What are the similarities and differences between Alyssa Brugman's novel Walking Naked and the movie Mean Girls? 

What are the similarities and differences between Alyssa Brugman's novel Walking Naked and the movie Mean Girls?

 

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both the film Mean Girls and the novel Walking Naked focus on the sort of fierce competition many teenage girls find themselves engaged in. While they have much in common, they do differ in some aspects of their content.

Both tales feature a "popularity princess" character. In Mean Girls, this is the character of Regina George, who we get to know through the experiences of outsider turned Queen Bee, Cady Heron. In contrast, Walking Naked is told through the eyes of Megan Tuw. Megan is the leader of the most popular clique in her school, and here we must get to know the "freak" through her telling of the story. In a way, Regina George and Megan Tuw represent two ways of approaching the same character archetype-- one from the inside, one from the outside.

These cliques of popular girls are, in both tales, made up of wealthy, stylish, and pretty young women. However privileged the members of the Plastics and the Clique may be in their sect of society, they feel an extreme sense of competition with each other. Wearing the wrong hairstyle or color is grounds for being banished from the social group. I think this is a great example of how women (and girls) can often be the toughest critics of each other for failing to ascribe to a male-gaze construction of beauty and femininity. Also interesting to me are the ways in which Mean Girls and Walking Naked differ in their conceptualization of the social groups teenagers form. In Walking Naked, there is a pretty strong divide between people who are popular and those who are not. You are one or the other. Yet in Mean Girls, we are introduced to a wide variety of social groups with differing characteristics beyond a relative degree of popularity based on wealth and physical appearance.

Though I've already mentioned a little bit of the power dynamics at work in these media, I'd like to focus more specifically on the relationship between the character archetypes of the popularity princess and the freak. In Walking Naked, this is the relationship between Megan and Perdita. In all the ways that Megan is socially privileged, Perdita is strange and cast out. The two develop a secret and unlikely friendship, one which causes Megan to feel a lot of shame. Megan values her own appearance-- including the appearance of her social relationships-- over the connection she felt with Perdita, and she sadly loses this friend for good. In this case, the story ends with Megan maintaining her social status at the expense of her conscience.

Now let's compare with the relationship between Queen Bee Regina George and "wannabe" Cady Heron. (I purposefully reference here the text the film is based off of- Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman.) In Mean Girls, Cady moves to America after having been homeschooled by her parents while they did research in Africa. For the first time, she is thrust into the complex web of social life that is the American high school. In a power play intended to mark Cady as Other, Regina compliments her and invites her to share an exclusive seat at the lunch table of the Plastics. Regina intends to integrate Cady into their group as a sort of pet to make herself seem more interesting, but the other members of the group begin to like Cady more than Regina. At the end of the film, Cady has torn down all of Regina's social privileges at the urging of one-time Plastic, Janis Ian. These social and emotional blows to Regina's identity, along with being hit by a bus, really serve as a wake up call. In the end, Cady, Regina, and the other girls achieve a far more even playing field than they first encountered.

These two representations of the un/popular power dynamic present two ways we can consider social inequality and competition. With Walking Naked, we see the unfortunate possibility that people who are at a disadvantage in life often succumb to their struggles. On the other hand, we can consider Mean Girls as a sort of social revolution! Cady could have, by all means, maintained the socially disadvantaged, outsider status she experiences when she first arrives at her new high school. The clever plays of Janis Ian, combined with Cady's increasing status, serve to overthrow Regina George and the "old regime" of popularity. 

Beyond such in-depth textual analysis, both Mean Girls and Walking Naked approach the subjects of social competition and girl-on-girl bullying in a way that really reaches their intended audience-- teen girls. Depending on a reader's own social status, they may interpret either text as a story of heroism or a warning.