Not So Fetch

Let's Agree To Agree That Mean Girls Hasn't Aged Entirely Well

Here’s a guide to watching this morally questionable but classic and delightful film with your kids.

Written by Elizabeth Narins
Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, and Lindsay Lohan (not pictured) starred in the 2004...
Paramount Pictures

Oh, how I love any excuse to rewatch Mean Girls when I should be, like, folding laundry or finishing my book club book! But as a newly minted girl mom, parts of the classic high school movie just aren't sitting well for me anymore. Although I love me some Tina Fey, who wrote and stars in Mean Girls, and am all for any movie about bringing down bullies, some of the comedic tropes used throughout the 2004 film now make me want to crawl under my couch.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting a boycott — the horror! But I'll definitely be providing some progressive cultural commentary the first time I watch Mean Girls with my daughter. There are certain themes I plan to touch on when the time comes, and I’ve got simple scripts to help you address these issues, too. Just adjust the language to tone down the mom-splaining for older kids, then file it under pop-parenting and pass the popcorn because, literally, where do we begin?

Here are just a few* problems with Mean Girls. (*The limit does not exist.)

Patronizing Homeschooled Kids

The formerly homeschooled Cady Heron gets a brown paper bag from her dad on her first day of school. "This is your lunch," he says. (DUH.) "I put $1 in there so you can buy some milk. You can ask one of the big kids where to do that." Cady's dad treats her like a kindergartener even though she's 16.

What to say about it: "You know lots of people homeschool their kids by choice, especially after Covid, right? Homeschooled kids aren't always delayed, socially awkward, or aloof of pop culture — they typically follow a similar curriculum as students in public schools."

Uncomfortable Assumptions About Race Based on Appearance

When Cady's teacher, Ms. Norbury, hears there's a new student from Africa, she erroneously welcomes a Black kid in the class when the real newbie is Cady. Later, as Cady surveys the lunchroom for the first time, she mistakes a student of color for an African friend and greets them in Swahili; upon meeting Cady, Karen Smith wants to know, "If you're from Africa, why are you white?"; and at the movie's end, Kevin G. asks Janis, "Are you Puerto Rican?" (Actually, she's Lebanese.)

What to say about it: "You know it's not great to make assumptions about where people are from based on the way they look to you — sometimes this can make them feel misunderstood. If you're interested in learning more about why they might look or talk differently than we do, that's totally fine; it's just better to ask than guess."

Social Segregation

Cady uses Janis's guide to get the lay of the land at lunch. Cringey categories include Asian Nerds, Cool Asians, Unfriendly Black Hotties... eek.

What to say about it: "How strange is it that all of the Black kids are sitting together, and all of the Asian kids are sitting together? I bet lots of kids who look different sit together during lunch at your school."

Little Diversity (But Lots of Stereotyping) in the Main Characters

The Plastics are exclusively white. The Mathletes are diverse but mostly dudes. Even when the new junior "Plastics" make a cameo at the end, they consist of three white women.

What to say about it: "Did you notice that the Plastics and most of the main characters in this movie are white and that most of the smarter kids are mostly boys? That's so strange. You know you don't have to be white to be popular, right? And, of course, kids of any race and gender can be really smart and good at math."

Gay Kids Positioned as Outcasts and Predators

Pretty much all scenes involving Damian and Janis, a purported lesbian, are cause for concern — especially the one where we learn that Janis's life was "ruined" after Regina started a rumor that Janis was a lesbian and didn't invite her to an all-girls birthday party lest she witness girls in bikinis.

What to say: "Janis feels mad when Regina calls her a lesbian — which means she likes other girls — because she's feeling misunderstood. People can like whoever they want regardless of whether they are a girl or a boy; it's just not nice to assume whether someone likes boys or girls or both."

Normalization and Misrepresentation of Disordered Eating

Lunchroom table categories, as explained by Janis, include Girls Who Eat Their Feelings (a reference to people of size) and "Girls Who Don't Eat Anything" (thin girls sharing what appears I can only imagine is a sad can of Diet Coke).

What to say about it: "People who eat when they're sad or lonely don't always look a certain way. And everybody needs to eat at lunchtime to energize their brains and bodies."

Extreme Sizeism and Fatphobia

The scenes: Damien, Janis, and Cady define a "hot body" as "good physique" and attempt to destroy and dethrone Regina by surreptitiously making her gain weight; Gretchen tries to shun Regina for wearing sweatpants when her regular pants don't fit; words of size are flung as insults, as in, "Dawn Schweitzer has a huge ass" written in the Burn Book; the store where Regina tries to buy her Spring Fling dress doesn't carry sizes larger than 5; and despite the conversation positioning Regina's weight as problematic, she presents as straight-sized.

What to say about it: "This movie talks a lot about body weight, huh? That's so silly since we know that how we treat people is so much more important than what size clothes we wear or how much space we take up. And you know that if you ever grew out of your pants, we'd just get you new ones, right? We love you no matter what size you are."

Self Body-Shaming

The Plastics complain about their “huge” hips, calves, and “man-shoulders” that prohibit the use of halter tops.

What to say: "These girls are so beautiful and smart — it makes me sad to see them complain about their bodies when they look in the mirror. It's so much nicer to focus on what we like about ourselves, including things we can't see in the mirror."