How a TCK Became a Centerpiece of Teen Comedy in ‘Mean Girls’

Mean Girls (2004) (Image credit- Paramount Pictures)
TCK in 'Mean Girls' (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Prior to the release of the movie “Mean Girls,” which features a Third Culture Kid (TCK) child of researchers, such characters weren’t represented as ordinary characters in pop culture, and their internal struggles remained unrepresented in coming of age films.

There’s no question that protagonist Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan, is a textbook TCK as represented throughout her character’s various experiences.

While the movie has its flaws, it allowed for Lohan’s character Cady to become a pop culture icon in part because of her identity as a TCK. Even with the movie’s intentions to show issues within teen girl social culture, it also expresses the journey TCKs go through in struggling with self-identity.

In an early scene of the movie, Cady declares that she loves math because it stays the same in each country:


Throughout the movie, Heron both struggles internally and blends in externally. She becomes a member of the most admired group in her school while also feeling as if she has to let go of who she is. She considers Africa her home, despite her community seeing her as a U.S. citizen.

Cady Heron’s TCK integration

Children of international researchers are especially likely to integrate into communities than other children that spend time in other countries. Heron, for example, is shown interacting with local children and taking on parts of the culture. She learns Swahili and Afrikaan, wears tribal jewelry and her parents display fertility vases in their U.S. home.

Around 0:15 in the below clip, Cady Heron describes her first crush. This happened while she was living in Africa at the age of five.

Even as Heron takes on the role as a social chameleon like many other TCKs, she fails to understand why her peers don’t understand simple parts of her life.

On her first day, she has to explain why she’s both white and from Africa. At her party, she hides her parents’ tribal vases due to her peers’ lacking respect.

At the 1:05 point in the below clip, Cady takes away a fertility vase from someone to prevent it from being broken.

Social implications of Cady’s character

“Mean Girls” was a stepping stone for the representation of young global nomads in media and gave a narrative of the life of international researchers from a child or teen’s perspective.

While plenty of movies showcased Army B.R.A.T. characters, there still haven’t been many to display the life of a TCK coming from research backgrounds.

Cady Heron’s role as the protagonist of a classic teen comedy has unknowingly familiarized U.S. teens and their families with the concept of cultural fluidity. It has also allowed for TCKs from research families to be understood as likable and relatable within media.

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