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Hidden Diversity in ‘Mean Girls’

MEAN GIRLS (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)
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Image credits: Paramount Pictures

The movie “Mean Girls” was released in the United States and Canada on April 30th, 2004. It made US$130 million in the box office with a budget of only $17 million.

The film is categorized as a comedy, but it also has aspects of global mobility and hidden diversity that are shown through the main character, Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan.

Cady Heron

Cady Heron is a teenage girl who was born in the United States but moved to Africa as a child and was homeschooled there for 12 of her developmental years. Herons’ parents traveled to Africa because of their jobs as research zoologists. She and her parents moved back to the United States where Heron began attending classes at North Shore High School. Heron was globally mobile within two countries during her developmental years and grew up outside of her parents’ passport country, which would categorize her as a Third Culture Kid (TCK).

Heron’s hidden diversity

When Heron arrived at her new high school in the U.S.A., her peers did not welcome her with open arms. One of Heron’s peers, Karen Smith, asked her, “So, if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” To this question Heron had no answer. Heron is white but has a worldview that most people wouldn’t know by her outward appearance. This aspect gives Heron a hidden diversity.

A TCK’s thoughts on the film

Sierrah Matthes, another TCK, grew up as a military brat. She was born in Denver, Colo., U.S.A. and traveled all around the United States and then to Germany before returning back to Colorado. Matthes expressed to me that she shared the same feelings that Heron did:

After living in Germany for three years, the United States no longer felt like my safe space or home. I felt like an outsider and different from the kids in my high school. For the first year back in the U.S. I only wished to return back to Germany.

Matthes had to adapt back into U.S. society, just as Heron did after being globally mobile for a significant part of their developmental years. 

Last example of hidden diversity

Another example of Heron’s hidden diversity is when her teacher finds out there is a new transfer student from Africa, she has an inherent bias that the student will be black. The teacher goes as far as pointing out a black woman in the classroom and welcomes her to North Shore High School. The student responds to the teacher with, “I’m from Michigan.” No one in the classroom would have ever guessed that Heron was the transfer student because she did not outwardly look like she was transferring from Africa.

Heron is the perfect example of a TCK with hidden diversity. At first, she feels like an outsider in a new country but throughout the film she finds friends and starts to consider the United States as her new home. Many TCKs go through the same emotions that Heron did, and they all adapt into countries in different ways.

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4 comments

  1. The thought of hidden diversity in a widely known drama intrigued me. I loved the addition of the visuals however some of the details were a bit lack luster. Considering there are multiple people in the movie that all have different backgrounds would have added to this article. I did enjoy the explanation of Cady’s life change but I think there was a few missed opportunities that would have made this article perfect!

  2. Mean Girls is one of my favorite movies ever, and I have probably seen it 100 times. But now looking at it through an academic and cultural view I feel even more intrigued. Bringing up the fact that Cady Heron is an example of a TCK experiencing hidden diversity just shows how so many people have different life experiences and how that defines who we are. Even though she begins to fall into the “Americanized” stereotypical mean girl, she eventually falls back to her root values in the end.

  3. This article really captured my attention. This is such an obvious example of hidden diversity and Third Culture Kids in popular culture but that hadn’t even occurred to me before reading this article. Mean Girls was (and still is) an incredibly popular movie that used humor and stereotypes to draw attention to the challenges that Third Culture Kids and culturally diverse people face every day.

  4. This article was surprising to me. The topic was not something I expected to see and it ended up peaking my interest. The show is something I typically would write off as generic and not diverse or understanding of other cultures. I was shocked when the author mentioned an example of a third culture kid, showing me that maybe I was wrong about the film. It is a possibility that some of the writers understand cultural fluidity and representation, or even that one is a TCK themselves, and wanted to incorporate what that was like to live through into the film/

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