I first “met” Liz Funk years ago when she emailed me after she’d read Empress. Now she’s 20 and has just published a book of her own, Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls. I asked her some questions about her experience:
What inspired you to write this book?
Growing up, I observed so many young women who were really struggling with the expectations on girls. In high school and college, there were young women who conformed to these expectations–the Supergirls–who worked really hard to be beautiful, get great grades, take on lots of activities, and in short, be perfect. These girls got so much attention from the community and from their peers, but it was a really demanding and limiting female ideal, and it posed a lot of problems for girls who wanted to be perfect but couldn’t achieve this.
What did you learn in the process of working on the book that surprised you the most?
I was really surprised to find that parents were not a large source of pressure for today’s teens. I expected to meet a lot of young people whose parents were really pushing them or who had major helicopter moms, but that wasn’t the case at all! Most girls told me that they were really close with their moms, and that their parents were confused about why they worked so hard! And needless to say, it was surprising to talk with so many interesting, funny girls who had low self-esteem. Sometimes girls caught me off guard with how candid they were!
You talk a lot in the book about the role of the media in shaping expectations on girls and women. As a journalist, how do you see your own role in that cultural conversation?
Whenever I write about young women and Generation Y, I’m always trying to illuminate issues that we young people face and how we can help young people live happier, healthier lives. It’s a bummer, though, because it’s really hard to break into the bigger magazines and newspapers without writing alarmist trend stories that really don’t really help young people. And it’s also hard to stand up to the media outlets that you want to write for; sometimes women’s magazines and teen magazines will write positively awful stories that only make young women more paranoid and self-conscious, but these magazines have a ton of influence over girls and you want to be able to pitch them positive stories that help girls, but it’s definitely a double-bind.
What question do you wish someone would ask you about the book that no one has asked?
Ha! That’s funny. Um, no one has asked me about whether I had any ethical issues as I was writing the book, and I did. I got pretty close with the five “main characters” who I follow in the book, and sometimes it was hard deciding what I was going to write about them, because we had fun hanging out and also because we were so close in age. It was definitely a growing experience as a journalist to reconcile not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings with candidly writing my observations.
What are you hoping to write about next?
Well, I’m at work on a novel right now, so that’s been my secret project for awhile that I hope will come to fruition. And I’m working on a proposal for another non-fiction book about young women that will piggyback on “Supergirls Speak Out.” Fingers crossed!
Good luck, Liz! Thoughts, readers?