At this point, I think not having seen Mean Girls at least once is almost as bad as not knowing the “Jingle Bell Rock.” But seriously, this movie is the best. It’s non-stop laughs from start to finish, and the thing is, a lot of it's funny because it’s true.
The first time I watched Mean Girls I was struck by how many things I saw play out in the movie I had experienced in real life. In an exaggerated way a lot of the time, as is to be expected from a movie, but still. If you want to understand the life of an upper middle-class American teenage girl, this is a pretty great movie to watch.
One big part of the movie is all the beauty and fashion rules that Cady Heron had to follow when she joined the Plastics. And the other day while talking to my little sister, I realized how the fashion trend phenomena that we see play out in Mean Girls has been amplified, in many ways for the worse, by social media.
The Army Pants and Flip Flops Effect
We all know the famous line:
Were the Plastics the original influencers? You probably can still picture the popular girl from your high school and the things that she influenced you to buy. If I had to bet money on it, I’d say that kind of thing has been going on for a very long time.
But only with the advent of social media could girls' fashion choices be influenced by people who aren’t exactly celebrities and who aren’t people that you know either (even if it feels like you do sometimes). Enter the Emma Chamberlain Effect.
We’ve all heard about the Meghan Effect by now. When either Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton wears something everyone rushes out to buy it, and it sells out super fast. Heck, I just found these super affordable shoes they’ve both been seen in and plan on ordering a pair. It’s essentially the same idea, except that Emma Chamberlain is a Gen Z icon.
Just like Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, Emma Chamberlain is capable of making clothing items completely sell out by wearing something just once.
That’s it. That’s the photo. I see a really pretty girl, but nothing super special about anything she’s wearing. A lot of the items look super on trend, which speaks to the amount of influence she has.
The thing is, this one photo, per what my sister told me, caused flared leggings (or yoga pants, depending on how old you are) to completely sell out. Yes, that’s the photo that the debate over what those pants are called originated with. There were articles about the new yoga pants trend on websites from WhoWhatWear to TeenVogue to Refinery29, each of them referencing Emma Chamberlain.
It’s Worse Than “On Wednesdays We Wear Pink”
Okay, so there’s nothing wrong with a bunch of girls buying yoga pants because a YouTuber they like wore them. This has been going on forever, just not in the same way. Where I think the problem starts is with how fast the trends change online.
Fashion trends today move at a rapid speed. The popular girl’s budget hopefully had some limitations and she couldn’t run out and buy a completely new wardrobe overnight. (Something which has been the subject of many YouTube videos as of late). And while there’s nothing wrong at all with changing your wardrobe to something that you really love, doing it all at once just isn’t sustainable for the average girl, especially when what’s cute changes overnight. But when influencers get sent lots of free clothes and have all the money in the world to spend, even middle-class girls who have plenty can start to feel like it isn’t enough. How many new trends can there be each week?
It’s no longer on Wednesdays we wear pink, which is consistent and easy enough to follow. It's the color is now yellow. Oh, didn’t get to the mall in time? Sucks for you, it’s now sage green and brown. What? The new clothes I just purchased aren’t in anymore? It’s hard being a teenage girl.
You Can’t Wear White Gold Hoops
Remember when Gretchen told Cady about how Regina George wouldn’t let Gretchen wear hoops because they were “her thing.” And then Gretchen had to pretend not to like the white gold hoops she got for Christmas and “it was so sad.”
That whole idea that girls can never wear the same look as other girls is still there, but today it’s not just one girl telling you that that’s her thing or that you’re “copying her.” It’s that times one million.
Trends spread really fast on social media. But, ironically, once everybody starts wearing a certain trend, it quickly becomes “basic” because too many girls like it, so nobody wants to be seen in it anymore. It’s the paradox of trends. Once they reach a certain height they become stereotypes to be avoided. And social media has a tendency to blow things up so quickly that they come crashing down just as fast. But all that money you spent on the last fad can’t be put back into your purse. And for the average teenage girl, money can be hard to come by.
Maybe Magazines Were Better
As much as we talk about the unrealistic beauty standards created by gorgeous models in magazines, and I do think it's good that the people girls follow on social media have a chance of looking a bit more like them, at least these magazines were only coming out with the latest beauty trends once a month.
And if I had to bet, it’s really damaging to be constantly seeing the new cute thing that you just HAVE to have updated on your phone every minute, rather than when your monthly issue of TeenVogue or Seventeen (both of which have since gone downhill) comes in to be finished, thrown out, and probably pretty quickly forgotten about.
Don’t get me wrong. I love clothes and fashion inspiration. So much so that I write about it all the time! But teenage girls are already so focused on their looks. It can’t be helpful to have a constant reminder that their budgets just can’t keep up with the ideals being set by Instagram influencers and updated every five seconds. That’s something Cady Heron never had to deal with.
Ponytails, Jeans, Track Pants, and Instagram
Remember in Mean Girls when you could only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays? Yeah, well Instagram is kind of like that, only just a little bit worse. At least in Mean Girls you could get away with wearing things once a week. Remember you can only wear a ponytail once a week, so I guess you picked today? Well now it’s, you can only post a picture in an outfit once, so I guess you’ll have to get rid of it now.
American women have slowly developed this very consumerist mindset about clothing. It’s all about buying what’s new and on trend at the best price, rather than a piece you absolutely adore and wear to death. And I really believe that it’s because of Instagram and wanting to create this ideal of ourselves and our wardrobe online. Raise your hand if you have felt personally victimized by Regina George.
But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a thousand times, it’s okay to be recognized for the clothing that you wear. Most of us can’t afford not to have our outfit be recognizable! If it helps you embrace it, just know that outfit repeating is the French girl way.
So ditch the rules! Don’t be bullied by your own Instagram feed. It doesn’t get to be Regina George and tell you what you can and can’t wear.
Social media has done a lot of good. It’s easy access to lots of helpful tips about pretty much anything you could ever want to know about, but at the same time, it’s also a bigger tool of comparison than teenage girls have ever had before — and it’s right at their fingertips, being updated every second. So whether you’re a teenage girl, are a mom to one, or fall victim to a lot of the same traps, remember to turn off your phone every now and again and forget about your appearance for a little while.
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