Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls

Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls

by Liz Funk

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Some girls seem to have it all...

The top grades
The best clothes
A great body
A cute boyfriend

But they may also have...

Eating disorders
Crippling insecurity

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416562771
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 03/03/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 879,414
File size: 368 KB

About the Author

Liz Funk is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in USA Today, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, and CosmoGIRL!, among other publications. She is a fellow of Young People For and a member of Ypulse's advisory board. She was born in 1988 and lives in New York City. Visit her at

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

The Supergirl Manifesto

Since When Is Being "Super" a Bad Thing?

What makes the perfect girl?

-- A article that shows guys weighing in on the personal and physical traits that create the "perfect" female

Jenna was supposedly perfect. She was the valedictorian of her senior class -- the girl whom the guys wanted to get with and the girls wanted to be. There were rumors going around that she had an almost perfect GPA from all four years of high school, that the hottest guy in the senior class had a blatant crush on her, and that she spent her vacations in Cancun tanning in a thong bikini. She was always playing sports -- she skied and ran avidly -- and she led lots of school activities. Pretty much everyone in her town knew about her: even parents who never actually met her knew of her personal prowess.

But it's not like she was one of those mean perfect girls: she was shockingly nice and kind to everyone, even to the losers and the unpopular kids who talked to her, hoping to get that buzz from just conversing with her. She smiled constantly and dressed as though Abercrombie and Fitch's senior designer lived in her closet. She had been accepted at one of the best colleges in the country, yet rumor had it that she didn't have a major planned, because she wanted to stay open to being a doctor or an engineer or something within the humanities: she was smart and seemed interested in every subject! Plus, just to reiterate, she was one of the most beautiful young women most people had ever seen, with glossy hair and a perfect body and a kind of relaxed glow to her that made everything she did look effortless. Unfortunately, to the contrary, a week or so before graduation, she was admitted to the local psychiatric hospital for some combination of bulimia, depression, and exhaustion. And no one really knew what to say except, "I thought she was perfect."

Supergirls: they're the girls with the perfectly blow-dried, shiny hair who sit up perfectly straight while taking notes during their fourth AP class of the day, or who walk across the campus quad in perfect outfits, hand-in-hand with their fraternity president boyfriends and iPhones glued to their ears. Or they're the young women who take on extra projects at work, yet still manage to win over all of their coworkers at the watercooler and grab their boss a latte on the way in to work. And while doing all of this, there is an unsaid pressure to make it look like they're airy and energetic, like they "just wanna have fun!" Supergirls seem to have everything: the education, the boyfriends, the friends, the looks, and the awards...but they're probably missing something, too. After all, is it really healthy for young women to aspire to appear effortlessly perfect?

As predicted, all really isn't perfect in the land of perfect girls. As poor Jenna demonstrated, the young women who appear to have it all are often about to lose it all at any given moment -- or at the moment that their minds and bodies say, "Sorry, I just can't do it anymore!" While our society puts a high premium on young women doing it all and making such overachieving look easy -- or, ideally, effortless -- our bodies and brains can only take so much.

Growing up as a girl is a kind of weird tango today. It's about being smart, well rounded, and successful -- someone your parents can brag about at family reunions and someone your friends can give glowing introductions for at dinner parties -- but also still being all the things that we've understood girls to be for the past hundred or so years -- amenable, self-effacing, sweet, and, of course, pretty. Trying to be powerful gets a little confusing when you have to apologize for it and make up for it...and making up for it is doing all the things that are considered feminine.

What makes things ever more complicated is that there's no official role for girls today: we see women as sex objects on MTV, and we see young women as professionally powerful but picking catfights and obsessing over guys on TV (ah, Grey's Anatomy), but most girls I spoke with said that girls were most often class president, and women now outnumber men at most of the best universities in the country. Despite women's progress, girls are raised to be "good," but because no one has any clue what "good" is today -- an old-fashioned term to describe the female ideal -- young women feel the push to be good at everything. So, what's a forward-thinking gal to do? Because of the media saturation in our generation, there has been a high premium put on making adolescence look fluffy and pink; college being exclusively about drinking, hookups, and getting addicted to your hair straightener; and the twenties being about wine in a box and buying throw pillows for your first apartment. It's not considered appropriate to be exploring your issues or even having crises. It's about trying to have all this confusion under control.

