Overachievers: Interview with Liz Funk Author of SuperGirls Speak Out!

lizfunkMar. 4, 2009 I’m berating myself for not having this interview ‘go live’ on Eastern time, where teen author Liz Funk (now 20) resides…I’m doing the best I can…

…ESPECIALLY since I got behind the eight ball due to delivering five hilarious “free-range teens” to their respective homes on a school night and didn’t get the formatting done…So, alas, it’s going live via Pacific time, where I live instead, as part of Liz Funk’s national blog book tour.

That’s right, I’m a “recovering” SuperGirl.

Once upon a time, I would’ve pulled an all-nighter to ‘make it happen’ and hit the mark from coast to coast at daybreak, but these days I’ve segued from SuperGirl to ‘I’m doing the best I can’ girl, and I think Liz Funk would applaud.

As I wrote on Shaping Youth, I have much in common with this author of Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls. Why is Supergirl syndrome a secret? How does it impact girls’ lives? Find out in this interview with Liz prior to my follow up book review of my favorite parts that left me slack-jawed and nodding in ‘been there done that’ concurrence.

Granted, I have a long way to go in this weird tango of life, dancing on media’s virtual stage like a reticent wallflower on the cusp of blooming…not quite ready to be ‘out there,’ uncomfy with attention, and clumsily stepping on toes  now and then, in an effort to  ‘let go,’ dance wildly and just be real. But I’m gettin’ there…I’m dancing…and it feels right…


Two Recovering “Supergirls” Speak Out:

Amy Jussel Interviews Liz Funk

The depression and emotional disorder stats you quote are alarming:

“20% of girls aged 11-16 experience symptoms of depression and 22% of all U.S. teenage girls seriously considering suicide.”  (plus eating disorders, etc.)—


I never, ever, EVER felt THAT stressed and driven to achieve…

So my question is this:

Shaping Youth: Are the pressures of this generation of Supergirls THAT much different than predecessors OR are the coping skills and resiliency lacking?

How have media and marketing played a role?

Liz Funk: I think that the technology and media saturation that Generation Y grew up with is a huge part of this problem.  I don’t think that when today’s teenagers or college students were younger, we ever spent afternoons on the couch playing some quiet game or sitting out in the yard just looking up at the stars—crucial, solitary activities that help children develop a sense of self—because we were so busy with our Gameboys and iPods and cell phones.

Even today, I think young women have no sense of who they are because during any downtime during their days, they’re texting or surfing the web on their iPhones, and they’re not listening to their internal monologues and developing a relationship with themselves.

So without this crucial sense of individuality and identity, today’s teens are really vulnerable to pressures from the media and pressures in schools… more vulnerable than any other generation before them.

Shaping Youth: In the  preamble to  your book, you allude to the messages that come through from the Wizard of Oz;  tell us about them…

Liz Funk: In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends found that they had the power within them to get what they needed and wanted all along—they didn’t need the heart or the diploma or the badge, and Dorothy could have gotten home anytime.

And the Supergirls: they don’t need the awards and the diplomas and the sorority letters to be worthy, because they have the love and the glamour inside them! My mom helped me figure out that analogy.

Shaping Youth: You mention the Supergirl crisis often starts with examples set by PEER groups, and you can counteract ‘mean girl’ gossip/nastiness etc by being conscious of the issue to force it into decline…

Are you saying there’s a value to shows like Gossip Girls and MTV’s Super Sweet 16 in that it’s helping girls ‘work through’ some of these social issues? Or is media like this contributing to normalization of these behavioral cues?

Liz Funk: Oh, no!  My Super Sweet Sixteen makes me want to move to another country far, far away where they don’t have MTV.  I think that the Mean Girls trend is dying down a little…(Amy’s editorial comment: Really? I don’t!)… Tina Fey made an excellent movie based on feminist principles that really showed girls who silly and counterproductive being catty is.

I think hyper-materialistic shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen and the new 90210 and even Gossip Girl encourage young women to invest their identities in material stuff and wealth and glamour.  Ha, that was my rant of the day!

Shaping Youth: Gloria Steinem said, “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.” Response?

What are some of your favorite quotes, songs, poems, inspirations to share  with recovering Supergirls?

Liz Funk: When I was researching this book, the Brooklyn-based life coach Cathy Wasserman told me, “Young women need to be open to exploring the mystery of their lives,” and I think that’s the best quote I ever heard.

