives insight into why trying to be
perfect diminishes quality of life and relationships, and shares some tips on how to cherish being genuine. Enjoy!

JB: You’ve done a lot of research and interviewing for your book, Supergirls Speak Out, where you indicate that many girls and women today feel they have to be perfect, or “supergirls” who can do and be everything. Why do they have this feeling? What is particularly going on in our society that makes women feel so pressured?

LF: Girls today want to be a perfect 10. They want to excel at everything they attempt; in short, they’re perfect. Sadly, I think many young women get the message from the media, from their peer groups, and most notably, from themselves, that they have to be perfect if they want to be loved. It’s largely caused by sexism in society (especially in high schools and teen youth culture), the media, and our fast-pasted culture that doesn’t really encourage young people to spend much solitary time alone with their thoughts—they’re too busy blogging, and tweeting, and Facebooking!

JB: Is this an issue unique to the current female generation? Or, how does it tie in with past generations’ struggles for gender equality?

LF: The first draft of my book actually had a chapter about how the Supergirl dilemma is nothing new; it’s just the new century’s version of “the feminine mystique” that plagued women in the 1950’s! However, the tone of the chapter didn’t quite work, so I cut it (my initial major in college was women’s studies, so sometimes I have a tendency to write in a very academic way and bring up Friedan and Dworkin when it’s not the right place to do it. Haha…). Anyway, I think that what we are seeing here with the Supergirl dilemma is actually the exact same problem as “the feminine mystique” with symptoms that are the exact opposite. In the 1950’s; women were told that there was one way to be a woman—to be a loving homemaker mother who kept herself extremely busy with being pretty, having the latest swirling skirts and washing machine, and jetting off to PTA meetings and social committees, all in an effort to distract herself from the fact that society’s prescribed role for women was very limiting. Today, girls are told that there’s one way to be a girl: be a good daughter who keeps herself extremely busy with being pretty, having the latest season’s miniskirt and sweaters from American Eagle and the Gap, and keeping extremely busy with school and work and extracurricular activities, all in an effort to distract herself from the fact that society’s prescribed role for women is very limiting. There is the obvious difference that in the 1950’s, young women weren’t encouraged to be smart or intellectual or leaders, and today, young women are required to be intellectual and leaders, but at the end of the day, I would argue that the Supergirl dilemma is the second major crisis for young women since “the feminine mystique” that mostly arose because feminism’s work hasn’t been finished yet. We need to teach young women that it’s good to be a girl, and that they don’t need to feel confined to adhering to a very limiting female ideal in exchange for their community or their peer group’s approval.

JB: In your opinion, how does today’s media play into how women feel about themselves? What particular sources have what effects?

LF: I think the biggest problem in today’s media is that the women in the media look perfect. Female celebrities have never been thinner—Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, Nicole Richie, etc. etc.—but also, we’ve never had celebrities all conforming to one limiting female ideal before: long hair, charming and giggly, and not particularly rebellious, like Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, and Jennifer Aniston (although I do love all three of these actresses). I don’t think that Angelina Jolie could have ever gotten famous today in her punk-rebel stage, because every female celebrity we see is well-groomed and nice and extroverted. Also, there are a lot of fictional Supergirls that influence how the girls at home feel about themselves: Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, the girls of Gossip Girl, and even Hannah Montana—although these are lovable characters, they give even the youngest girls the idea that beauty and success are simultaneous requirements and that you should make it look as though both come easily.

JB: What role do you feel women have in contributing to each other’s self-esteem or lack of confidence?

LF: Once young women observe perfect women in the media, they emulate having a perfect exterior, and then that model of perfection starts to take off in peer groups. I think that once one girl in a social circle—whether we’re talking in high school, in college, or among twentysomethings—starts to appear effortlessly perfect, her friends and her peers try to imitate that, and it snowballs from there.

JB: What are the consequences of trying to be perfect for individual women, their relationships, and even society or the world?

LF: Statistically, more young women than ever before are considering suicide, and I think it’s no coincidence that this is happening simultaneously with the rise of Supergirls. There are other mental health repercussions that I observed amongst girls, like anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, and depression. And I think the broadest problem is not having a sense of self; not having an identity outside of being a Supergirl or a hard worker.

JB: What are some tips you have for girls and women to positively feel they can be and do whatever they want, without feeling they must be perfect?

LF: First and foremost, girls should get some hobbies. Find things that you enjoy and that you feel passionate about that have nothing to do with work. For example, I just took up the oboe, I love to paint, I love to go to art museums, I love to read novels, and I love stupid movies (like Grandma’s Boy, Superbad, and Little Nicky). Make collages with pictures of random things that you find intriguing. Turn off the lights in your room and listen to music with your eyes closed. Meditate. Find your center! And the most revolutionary thing women can do is look in mirror and say aloud, “I love you. I appreciate you. You matter.” Say it enough, and I think the Supergirls will start to mean it, and see their Supergirl selves fading away.

Young women need to find their sense of intrinsic worth—why they matter regardless of what they look like, what other people think of them, how they make others feel, and what they’ve accomplished. Everyone has worth and everyone has value, and girls need to realize that when they are sitting on their couch in their jammies at 3pm on Saturday afternoon with their hair greasy and their nail polish chipping, they are just as special and just as important as when their hair is blown-dry and they are in a minidress and leggings out on the town for the night with a cute date! What I recommend is that young women spend as much time as possible embracing their creativity, developing their tastes and their personality, and finding themselves! Young women need to find their value, and I think the best way to do that is to be alone with one’s thoughts, spend time alone with oneself, and start to enjoy spending time alone and enjoy listening to one’s internal monologue.

JB: You mentioned that, under the pressure to be perfect, girls and women are oftentimes afraid to be themselves. What are some ways girls and women can feel comfortable exploring and being who they are?

LF: I absolutely love the movie Juno. Casting aside the movie’s puzzling treatment of abortion, I love the character Juno and how unafraid she was to be herself; she liked guitars and punk music and sarcasm and funky clothes. And I think that if more girls could embrace their inner-Juno, and be exactly who they want to be, regardless of whether it would affect how others see them or their place on the social totem pole, we’d be in great shape.

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