This perplexity gets wrapped up in the Supergirl dilemma. Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage," and young women are really taking that to heart, trying to act as though doing everything is something they enjoy and something that comes naturally to them. They try to be occupied every minute of the day. But they're generally always in the process of fending off some serious struggles...and it's a secret. Girls like Jenna -- and many more who you'll meet in this book -- pulled it off for a few years, doing everything, pleasing everyone, and making it all look easy. Suddenly, their bodies and brains gave out on them, and they had anxiety attacks, mental breakdowns, and some severe physical problems. Whenever I chatted with a girl for my research in this book, I tried to ask her if her constant overworking ever resulted in a breakdown or a health issue...and almost half said yes, whether it was developing anxiety from feeling like they had so much to juggle or being urged by their therapist to pare down their activities after having a mental breakdown at school.

But if girls aren't popping Adderall or dieting for the sake of dieting, it seems like, for them, waking up in the morning just welcomes another day of agita: as one girl put it, "I hate relaxing. It's not something I do well." But what's the point of living if life is such a chore? Well, Supergirls may have answered that question in September 2007 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released the results of a study that found rates of suicide among girls had risen exponentially, with a 32 percent increase among 15- to 19-year-old girls and a 76 percent increase among 10- to 14-year-old girls.

One of my good friends is a perfect girl. She's pretty, she graduated from an Ivy League college, she's skinny and well dressed, and everyone likes her. The only weird thing about her is that she doesn't drink coffee or eat spicy food. Why? She has ulcers from being so stressed! But you'd never know it looking at her. When we meet a "perfect" girl, we often wonder, "What's her secret?" But we should really be looking for different kinds of secrets: not what hair products she uses to get such shiny tresses or how she balances all her activities without ever seeming spent, but what she's trying to make up for or what she's trying to hide.

Meet the Supergirls

At 8am, in the heat of summer at Syracuse University, 16-year-old Katie, a Rome, New York, native, takes notes feverishly in a journalism course aimed toward high school students. She is working on a story for the class about an upcoming speech that the chief justice of the Supreme Court is giving at Syracuse University in the fall, and she feigns being awake in class even though she was up late for the past few nights chilling out with the other kids in the dorm. In between the seven hours of daily classes, she balances chasing down sources for her article, keeping tabs on her overcaffeinated friends, and calling her boyfriend back home.

A few months later, Allie, 19, is dodging puddles on I Street in Washington, D.C., guarded by a bubble-like clear umbrella. It's past dinnertime -- she's been going all day at classes and internships -- and she is still energetic and friendly. Not to mention, she has hours' worth of studying to do...and her focus is not even tempted by the sound of laughter from the pubs we pass where students are drinking beer. With a goal of becoming a top Washington lobbyist, nothing seems to distract her from her work.

A few weeks later, at 11am on an unseasonably cold Monday in October, Yolanda, 27, takes a break from her fancy banking job in midtown Manhattan to grab an early lunch at a nearby restaurant, where she picks at a sweet potato and chicken breast. She's attractive and curvaceous, and is checked out by several guys who are probably her peers in the industry; she doesn't notice them and is probably too busy to care. The streets outside buzz with life and activity -- I'm pretty sure I saw a pack of models leaving their hotel down the street -- but Yolanda is relatively focused on talking about one of her best accounts. Yolanda's job is kind of swanky: she exclusively handles private banking for individuals worth over $35 million.

In early November, Pegah, 15, eats a slice of pizza without getting grease anywhere on her outfit in a quaint pizza parlor down the street from her school in Valley Stream, New York. Her friends, virtually all in some combination of North Face fleeces, tight jeans, cheerleading skirts, and UGGs, talk about the events of the day and tomorrow's football game against the school's biggest rival. Pegah listens and tells an occasional joke, but also skims through her notes at the crowded table; this is pretty much the only time she'll "relax" the entire day, given that hours of studying are to come...on a Friday night!