Shaping Youth: You cover the crash-n-burn starlet phenom and flameout factor of Supergirls…Is there a cyclebreaking role model who represents the antithesis of these expectations?

Who do you perceive to be media ‘Supergirls’ in today’s pop culture and who might be a healthier role models in your opinion?

Liz Funk: I think there are a few good role models for girls: I really like Ellen Page and I think she’s a great model for girls.  Natalie Portman and Mandy Moore seem to pick smart roles and don’t do stupid things despite having celebrity license. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are funny, beautiful, smart, and feminist-y, too—I love them.

Shaping Youth: The Supergirl pattern of powering through life in ‘hyper competence’ mode is inherently isolating and destructive…

What can parents do to NOT raise a Supergirl, assuming they’ve already tried to de-emphasize societal, academic and toxic commercialization cues in favor of ones’ authentic self?

Are children destined to keep mirroring the cultural zeitgeist? (e.g. striving to be smart but not too smart, pretty but not prissy, sporty but not severe, yadayada)

Liz Funk: I think that the more we encourage girls to be themselves—so that’s not buying them loads of dolls, limiting their media intake, and having candid conversations about gender and female roles—the more likely girls are to ease naturally into a personality and a social role that are all their own.

Shaping Youth: How do you feel our bubble of Supergirl syndromes in the urban and coastal environs (e.g. N.Y., L.A., S.F. etc.) differs from the rest of the world? (or does it?)

Are there major ‘pockets’ or is there homogenization via media immersion?

Liz Funk: My research tended to gravitate towards states like California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, and then on the east coast, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.  But what I found is that this is a really pervasive phenomenon in virtually all social classes and geographic regions.

Shaping Youth: What are your aspirations as a recovering Supergirl?

Liz Funk: I am really working hard right now to envision a life that is enjoyable and sufficiently leisurely, with a career that stimulates me and makes me feel like I’m doing something.

Sometimes when I watch the TV show 30 Rock, where Alec Baldwin plays the head of television programming at NBC and Tina Fey plays a head TV writer, I think to myself, I could work 80 hours a week for a corporation in NYC!  I could totally do that!  But knowing what I know about me, I don’t think that would be healthy for me.  But then I also don’t want to go the other way and do something that doesn’t push me enough.

Shaping Youth: Do you feel ‘digital natives’ handle media pressure and the blinding flash of public attention better than adults like me who dodge it all? Is it because of the pervasiveness and transparency growing up with media? (e.g. Did you take lessons in media training?)

Liz Funk: At this point in my life, I’m starting to wonder whether it’s actually damaging to your health to be a public figure.

I think people who are in the public eye have to develop a lot of coping mechanisms, especially with the way people in our online culture today talk to one another.

I used to think that I wanted to be Maureen Dowd and be an uber-famous social commentary writer, but I don’t think I could handle the public scrutiny. But then again, as Samantha Jones of Sex and the City would say, “If I listened to what every bitch in New York said about me, I’d never leave the house.”

Shaping Youth: Are you (or have you been) subjected to ‘bodysnarking’ or do you feel a strong coat of armor building around you to combat same?

(e.g. I recently was at a conference and someone said, “wow, you’ve aged since that photo on your blog!” and my response was, “yep, two years in startup mode without proper funding will do that to you!” but it still stung)

Liz Funk: I’ve been subject to just a bit of it–just a little.  I’m honestly
not sure how I handle the sting compared to others.  Sometimes I let
insults roll right off me and other times I get super-pissed.  The way
I react is random.

I think that we have this internet culture of nastiness, and I think it’s going to serve to be really problematic in the long run.  I think this anything-goes internet policy, in terms of moderating awful comments and bloggers writing terrible things about people actually curbs more speech than it creates, because it really makes good-willed people self-censor as they write, in the hopes of not being targeted by someone’s snark.

Shaping Youth: How can we advise girls not to be timid (or intimidated) by a public presence? How can they learn to deal with the media, bodysnarking and ancillary reverb and stress without getting wounded or derailed in this culture of unedited transparency?

Liz Funk: Despite that Hillary Clinton was treated like garbage
when she ran for president, we need more girls to aspire to do the
same!  So I think we need to teach them to take compliments to heart
and to hear out constructive criticism and to completely IGNORE
snarking and unconstructive criticism.

