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poppyclayton
8th March 2024

Flipping the script: Girlhood as a new model for women

What makes women who they are? Why we’re travelling back in time to find ourselves while teens look to the future
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Flipping the script: Girlhood as a new model for women
Credit: Markus Spiske @ Unsplash

Just over ten years ago, the world went through one of the most teen-oriented cultural eras ever. Katy Perry even wrote an entire album about how amazing it is to be a teenager. It felt that everything you wanted was affordable, whether it was a new Baby Lips or a CD you could buy with pocket money.

Since then, life has gotten infinitely more complex for girls and women. She needs to spend upwards of £200 to get the skin everyone on social media has, and she has to take 50 multivitamins every night to retain her ‘youthful glow.’ Ten years ago, when I was on the cusp of becoming a teen, a multivitamin was something you took if you were ill and skincare was simple – it was literally from Simple.

If you ask a ‘hip and trendy’ young teen what her skincare regime is these days, it’s probably full of expensive serums and retinols that ten years ago would never have appealed to someone under the age of 25. Brands like Drunk Elephant and Byoma have only existed for 10 and 2 years respectively, and their products are what girls seem to beeline for in drugstores when looking to start their skincare routines. Really young girls. Becoming a fully developed person takes a lot more effort than it used to.

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Very edgy 2014-esque photos
Courtesy of 12 year old me

The infinite complexities of growing up

Brands like Byoma sell complex skincare as the ‘ultimate skin-compatible solution’: their words not mine. Many of the products that are deemed essential and purposeful by beauty influencers and brands– retinol, hyaluronic and salicylic acid, peptides and tripeptides and tetrapeptides– weren’t even in the skincare conversations for women ten years ago. However, companies package them in pretty pastel tubes and bottles and they’re ready for purchase by a girl with pocket money. In terms of products marketed at young girls these days, there really isn’t a lot of it, so they buy what people ten years older than them buy which could be harming them. Those of us who are ten years older just don’t feel like splurging so much to get so little anymore: being a mature woman has lost a lot of its appeal, and being girls again becomes more and more appealing.

Personally, when I see women online who appear to have it ‘together,’ it doesn’t exactly inspire me to be like them, having my own life commitments to attend to. I have a degree to work towards, laundry to do, and sleep deprivation to catch up on – there isn’t an allotted space in my day for reflective journaling or making bone broth. If you’re 13 or 14 right now, school still seems fun and, let’s be honest, you don’t listen to your mother. So, you’re probably listening to the TikTok-er whose income revolves around appearing to be a well put together woman: of course you would do what she tells you to do because she looks good doing it.

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Byoma’s ethos via byoma.com

There isn’t a Zoella for the new generation. No one is steering younger girls towards drugstore brand eyeshadow or a makeup bag with a guinea pig on it. Effectively no one is telling them that it’s okay to be a teen, and no one is telling young women it’s okay to be imperfect. The teen influencer is long dead; long live the ‘clean girl’ influencer with a 3-bedroom apartment and reformer Pilates machine in her living room. I’ve done pilates, it really hurts. It hurts for days. The only thing going in my living room is a sofa.

An influencer who does hauls from Boots and Superdrug and shows you how to do intricate braided hairstyles can and should exist for the younger generation. It could be argued that we caused the death of the teen ourselves, as those who taught us grew up, and now we should be the ones teaching teens what to wear and what to buy rather than making content for women our own age. However, film and culture in 2023 brought a semi-guiltless type of womanhood – ‘girlhood’ – into the driver’s seat to help guide the younger generation.

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Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, Lana Del Rey @Universal Music Group

An explosion of women-focused media

2023 saw an explosion of ‘girlhood’-isms and women were at the centre of culture. Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour swept the globe, seeing people dress up in glittery, feather-adorned outfits and just have fun. We were blessed with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which saw the cinema flooded with pink. There were new albums from Lana Del Rey and Olivia Rodrigo essentially about how hard it is to be a woman, and the queen of ‘the girl’ Sofia Coppola returned with her Priscilla Presley biopic, emphasising the importance of building a life for yourself instead of someone else. All in all, culture had a lot of important life lessons for young girls this year.

As well as Barbie, sleeper hit Are you there God, It’s me Margaret? was released, an adaptation of Judy Blume’s famed 1970 novel. At the centre of the plot is Margaret’s struggle with her parents interfaith marriage, but at the heart is Margaret and her friends talking about bras, periods, boys and maturing into women with pure carefreeness and excitement: I think it should be required viewing for girls under the age of 16. Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex reminded us of the difficulties and pressures of sex and consent on a rite-of-passage girls holiday: required viewing for girls over the age of 16.

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Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. @Lionsgate Films

It was a long overdue year for female expression, and the narrative that women don’t have to be and aren’t always perfect awakened something in twenty-something women: we don’t want a reformer Pilates machine, we just want to stop the pressure of growing up.

These days, women are finding joy and peace in excessive femininity and so-called frivolity; things we were told we should never carry into adulthood. We put bows on everything, we love to bake and brunch, and we love to go on walks for the sole purpose of treating ourselves to an almond croissant and an oat latte. The seriousness once associated with being grown up isn’t a threat anymore because we’ve chosen to ignore it, and because female centred media has normalised being normal again.

It’s no longer stigmatised to cry to your mother when you’re sad or watch The Notebook when you want to cry for no reason, and we can only hope that this paradoxical era of women wanting Barbie dolls, and films reinforcing how great it is to be ordinary resonates with tweens and teens. It should finally feel okay to be girls together again.


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