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Leah, who chose SUNY-Albany over her pick of prestigious colleges for financial reasons, has kept busy for her entire first semester at college, filling time between classes with the Student Senate, Spanish club, and her workstudy job making smoothies in the student center. She's kept so busy that she's barely seen her suitemates in her dorm, who all have plans for making the most of the other things that UAlbany has to offer, like hooking up, pledging, and joining the feminine backdrop of the noted Albany club scene. Jell-O shots, anyone? Not for Leah...she's prefers espresso or coffee. Although, with all the house parties and open-bar school fund-raisers she goes to, who can resist every now and then?

Dane Cook, the stand-up comedian beloved by nearly everyone in Generation Y, has this really hilarious monologue about crying. He says, "There's those times when you need to cry, a real cry. Then, as you're crying, what happens is it starts to feel good that you're crying like that, and what you do is you latch on to one phrase that you just repeat over and over again. Just something that means something to you like, 'I did my best....I did my best....I did my best, I did my f-cking best, I did my, my best, I did my best, I did my best, I did my best, I did!'"

What makes Dane Cook so hilarious is that the things he says are often true, things that are in his fans' very lives. In this case, unfortunately, he hit a little too close to home. As I was spending the summer and fall following these amazing girls in high school building up their activities résumés for college and these stellar college students who just got out of the college admissions rat race (plus Yolanda, our 20-something Supergirl who luckily already graduated from McGill before kids from the United States figured out how chi-chi the school is and began flocking there, making the school even harder to get into), the same things were going on much more locally.

My younger sister and I have always had somewhat of an informal rivalry -- I've always perceived her as smarter, prettier, and nicer, and I think she is occasionally annoyed by people asking her if she's "the 'writer Funk daughter' or the other one" -- but we've always been extremely close, and despite our occasional jealousies, we have really rooted for each other throughout the years. Allie was in her senior year of high school when I was following our five Supergirls throughout the fall, and Allie was going where her big sis had never gone: she was shooting for the Ivy League for college. Namely, she had her sights set on Cornell. After sending in her early decision application way ahead of the deadline, Allie waited, eagerly anticipating the day in early December when she'd know. That day came, but when she checked online at exactly 5pm when the results would be posted, she found herself in a situation not unlike Dane Cook, crying and saying over and over again, "I did everything!...I did everything!...I did everything!" Needless to say, Cornell didn't hold my sister in the high esteem that I and most people in my town do (although it wasn't a full-out insult; in December they deferred her application to the spring, at which point they offered her admission...for sophomore year, which I perceive as both a compliment and a total bitch move at the same time).

Supergirls span time, geography, and age, but they all have one thing in common. They're all in a race to be perfect -- a race in which sweatbands are stilettos, Adidas is Abercrombie, and shin splints are smiles. Unfortunately, there's no finish line, because every time they come close to the agreed endpoint, they push themselves to go faster and longer.

But I have to confess...I'm not just an outside observer of this Supergirl phenomenon. Although I'm working on modifying my behavior, I'm one of them.

All of Us Supergirls

I think somehow I've always been a Supergirl. In the seventh grade, I set my sights on Harvard and wanted to achieve academically. So I studied and got on the high honor roll. In the eighth grade, I got hooked on the Disney Channel show Even Stevens; I saw the main character, Ren Stevens, achieving in school and doing tons of extracurricular activities, and she looked really empowered! So I became an editor of the school newspaper, joined the foreign cultures club (I was president the following two years), was elected class treasurer, and wrote frequent letters to the editor of our local newspaper on social justice issues.