I think people in the spotlight do develop some emotional armor, but if we want female  leaders and another female presidential nominee (!!!), we need to raise girls to be less sensitive to the opinions of the people trying
to sabotage them.

Shaping Youth: What life lessons have you learned working with adults (book publishing early internships, acceleration etc.) that can be taught to other kids? (do’s and don’ts)

Liz Funk: That’s a great question!  I think the thing that took the most getting used to was phone etiquette; like when it’s better to call someone to say something, when you need to call someone, and when it’s polite to call someone because using e-mail would make the task at hand more complicated.  That one took the most figuring out, especially because I’m not a phone person.  People in the business world like to use phones!

Shaping Youth: Are you familiar with the Billy Joel tune, ‘Vienna Waits for You’? (lyrics link)

Liz Funk: Love it!  And it’s so the theme song of “Supergirls.”  That, or “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5.

Shaping Youth: Thanks, Liz…Good luck with the rest of the blog book tour and all that media attention. Better you than me, maybe someday you can teach me some of those coping skills…or be a ‘representative’ of Shaping Youth on my behalf.

SuperGirls like you, Vanessa VanPetten, On Teens Today, and other teen authors turned twenty-somethings are totally AMAZING. (although I try to banish that word from my vocabulary as part of my ‘Supergirl recovery’ process!)

How about you, readers??

Any other over-achieving supergirls turning into ‘good enough’ girls to keep themselves healthy and strong? Do tell!

More About Liz Funk and SuperGirls Speak Out

supergirls-book-wideLiz Funk is a New York-based freelance writer and college student.

Her writing has been published in USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, CosmoGIRL!, the Huffington Post, Tango magazine, Vibe Vixen magazine, and Girls’ Life, among others. (full bio here) She’s also a speaker/lecturer and workshop leader…she’s been a speaker at SUNY-Buffalo, Columbia University, Hampshire College, Pace University, and Syracuse University’s School Press Institute.  She has given keynotes and spoken on panels at countless conferences and events for non-profit organizations and media groups, including the College Democrats, Young People For, the YWCA, and the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

This year, she’ll be speaking about her book at Duke University, Columbia University, Rice University, NYU, the George Washington University, the University of New England, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, and Russell Sage College, among other eminent schools.

Amy’s note: A quick scan of these topics will capsulize some of the issues the book is about! Very noteworthy, as it puts forth some of the watch-worthy concepts for analysis of media and marketing’s impact on kids in shorthand.

The Supergirls:
This lecture would discuss the pressure on young women to be perfect and how today’s limiting-and-demanding “female ideal” has taught young women to find themselves in AP classes, their looks, and what others think of them, instead of embracing who they are inside.  This lecture would be largely based on the research presented in Liz Funk’s first book, “Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls.”

Another Kind of Hunger:
This lecture would discuss eating disorders, body image issues, how today’s young women manifest their need for control and attention in food issues, and how the media teaches body loathing to both genders (body image issues aren’t just for girls!).  This author can also talk about her personal experience with anorexia, exercise addiction, and overeating, and how aspiring medical professionals can better understand the secret selves of eating disorder sufferers.

Young Women and Attention:
Notice a recent surge in girls on campus screaming into their cell phones in public places, dancing on top of bars, posting outrageous personal photos on Facebook, and dressing outlandishly to get attention?  Don’t judge them before you know about how today’s girls have been taught to get attention in all the wrong ways.

This lecture would discuss why the rise of young women posting photos of themselves on the internet doing scandalous things and the rise of girls “going wild” is closely intertwined with how today’s young women have been raised to be Supergirls.  Today’s young women need to jump through hoops to get attention for doing positive things (but the smart-girls-by-day see that they can get attention easily for being bad-girls-by-night), which gives girls major confusion about their roles in society and their purpose!

Many of today’s girls have a diminished self of self and diminished pride in their identities, which leaves them vulnerable to craving approval from others and desperate for attention, because they can’t find satisfaction in themselves inside.

How to Be a Savvy Media Consumer:
This lecture would discuss the portrayal of women in the media, how marketers try to sell young women on “empowerment,” how consuming and trying to use clothes and style to feel good is a big part of the Supergirl issue, the rise of media that glamorizes privilege, and how to master “media and news literacy.”

