2009 at 10am Posted by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
Recently published March 2009 by Simon & Schuster
Here’s a description from the publisher:
Some girls seem to have it all…
The top grades
The best clothes
A great body
A cute boyfriend
But they may also have…
From grammar school girls to working women, the pressure to be perfect is spreading like a disease. These Supergirls feel the unrelenting need to succeed — sometimes at the cost of their own happiness and sanity. A recovering Supergirl herself, Liz Funk exposes the dangerous consequences that can come from striving for perfection. By closely following five girls and interviewing nearly one hundred more, she takes us inside the Supergirl psyche, explaining the causes of this phenomenon and showing how Supergirls can let their (sleek and shiny) hair down and find some time to relax and enjoy life!
With practical advice, biting humor, and the sensitivity of someone who’s been through it all, Funk’s Supergirls Speak Out is the absolutely necessary companion for any girl who thinks 100 percent just isn’t enough.
In Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls, 20-year-old Liz Funk, a Supergirl herself, explores the causes and consequences of many young women’s desire to “appear effortlessly perfect.” Combining journalistic research with slice-of-life portraits of 5 other Supergirls, Funk attempts to explain a very disturbing phenomenon that seems to be running rampant in the women of Generation Y.
As she presents stories from her own life—her drive to perfection during her teenage years resulted in eating disorders and a serious crisis of identity—and from the lives of impressive young women who seem to have it all, Funk challenges readers (who are, presumably, Supergirls themselves) to dig deeper and try to understand what it is that drives them to overachieve at all costs. She suggests that rather than wondering “What’s her secret?” when we see seemingly perfect girls who have straight As, participate in countless extracurricular clubs, play six sports, are flawlessly dressed, and still manage to have large groups of friends and a boyfriend (or a series of hook-ups), we should instead ask “what she’s trying to make up for or what she’s trying to hide.”
This idea that Supergirls, girls for whom 100% is never enough, who are never satisfied with their success—no matter how impressive—and who, at the core, never feel that they are good, are compensating for or hiding something is the key theme of Funk’s book. She even admits that in her own life,
What underlies all of these “accomplishments” is that I have never felt satisfied with my self.
Without fully endorsing a critical feminist approach, Funk takes up the argument that society is to blame for the messages that make Supergirls feel they are never good enough because “young women have been trained not to feel good about themselves, no matter what they do…[they] are dying for the validation and approval that society has historically denied them.” Definitions of femininity and what makes a girl “good” are confusing and often conflicting, and because they don’t have a clear idea of what they are “supposed” to be doing, Supergirls figure they should just do it all, and do it better than everyone else, if they want people to like and approve of them. (And, ultimately, if they want to someday feel satisfied with themselves.)
Schools, media, parents, and colleges feed into this idea by telling young people that they must do more and be better if they want to compete, to get into the best college, then get the best job, then find the perfect boyfriend. Things get even more complicated when young women look to the women who are idolized in the media—Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham, etc.—and realize that these women, “who represent what a woman should be, contribute absolutely nothing to society.”
To take it even one step further, when Supergirls do accomplish great things and achieve success, they often feel that they must apologize or compensate for doing so, because society doesn’t really reward powerful women. They’re threatening.
Funk’s interviews with Supergirls and her own self-disclosures reveal that, though Supergirls make it look easy to have everything and be perfect, it is really quite a struggle. And quite dangerous. Girls risk eating disorders, exhaustion, and severe psychological trauma when they are not willing to slow down, engage in some deep self-reflection, and change their priorities and habits.
As she explores the causes, rewards, conflicts, and potential dangers of being a Supergirl, Funk uses her own experiences to advise young women about how to deal with the pressures placed on them. She reassures Supergirls that it is possible to be successful and satisfied if you’re willing to do the work and look inside yourself to identify where the drive to perfection is coming from and what you can do to change your ways of thinking.
Supergirls Speak Out is written in rather chatty, informal language that will make it accessible to its target audience. Given that I am six years older than the author, solidly identify as a member of Generation X, and in a significantly different place in my life, I didn’t connect or identify with the book as well as other, younger readers probably will. Funk’s examples from movies, music, and media were a bit young for me, but that makes sense. I am not really her demographic.
Funk incorporates some discussion of feminist theory and research, particularly as it relates to women’s sexuality, but I would have liked a bit more. She also validates the fact that many young women are hesitant to identify as feminists because of how they fear they will be perceived, and I wasn’t really down with that. Also, I understand that part of the Supergirl image is having everything, including the perfect boyfriend, but Funk neglected to mention the ways in which this message is damaging for high-achieving young women who are not heterosexual, and I think some discussion of that could have been useful.
Additionally, I would have liked to see the author go a bit further in exploring how we can (and should) call for changes to society and the media. We need to start teaching young women how to think critically and be smarter consumers of media. We need to raise a generation of women who see through the BS and understand that it is driven by a desire to keep women in traditional roles, and we need to teach them how to break out of those roles in a healthy fashion.
But this isn’t a book about feminist theory, and it doesn’t purport to be, so I can’t really hold that against it.
Overall, I think this book is a nice resource for young girls who need to understand where their endless drive for perfection comes from and how they can begin to cope with and change it. It isn’t the end-all be-all, but Funk doesn’t intend it to be. Supergirls Speak Out is a conversation starter that I would recommend for young women and their parents and for anyone who wants to start understanding the women of Generation Y. 3.5 out of 5.
Special thanks to the author for sending me this book to review. Check out her website for more info.