In the ninth grade, I became obsessed with my size and my looks, and I ended up becoming anorexic. I ate very little, ran four to six miles a day (more on some days!), and joined the school cross-country team. Although I gained the weight back, it only fueled my overachieving drive. In the tenth grade, I decided I wanted to become a writer, and I wrote screenplays, journalistic pieces, and even a full-length book; I became represented by a literary agent, and although my book was never published, I became engrossed in the inner workings of the publishing industry. In the eleventh grade, I got caught up in the college admissions fever. I worked my tail off in school and studied like a maniac for the SAT; it was actually somewhat of a heartbreaking experience, as I set a totally unrealistic goal score, and when I scored only fifty points shy of it, I couldn't even feel good about it. This was the same year that I became a progressive activist and organized protests, worked with local community service groups, and founded a feminist club for girls in my area. In the twelfth grade, I opted to attend community college for my senior year of high school in a special accelerationmy college coursework; this was the same year that I started freelance writing professionally.

The next year, I began my sophomore year of college in New York City (so much for Harvard) and began writing for more prestigious newspapers and magazines, learned how to network, and got a book deal; not to mention, New York City presented its own new opportunities and challenges, like parties, the unofficial lack of a legal drinking age, and shopping and sightseeing that was ultimately quite time-consuming.

Now, I'm 19 and still on the go. I have a writing career I'm fairly satisfied with, I have great friends, I have a supportive and loving family, I'm going to graduate from college next year at the age of 20, and I have finally achieved the perfect shade of blonde for my hair (and to emphasize how sexist this situation is, that's probably the achievement I'm most proud of). But I don't mean to come off as cocky or ostentatious, because what underlies all of these "accomplishments" is that I have never felt satisfied with myself. I had a pleasant, occasionally zany adolescence that perhaps one day I might chronicle in a memoir or something, but even on the sunniest summer afternoon or the wildest night with my friends in Greenwich Village, I have never felt complete.

All my life, I have wanted nothing more than to achieve. I have wanted to be the "it" girl. But today's "it" girl doesn't "just wanna have fun." In fact, she's probably a little insulted by such an assertion; she wants to work her tail off to exceed others' expectations of her. Today's "it" girl isn't Clueless's flighty heroine Cher -- but she has Cher's style and social calendar, with the ambition of Hillary Clinton, the sports skills of Mia Hamm, the wit of Maureen Dowd, and the fake happy endings of a Kate Hudson movie. The "it" girl is pretty, smart, and always in control. At first glance, she's, well, perfect.

The "it" girl isn't the right terminology anymore, though. The program, simultaneously finishing high school and starting "it" girl has too much weight on her shoulders and too many expectations to be a mere mortal. Now, she's a Supergirl. And as I've found out for myself (and as I've seen echoed in the lives of countless of my overachieving peers), this quest for perfection can have a very dark downside.

The stereotypical Supergirl has it all: the good grades, the blossoming career, the impressive activities résumé, the ambitions, and also the good-looking boyfriend, the perfect body, and the impressive social calendar. Supergirls are pigeonholed as young women of elevated socioeconomic status, typically from the suburbs, but who doesn't love a city slicker Supergirl? And the stereotype of the perfection-obsessed Asian or Middle Eastern young women is just as much, if not more, universal than the Supergirl WASP. Says Supergirl Cynthia, a California girl transplanted in Arizona, "I come from a Middle Eastern family and we lived as a strict Catholic household. There were really constant rules: you had to be a lady, you had to perfect, your grades had to be exceptional. Because of this...I didn't have my own identity." Supergirls are also stereotyped as discreetly supportive of women's rights and concerned for the world (Supergirls are activists, too!)...but they might not be feminists, per se.

However, these stereotypes evade the fact that Supergirls are everywhere. They are on TV (Ren from Even Stevens), they are on the radio (did you know that Hilary Duff sings, acts, diets, volunteers, and does venture capitalism?), and they are in the movies (don't even get me started on that actress/Ivy Leaguer/activist Natalie Portman). They live in homey towns in New Hampshire, the beaches of Florida, the sticks of Missouri, the Hills of California, and cities everywhere. But the same facades exist everywhere: these girls aren't particularly happy!

Says Cathy Wasserman, a Brooklyn-based life and career coach: "This is something that I see in my practice as a psychotherapist and career and executive coach every day, but in the last three to five years, I've seen a significant deepening in this trend. Girls get the message sadly from their own parents and each other that they need to excel at everything, academically, professionally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and be in perfect a 'perfect 10' in every area. They think that perfection is not only desirable but possible. But this is at odds with our creates a total impossibility for women."

