Cady Heron would not approve

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We all watched Lindsay Lohan as the character Cady Heron struggle to balance her old friendships with the pressure of maintaining her glossy new life amongst the plastics. We all witnessed the breakfast club rectify their differences to connect with each other on a profound level. And if we haven’t seen these movies, we’ve seen others just like them. We all get the premise: social environments in high school are toxic; we should all be nice to each other.

And yet, if you’ve read the article on page 6 called “Why is “friend group” exclusivity our norm,” or better yet, looked around at the social environment we live in, you’d notice that people here for the most part unquestioningly accept the same toxic environments that plague the characters in the movies.

While walking through the Trevian Commons may not exactly mirror Cady Heron’s animalistic experience, it certainly could be made more welcoming. Groups are held together by the primary glue of fear that without their group, they’d have no way of partying. Friends gossip an unhealthy amount about people in other groups and about people within their own. Exclusivity causes people to feel isolated and question what’s wrong with them. We end up doing things we wouldn’t normally do and tolerate behavior we wouldn’t normally tolerate from others because our values feel secondary to the hunger to fit into a group.

This issue intersects with the issue of mental health as examined in the special section on pages 4 and 5. Humans are social animals whose individual identities are inextricable from the community that shapes and is shaped by our interaction with it. Waking up everyday to a toxic social environment fueled by stereotypes, judgement, fear, and competition can be detrimental to our mental health.

And yes, it’s actually quite comical opening Instagram to some exclusive pic-collages of groups with a tally of who’s committed where.

But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can’t deny the unnecessary negativity that happens behind the weekly instagram posts of the squad posing at someone’s house party. Needless to say, if the creators of “Mean Girls” could see how blatantly we’ve jettisoned their heartfelt warnings, they’d be shaking their heads.

Maybe it boils down to the inevitable limitations of art in teaching us valuable life lessons. Maybe we misinterpreted the movies and have instead accepted that toxic social environments as depicted are a fact of life we could never reform. Maybe it has to do with our own limitations.

But regardless, what’s interesting is that we all have had one thing the characters in the movies don’t have. No, it’s not homework. It’s the infinite wisdom of the messages imparted during the falling action of these films where the protagonist and the larger community realize that we’d all be so much happier if we were nice to each other.

“I had gone from home-schooled jungle freak to shiny Plastic to most hated person in the world to actual human being. All the drama from last year just wasn’t important anymore. School used to be like a shark tank, but now I could just float,” says Cady in the last few moments of “Mean Girls.”

It’s true that there is an exorbitant amount of pressure to conform to detrimental social standards in our environment. It’s not hard to see why we’ve accepted them despite the wise influence of Cady Heron. We entered high school as eager but slightly intimidated freshies ready to fit into our new high school life. When something is new like that, it seems so much bigger than it actually is. Somehow in the process of high school, and maybe even middle school too, we ended up accepting the supposed permanence of social structures we inherited, assuming they’d always preceded us and would, thus, reign long after we’re gone.

But we’ve forgotten that we are the constituents of that environment. We now comprise it, and we can now change it through the integrity of our own actions. If we don’t like the limitation, the negativity, the exclusivity of our social environment, we can take responsibility for changing it.

Divisions between groups are natural; of course you are going to be good friends with your teammates, your cast mates, or other club members. But we should make efforts to be inclusive, to be thoughtful about the way we talk to people and about people, to spend time with people we actually like, and to seek relationships not out of fear but our of genuine connection.