What consumes most teenage girls?
Well, you might assume they fret about what to wear on a Saturday night date or what the popular girls in high school are really whispering about.
But Liz Funk says they are concerned about a heck of a lot more. There is a huge number of Generation Y girls obsessed with their grades, their careers and their bodies. And nothing, including a trifecta of straight A’s, a polished résumé and killer looks, can make them feel they are good enough.
Take Funk, for instance. She’s 20 and just published her first book — not with a self-publisher or a remote printing press. She was embraced by Simon & Schuster. But she still feels disappointed that “Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls,” was published when she was 20, not 18.
She was already writing for such publications as USA Today, ComsoGirl! and the Huffington Post, blogging regularly for the Times Union and her own Liz Funk Web site, and attending Pace University as an English major.
Liz Funk on ‘The Female Ideal in Gen Y and Beyond: A Lecture on the Supergirls’
WHERE: Russell Sage College, Bush Memorial Hall, First and Congress streets, Troy
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 244-2306 or www.sage.edu
‘Supergirls Speak Out’ book signing
WHERE: Barnes & Noble, Colonie Center, Wolf Road, Colonie
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
MORE INFO: 438-1728
But she didn’t realize until she started writing her book that she, herself, was a supergirl. The transformation was subtle, but started to build when she was 11. On her Web site, there’s an explanation of how it happened: She was watching a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen video, “Winning London.” Mary-Kate played a practically pathological overachiever at a (grossly unrealistic) Model U.N. conference.” For some reason, Liz thought MK’s hyper-ambition looked fun, and decided to become an overachiever, too. Oops.
Oops is right, said the Voorheesville High School grad. And that is why she wrote the book, to impart to girls and young women that it is more important to discover your soul and what makes your heart sing than to achieve academic and career accolades while being physically flawless.
“I observed so many young women consumed by the pressure to be perfect,” said Funk who interviewed more than 100 supergirls for the book. “They were chronic overachievers who were dissatisfied by how they look and were trying to please everyone, in school, work and at home.”
The stress to be the best manifests unfortunate symptoms such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide. At home with their families, they are irritable; with their girlfriends, they are competitive; and with their boyfriends, they plead for identity.
“They can’t rely on themselves, so they rely on boyfriends to solve all their problems. That causes a lot of rocky relationships,” said Funk. “Today’s young women are not raised with a solid sense of self. They feel they have to be better to be loved. There is more pressure than ever, and it’s eroding the sense of self.”
Funk lays the blame mostly on the media. Today’s young women watch hours of television and movies where beauty is exalted. In addition, they are saturated with their own media creations — such as MySpace and Facebook — where, said Funk, “effortless perfection is projected.”
This finding surprised Funk. She expected overbearing parents who pushed their daughters to make high honors, be the sports superstar, play the piano impeccably and look good while doing it, were to blame.
“I found a few stage moms, but mostly I didn’t,” said Funk, who recently appeared on NBC’s “Today” show. “Where I find the parents at fault is they are enabling their kids to be overachievers by overscheduling them. They think by chauffeuring them around, they are playing an active role in their lives. But they are not getting to know their kids. The best thing a parent can do is find out what they are doing. What are they doing when they stay up late? Why do they have so much homework? Is it because the teacher is loading it on or it’s of their own making?”
Funk also found that this intense drive has infected every social and ethnic segment of America. She says that all girls — overachievers or not — feel pressure to be perfect, even if they don’t act on it.
“They feel vulnerable.”
Her research made her face up to the fact that she, too, was a supergirl. Funk, who will graduate from Pace University in May, realized this in the fall of her junior year at college. “I was so focused on writing my book and working on my career, I had a mental meltdown,” said Funk. “I realized that I had no sense of self, no identity. I had no emotional muscles.”
She cut back on some of her activities and today feels emotionally healthy. And that is what she recommends to all supergirls: slow down, listen to the small, still voice and nurture that, rather than the culture’s idea of perfection.
Unfortunately, many girls will never heed the call. They simply grow into superwomen who spend hours creating the designer cupcakes for their child’s school birthday party while clawing their way into the corner office.
“They have to give 110 percent to everything,” said Funk.
And while that is often needed, Funk is happy to move beyond perfection.
“I really understand now that you need a balance,” said Funk. “A good life is one where you balance work with relaxing. You have to know when to relax.”
So what’s next for Funk, after she is awarded a bachelor’s degree and finishes her book tour?
“I think I’ll take a trip to Europe.”