And it's this impossibility that keeps young women going: nothing we ever do will be enough! For example, one of my two best friends is a Supergirl. She attends an Ivy League university. She has a GPA of 3.75 in her policy analysis and management program, and earned one of the highest scores in our high school on the SAT. She is very cognizant of politics and is known for thinking before speaking, so every word that comes out of her mouth is cool and insightful. When we were kids, she wrote children's books for fun, and when we were in high school, our English teacher tried to get her to submit her class essays for publication in scholarly journals. Yet she feels slightly unremarkable.

"When you Google me, nothing comes up. I need to have Google prowess. That's when I will be successful," she explains to me.

As I think about it, pretty much all my friends fit this mold: they're extremely high-achieving with some combination of great grades, a prestigious college, an impressive job, amazing friends...and a steadfast feeling that they're nothing special. I'm fairly certain this has something to do with them being Supergirls.

But this is a little weird. Why are we all working so hard? It isn't just me, it isn't just my family, and it isn't just my friends. It's the girls behind the perfume counters at Macy's and the young woman on line behind you at Starbucks and that awful wretch of a human being who stole your crush and made him her boyfriend. Supergirls are everywhere.

Since When Is Being "Super" a Bad Thing?

On paper, Supergirls look fantastic. When you actually talk to Supergirls, things still look fantastic (after all, all the world's a stage). But when today's young women are really encouraged to open up about the pressures they face, they wholeheartedly reveal that all is not perfect in the realm of perfect girls.

The concept of an overachiever is someone who does something to excess. An achieving girl is one who excels in school or sports or arts, and then makes time for (and values!) hanging out with her friends and family, having hobbies, and sleep. An overachiever isn't like this. An overachiever feels the unremitting requirement not just to be involved, but to be the best at every activity at her disposal, and she often feels guilty for penciling in time to relax or even sleep.

This could be written off as just part of what Generation Y is -- today's young people do many things to excess. Statistically, we watch a lot of TV, we spend a lot of money (and we all wish we had more money no matter how rich we actually are), we have a lot of sex, we drink a lot, and we devote too much energy to pop culture. And like most of these excesses, working too much is something that is really going to burn us out and hurt us in the long run.

SuEllen Hampkins, coauthor of The Mother-Daughter Project: How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds, and Survive Through Adolescence, served as the Smith College psychologist for several years and found that the overwhelming numbers of Supergirls on campus experienced some major issues: "Young women would feel that if they were not simultaneously having exemplary grades, maintaining peak fitness, keeping their weight at a specific slender ideal, and being unfailingly gracious to their friends and family, that they would feel extremely upset with themselves, and that would manifest in all kinds of ways: depression, anxiety, shame, self-hatred."

Says Jessica, a master of divinity candidate at Southern Methodist University in Texas, "Sometimes I have this horrible feeling I am going to let people down, because I really desperately want to make people happy. I don't know if that's just who I am or if it's who I was socialized to be."

Christy, a senior at the University of Washington and longtime Supergirl, is quite conscious of the pressures that drive her. "I've fallen into the overachieving category before where it was about how people viewed me, what society expects of a woman, keeping up with everything from appearance maintenance to pleasing other people to being on time to volunteering. It can be very exhausting for these young women if there's not something that they're passionate about that's driving them, rather than doing all this just to meet the wild expectations of too many people." Christy's working to change the way she was conditioned: she is in therapy and is working her hardest to practice "mindfulness" and live intensely: "I'm working to try to get the joy out of the moment, but it's so easy to get overwhelmed." Christy feels that whether it's being pretty, being sweet, organizing events, or volunteering, "the burden of unpaid and unnoticed work falls upon devalues women and it makes women overextended when they have to make a living like everyone else at the same time."

Clearly, this Supergirl culture can be a real problem. While we should be totally supportive of go-getter young women, we need to be cognizant of the girls whose assiduousness becomes an obsession, where 100 isn't good enough, and overachieving eventually becomes an addiction.

