3 Lessons on Being True to Yourself, as Told by 'Mean Girls'

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How to stay true to yourself in college as taught by the movie Mean Girls

Take a Movie's Advice is a weekly column attempting to discover the similarities between our favorite movies and real life. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show. 

It’s human nature to seek acceptance from others. While it's great to stand out from the crowd, it's natural to feel good when another person reassures that we’re “doing the right thing.”

As a response, we may end up participating in organizations that don’t align with our true passions or hang out with people who don't appreciate us. We might even decide on a college major because a professor or classmate commended us for our high performance on an exam. 

If you’re a people pleaser like me, you’ll soon realize how much more beneficial it can be to do less of what you’re expected to do and more of what you want to do.

According to Brene Brown, living inauthentically can have consequences: 

“Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted. But we’re not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of incongruent living is soul-sucking.”

Although college is the time to discover who we really are, it’s also a time when we can easily lose ourselves in the shuffle. Fortunately, we have a cautionary tale to help us out. Cady Heron from Mean Girls can teach us quite a few things about being true to ourselves.

About the Movie 

Directed by Mark Waters and written by Tina Fey, Mean Girls (2004) is an American comedy turned cult favorite following Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), a young teen attempting to navigate the shallow waters of high school.

After completing a 12-year research trip to Africa, Cady's parents settle down in Evanston, IL. Cady, as a result, attends public school for the first time. On her first day, Cady encounters Janis Ian and Damien Leigh, two students who inform her of the school’s various cliques and groups. They then warn Cady to be wary of the “Plastics,” led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams), alongside Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried).

Soon Cady is accepted by the Plastics, the most popular group in school. At the same time, Janis devises a plan to plot revenge against Regina by using Cady to gather information about the clique. As the film continues, Cady and Janis learn about the “Burn Book,” a journal filled with secrets, rumors, and insults about different girls and teachers at the high school.

From keeping up with the Plastics and 12th grade calculus to maintaining her friendship with Janis and winning an academic competition, Cady sure has her work cut out for her. But she ultimately realizes she can overcome anything, as long as she stays true to herself.

Mean-girls-cady-heron-smiling

(Want to watch the movie before reading further? Check out the film here.)

1. Choose your friends wisely.

While Janis and Damien are the first friends that Cady makes at North Shore High School, she ends up spending the majority of her time with the Plastics – Regina, Gretchen, and Karen. 

The result? Cady takes on the characteristics of the Plastics, both positive and negative. This causes her to treat Janis differently toward the end of the film, nearly ruining their friendship forever.

In college, you're constantly meeting new people and "trying on" different friend groups. While doing this, it's important to maintain your normal personality and not feel pressured to change.

As the old saying goes, "those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." Presenting your true self in social settings ensures you'll find people who like you for you. And you shouldn't be afraid of presenting the real you. Just because something about you varies from the mainstream doesn’t mean you have to change it.

True friends will lift you up, not tear you down. According to Tim Ferriss

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they are making you weaker.”

Your true friends will support you in whatever endeavor you choose. Pick them carefully.

2. Say “yes” to saying “no.”

From the beginning of the film, Cady is clear on her love for math. After all, it's same in every country. However, when she tells the Plastics her plans to join the Mathletes, they stop her from participating: "It's social suicide!”

As a result, Cady devotes her time to Plastics activities, like singing “Jingle Bell Rock” at the talent show and preparing for the Spring Fling dance. It isn't until she joins the Mathletes as punishment that she realizes how fun it is to do what she actually loves.

The semester’s only just started, but it won’t be long until you find yourself with a collection of different roles, meetings, and tasks. If you’re not completely committed to a project, it's not going to go on your resume', and it doesn’t excite you at all, it’s likely in your interest to place your focus elsewhere. 

You should honor your commitments, of course (don't go quitting a job or internship just because it's not fun), but if there's an on-campus club where you won't be missed, for instance, it might be wise to back away or dial down your involvement.

And don’t worry, it takes time to find out which activities match your interests. Keep trying, and in the future, vow to commit only to things you truly want to do.

3. Don’t act like someone you’re not.

Soon after Regina is dismissed as the leader of the Plastics, Cady takes her place as the new Queen Bee. With her parents out of town, Cady plans a small get-together at her house. Of course, in true high school form, word gets around and the party turns out to be anything but "small."

Cady eventually catches her crush, Aaron, in the crowd, but their encounter doesn't go well. Aaron realizes that her behavior and language has changed drastically, to the extent that he exclaims she is now "a clone of Regina."

Her response? Vomiting on his shoes.

By the end of the film, Cady gives up her role as Queen Bee and starts being herself again. This ultimately leads her to reconcile with Aaron. As it turns out, he likes her as she is, mathlete jacket and all.

Sometimes it's hard to recognize when you're not acting like yourself. That's why it's important to check in with yourself periodically. Journaling can help with this, as can keeping in touch with those who know you best, whether it's family or your best friends from home. True friends will call you out when you're not being true to you.

At the end of the day, you're going to change and evolve in college, but only you know how to do this in accordance with your values. Don't lose touch with yourself during these four years. If Cady can teach you anything, it's that doing so is the opposite of *fetch*.

What do you think?

How do you stay true to yourself and your values in college? Do you have any tips for other girls? What did you learn from the movie Mean Girls? Tell us in the comments.

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