There are people who would prefer that the stereotypical mean girl, who so often appears in young adult fiction, would go the way of the dodo bird. But why? Literature is sprinkled with femme fatale characters who use their beauty and charm to manipulate. They lie and deceive. They bring a certain magic to the story. Like the femme fatale, the mean girl serves much the same purpose.
The teenage years are a time of growing and maturing. It's also the time when many teens are at their most vulnerable. I explored this topic in Of Dreams and Shadow. Having a mean girl allowed me to use her as a tool - one that could expose my main character's insecurities. Jenna is a typical teen. She's the new girl in school. She's dealing with all the baggage that comes with a move - finding her place in a new social environment while mourning the loss of the security of her former life and friends. Mean Girl Melissa helped to propel Jenna's story. She made sure Jenna felt out of place. She possessed a confidence that Jenna lacked. Because of her, Jenna had to grow. She had to become a young woman who knew her own self-worth.
But what of the mean girl? Why do we typically choose to describe her as popular and beautiful? After all, we all know girls that are not only popular/beautiful but sweet and kind. So why the stereotype? There are a variety of reasons but one reason sticks out for me. In our society, looks are valued; females tend to compare themselves to their peers. Most people can relate to the girl who is all too aware of the pimple that blemishes her face or the hair that refuses to cooperate. We know what it's like to feel as though we don't measure up. The mean girl is beautiful because she has to be. She's the picture of perfection, a contrast to the main character's self-perceived shortcomings.