What's troubling, though, is that the young women who have more opportunities than ever before feel so suffocated...and they can't pinpoint where this hyperactivity sprouts from! I had always claimed that my Supergirl-ism was due to the fact that I never enjoyed mundane teenage schedules like entire weekends spent getting drunk, recovering from a hangover in bed all day, browsing celebrity blogs, and doing it all over again. The reality? I'd never actually tried it: my life always had a to-do list. Ever since I was an adolescent, I had an agenda: achieve something.

I suffered from eating disorders as a teen (anorexia, exercise bulimia, and overeating), and I always thought that it just screwed me up. But when I had totally candid conversations with my friends and other young women, I realized it's not just me. Totally healthy girls with no history of mental disorders were perfection-obsessed girls. It had to come from somewhere else.

In her book, The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, Yale grad and recovering overachiever Alexandra Robbins studied the immense pressure on high schoolers to get into good colleges. She writes, "When teenagers inevitably look at themselves through the prism of our overachiever culture, they often come to the conclusion that no matter how much they achieve, it will never be enough."

And this is exactly what is going on with the Supergirl dilemma, except that it's more trying for women. Students -- male or female -- who bust their butts in high school, popping study drugs and pulling all-nighters, know that there are hard measures of whether they've "succeeded," like grades, SAT scores, and whether they finally get into Penn State or Amherst. But for young women, there is no rubric for being smart enough, accomplished enough, or thin enough; young women don't know if they've completed all their goals to the extreme until they're -- not to be morbid -- in the hospital for exhaustion.

We are quick to congratulate -- or even envy -- a young woman who wakes up at five in the morning to go jogging before spending all day in AP classes at school, then leading a school newspaper meeting, then going to lacrosse practice, then making a cameo at her boyfriend's basketball game, before studying and finally retiring to bed. On the surface, this appears to be progress for young women -- instead of being ousted from honors chemistry classes by their male counterparts or harboring fallacies of how romantic it would be to vacuum in high heels on Wisteria Lane for the rest of their lives, young women are busting through the glass ceiling faster than you can say "overachiever."

But this isn't necessarily progress for women. Today's Supergirls, the young women who juggle earning perfect grades, leading youth organizations, trying to make their families proud, trekking down their career paths years ahead of schedule (and trying to make it look like a happenstance trajectory), maintaining perfect figures, and entertaining cute boyfriends (although more often it's more for validation than for the affection of having a boyfriend -- it's not wanting arm candy, it's being arm candy) without releasing a single bead of sweat, aren't what they seem. These Supergirls are, more often than not, deeply unsatisfied with their lives. While it's normal to admire these assiduous young women, their Spartan efforts are often rooted in self-dissatisfaction. Young women have been trained not to feel good about themselves, no matter what they do. These young women running on less than four hours of sleep a night (and fourteen hundred calories a day) aren't Herculean: young women are dying for the validation and approval that society has historically denied them.

If we didn't explore this -- that the Supergirl dilemma is tied directly to sexism and societal misogyny -- then perhaps the most peculiar thing about Supergirls would be that they have no concrete reason to work to the point of disease. With the exception of girls on academic scholarships who need to work hard to keep their GPAs up to earn or retain scholarships, all of the young women I've spoken to weren't seeking mobility or freedom through their working; they were seeking validation. In my experience, Supergirls generally aren't working fourteen hours a day to feed their families or to get out of the welfare system; on some level, their stressing is pretty superfluous. If a young woman in an immigrant family needed to juggle school and activities and an after-school job so that she could get a scholarship to college and help her family pay bills, it would make sense. But for upper-middle-class girls who are spending sixty hours a week working toward some amorphous success, the Supergirl dilemma is more a reflection of how the status of women and girls isn't doing so hot. Young women have been taught to find themselves in being perfect...but given that those feelings of meaning something can only come from inside, they're going to be looking for a while.

