What Should We Call Girl Pain?
The starlets who posed for the July 2003 Vanity Fair “It’s Totally Raining Teens!” cover, symbolized femininity, success, beauty, talent, youth and perfection. Average girls in the aughts didn’t have the accoutrements to be them, but they could watch them. Even better than watching them, average girls could read their books. The books based on their shows and movies heightened the fantasy. Average girls could be any of these starlets for $3.99 or $4.99. Average girls could be like them while they waited to grow up, not knowing they are already like them.
Five out of nine of the starlets featured on the July 2003 Vanity Fair cover have admitted to struggling with mental illness, making them more than Mary Sues. For Mary-Kate, her pain was called anorexia. For Mandy Moore and Evan Rachel Wood, depression. For Lindsay Lohan, addiction. For Amanda Bynes, “an eating disorder.”
Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes, in particular, labored in Hollywood, as young, vulnerable girls, at the cost of self-love and self-awareness. Money and success couldn’t save them, ultimately, from the reality of illness and suffering. They both represent hurt and injury, and are mocked for it. When people are not cheaply waxing political about them, they are fetishized by gay white men and straight white men alike, mocked in the new lowest form of white male humor: White Girl Jokes.
Men never ask what they should call women’s pain, so they call us crazy. They call us crazy and they laugh at us. The same men who say women aren’t funny obviously do find women funny. They find women funny at the most inappropriate time: when we’re hurting. There is no sympathy, no empathy, for young women under the influence, on the verge of, or currently breaking down. Girl pain is titillating and amusing disaster porn. In Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes’ case, their celebrity eclipses their humanity; they become the “willing victims” of the public abuse of men. Their inner turmoil, a spectacle, is a living punchline reaction gif, making us ask, “Where are their people?”
Lindsay and Amanda, we know, have no people. Amanda Bynes, in a recent tweet, stated, “I don’t speak to my parents anymore.” Lindsay has always been people-less. We learned this, when Lindsay released “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter To Father).” Amy Poehler and Tina Fey tried to be Lindsay’s people, when they staged an intervention in 2005. Their efforts failed.
We watched Britney Spears struggle in the spotlight from 2006-2008, until her parents intervened, like good people should, rescuing their daughter from her very public nightmare, a nightmare exacerbated by men like Sam Lutfi and Perez Hilton. We watched Demi Lovato, during her tour with the Jonas Brothers, punch a back-up dancer. Like Britney, Demi’s support system— her people— intervened. Demi began her treatment at Timberline Knolls. It was there, at Timberline Knolls, that Demi learned what to call her hurt and injury and girl pain: bipolar disorder, bulimia, self-medication, cutting, etc. Her girl pain inspired her last album, Unbroken, the most Lohan-esque song from the album being “For the Love a Daughter.” Britney is older than the girls on the July 2003 Vanity Fair cover, Demi is younger, but their girl pain is the same.
The girls on the Vanity Fair cover all seem to express a vulnerability and winking stoicism. They seem aware of the fact that they were corseted and boxed in— as the clothes, the color and the cover suggest— but not weak. Amanda and Lindsay, both on the sides, are not holding onto any of the other girls. Instead, they grasp the white structure.
What should we call girl pain?