Changing the World—That’s Hot:
This lecture would discuss the who, what, where, when, how and why of getting involved in student activism. It would discuss what the most popular—and important—activist issues among young people are and why they matter. This lecture would give a run-down of how to get involved with youth organizations, and how to throw parties, protests, and events to help change the world.

Clips, Mastheads, and Big Money:
This lecture would give a 101 on freelance writing, pitching articles, writing book proposals, writing books, networking, and other ways to forge a successful career in writing and publishing (even before graduating from high school or college!). This lecture would also discuss writing for social change and how journalism can be used to spur positive change in society!

Please contact Liz directly at lizDOTfunkATgmailDOT com. (Liz, I think I need that last class about the ‘cash’ part for this nonprofit venture! Um, will it be a webinar? 😉 –Amy

Updates/More on Liz’ Blog Book Tour:

Update: 3-7: Her pop music selections on this topic (e.g. media analysis of lyrics, etc. feeding into the Supergirls scene) are at the “Largehearted Boy” music blog More links from LHB on Liz’ tour below:

Feminist Law Professor guest post by the author
Life, Words, & Rock ‘N’ Roll interview with the author
Schenectady Daily Gazette profile of the author
Shaping Youth interview with the author
Teen Fiction Cafe interview
The Writing Porch interview
Ypulse interview with the author



  1. Awesome topic! 😉 I’ll have to check out the book.

    Pando’s last blog post..Why can’t Girls be Superheroes too?

  2. Pando, thanks for the fix on your tee-shirt post! My akismet is up over 700,000 on spams now…so totally get the high filter on links…which is a segue to this:

    Sarang, I’m leaving this link up in case you are NOT an autobot/aggregation site but there is no ‘about’ section on your linkage other than the wp template, so this is a ‘test’…1,2,3…

  3. Great interview! I really liked the Wizard of Oz comment! I think that is really true in all aspects of life!

  4. All: I’d like to do a follow up piece with TEENS experiencing this phenom (preferably those who have read or read about the book) as we’re inching toward SAT/exam time/finals/spring stress scenarios and I’d like to fold this into a ‘tips’ piece for students (e.g. Stanford’s Denise Clark Pope, etc.)

    Any takers?

    p.s. And if anyone has seen this earlier (e.g. TWEEN or younger phase) I’d like to hear from them too…Also about coping skills/any strong opinions you may have on any of these topics, and ‘generational’ hand-me down angst vs. cyclebreaking?

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Kids Green Science Shenanigans for St. Patrick’s Day

  5. JP Merzetti says

    Good interview –
    btw, from a healthy male perspective, Paris Hilton is about
    as far away as it gets from “logical” attractiveness.
    (but that’s another story.)
    I wonder – do girls have grandmothers in their lives,
    these days…ones that contribute healthy input on a regular
    basis? Just a thought – that perhaps this is one of the strongest sources of consultation there is, that can provide
    And again, from a male perspective, I’ve been convinced for many years now, that female conditioning from very young ages, is systematically choreographed to play into masculine fantasies. I don’t think that game plan has changed a whole lot – for all the mobility of female opportunity. Sometimes that just seems like fancy windowdressing, designed to distract. Men are still opportunists, and it is in their great favor to spin much of what confuses young women.
    I leave it up to the woment themselves, to decipher just what’s coming at them from that power base.
    (which is why the supergirl syndrome caught my eye in the first place.) You go, girl.

  6. Awesome comment! And if we had more ‘healthy male perspectives’ like yours we wouldn’t be in this mess of money-making objectification like this latest one from American Apparel which plays right into your point on male fantasies:


    American Apparel’s shenanigans might as well be called ‘porn as advertising’…UGH. Zero accountability, despite APA studies on the harm of objectification/kids’ sexuality/real life societal outcomes, etc. (e.g. misogynistic violence, rise in teen dating v. etc.) and the uber hostile environs of career ‘choices’ like tech conferences and ad agency environs that are male dominated when women squirm at sophomoric “bods over brains” types of references (I wrote about this in the comments on Career Diva here too: http://www.evetahmincioglu.com/web/blog/2010/01/27/apples-ipad-points-to-dearth-of-women-in-it

    You can see you’ve hit a hot button on the passionista front here… 😉 Thanks, JP, for being a whole man, with a whole view of how humanity should walk through the world together!
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..iPad makes women iMad? Gender or Generational Naming Gaffe? =-.

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