Look Deeper

In elementary school, one of my teachers told us on the first day of class after holiday vacation to brainstorm some New Year's resolutions. One of the girls in my class, a pretty, popular girl with sleek brown hair and a pearly smile, shared hers with the class:

"I want to be good."

Our teacher was a smart, savvy woman who pressed my classmate:

"What do you mean by 'good'? Is 'good' studying hard in school? Is 'good' having nice friends? Or is it being nice to your siblings?"

The girl blushed and said, "I don't know...."

Seven or eight years later, she graduated from high school with flattering senior superlatives, honors, and an acceptance letter to a good school. However, she had also dealt with eating disorders, clique crap, and periodic breakdowns at her locker.

Today's young women have been taught to be "good." From playing in the sandbox to smiling in prom and graduation pictures to unveiling a work presentation in the boardroom, being good has been the main objective. But what does good mean? Does it mean being a good daughter? Does it mean acting like a lady? Does it mean not making others angry? Does it mean being pretty and skinny? Does it mean joining the "it" sorority? Does it mean being passive? Does it mean not having sex? Does it mean having sex (but only to please guys)?

Because no one knows what parents (and, essentially, what society) mean when they tell girls to be good, girls assume that being good means doing everything -- and doing everything right. Today's young women have essentially been cultivated to be perfect, yet they don't have a clear definition of what this means or how to achieve it. It's something I've been struggling with my whole life. So I decided to look into it for myself -- I proposed to investigate this Supergirl phenomenon from the inside, not as a dispassionate observer, but as one of the Supergirls.

For my reporting on this topic, I've traveled to high schools, colleges, and offices around the country to report on the state of the Supergirl. I've sat in on classes and club meetings, eavesdropped on conversations, crashed lunch dates, and, plainly, observed. I've combined this firsthand reportage with countless expert interviews (talking with authors and researchers who are studying these high-flying superachievers) and conversations with dozens of Supergirls themselves, some of whom you'll get to know rather well through these pages. I have done my best to reflect racial, geographical, and socioeconomic diversity in the Supergirls whose opinions I've included and whose thoughts I've shared.

However, the main characters who you will meet, and who I hope you will see yourself in, represent the diversity of the Supergirl dilemma. They span from being lower middle class to upper middle class; they represent various races and ethnicities, geographies (they live and have lived everywhere from Alaska to Georgia to New York to Austria to Canada, in large cities and rural towns), and political viewpoints; and they span in age from 15 to 27. They reflect varying degrees of Supergirl behavior and each views their lifestyles differently, although what they have in common are their high goals, high hopes for the future, and determined work ethic.

What's another thing that today's young women have in common? They're incredible. They are just as good as the guys and they know it. However, although it's no longer en vogue to call young women Ophelias, I think they are still facing many of the pressures as described in Dr. Mary Pipher's 1999 bestselling Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. But today's Supergirls lattice their pain with acceptance letters to prestigious colleges, expensive foundation from Sephora, and blue ribbons, so it looks like progress.

I have a feeling that the self-actualization that people require cannot come from SAT scores or thinness or having it all. I've found that when my friends and I tell ourselves, "We'll be ___ enough when we're ___," we're not doing whatever it is for the right reasons...and we probably won't end up satisfied when we achieve our goal.

So let's go down the yellow brick road of overachieving and explore where this dissatisfaction comes from.

Copyright © 2009 by Liz Funk

Table of Contents

chapter one The Supergirl Manifesto
Since When Is Being "Super" a Bad Thing?

chapter two "I'm So Old!"
Supergirls Achieve Early...But It's Never Enough

chapter three "I'm Really Not That Smart"
Supergirls Succeed in College and Working (and Playing) Twice as Hard as Anyone Else

chapter four "It's No Big Deal..."
Supergirls Succeed in the "Real" World and Make It All Look Effortless...Even When It's Not

chapter five "Do You Like My Hair?"
Supergirls Are a Cost

chapter six "I'm Not Hungry, Really!"
Supergirls Are Any Means Necessary

chapter seven "She's Such a Bitch!"
Supergirls Can Be Competitive...Even with Our Best Friends

chapter eight "So, Do You Have a Boyfriend?"
Supergirls Should Be Sexy...and Always Have a Guy

chapter nine "My Mom's My Best Friend"
Supergirls Make Our Parents Any Cost

chapter ten "I'm as Good as Any Guy...Right?"
Supergirls Believe in Equality...So Why Are We Afraid of the F-word (Feminist)?

chapter eleven "So What Should We Do About It?"
Finding the Good in the Supergirls Phenomenon

Suggested Reading Guide

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Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Look i am 12 i dont have an eating disorder but i am super skiny i use to be two times the size i am now if you girls want to lose some weight try dancing 5 days a week i take pointe and ballet u can lose a ton of weight by dancing i eat a ton and i am a size 0 and i can eat like i dont know what i do stress alot about my weight even if i weigh 95 pounds but all of us are perfict u may think u r way to fat or way to skinny to me i think everybodys body is perfect if u are 10 and under u have baby fat i had it now i am skinny i just have big legs from muscle from dancing but i am surounded by girls that are so tiny i cant help but i think i am a little big in mostly one way my boobs but i know that i am skinny but if u have questions about ur weight ask me and if u want me to tell u like how to lose weight u can eat vegies and less carbs and eat lots of fruits and vegies. If u have pimples u can use proactive and drink lots of water that will help unclog ur pores. DO NOT PUT MAKEUP OVER PIMPLES REASON ONE IT WILL NOT HELP GET THE BUMPS AWAY IT MAKES UR FACE LOOK WORSE. U WILL MAKE UR PORES GET WORSE BY PUTTING MAKEUP ON UR FACE TRUST ME I HAVE BEEN THROUGH IT. But if u want to ask me any questions about food, work outs or just about us girls i know a ton and if i dont know i will ask my mother just put up on headline victorias questions i will be on here alot so plez fell free to ask any questions i have been through alot with puberty and just life i am a dancer i know a ton about weight and good excercise. Hope this helps from victoria
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
What is a Supergirl? They're the high school class president with the constantly shiny hair who applied to over twenty Ivy League schools and always brings homemade goods to every bake sale. They're the college girl involved in a million clubs who shows up five minutes before the 8 a.m. class with no signs of her late night out, followed by many more hours of studying. They're the gotta-have-it-all twenty-something who busted her butt in college and is already on the same level as women ten years older in her field. They're any girl who has packed her schedule, keeping herself busy with volunteer activities, who always manages to look perfect, regardless of how tired, stressed, or anxious she feels. This is the plight of the Supergirls, the slew of young women who have decided that nothing short of perfection will do. By following the stories of five overachievers from different walks of life, and interviewing almost a hundred more, this book examines the lives of these girls to find out why they feel this need for perfection, and what they can possibly do to avoid the eventual burnout. This book disappointed me by placing most of the blame on faceless entities such as "societal conditioning," rather than offering more concrete advice to young women who may be stuck in this harmful cycle of achievement and compliment addiction. Regardless, the stories in this book were an interesting foray into the psyche of a population that is often stereotyped and ignored, for the simple reason that "they have it all; how can anything be wrong in their lives?"
teen-book-fan More than 1 year ago
It is good. But I think she gets really negative. Not every "supergirl" is unhappy. But, despite of that opinion, it is a leading story. What I mean is, she definitely gets the point across in a fun way. She goes around interviewing people and clarifying what some people's lives really are like. I feel bad for those girls, but it also teaches people a lesson. I personally think this is for the girls who are "in trouble." Who are not happy and have major disorders: eating problems, depression, etc. My mom actually picked this out for me because apparently she thinks I am a "supergirl." I rested my case that I'm not the worst there is out there. I just cram my social calender and everything else. But, I finally could explain to my mom that I'm not "in trouble." This book got across to me that, if your not happy then stop and smell the roses. I'm still not finished with it yet because it isn't really a "page turner." She has a really good writing technique though. I'm 15 and I read this, so it is an easy read. I would just recommend it to someone who wants to figure out if they are in trouble or even not happy. I really like it though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago