Madonna King’s Being 14 reminded me a little of Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabees, but updated (2017 v late 90’s/early 00’s) and based in Australia, which made it a little more relatable. I don’t have children of my own, but do have a sixteen-year-old soon-to-be-stepdaughter (who I knew at fourteen – twelve, actually) so the book resonated somewhat. I’m going to call her Drew. (Those of you who know her – and more to the point, me and my love for feminist-friendly movies – should get the reference.)
King mostly talks about the unrealistic beauty standards facing both teenagers today and her own pop culture icons; she look at Agneta Faltskog and Farrah Fawcett, professionally made up with thousands of hours and fashion dollars invested in them, but none the less a far more attainable look than that of the Pretty Little Liars cast. (Also, being an athletic crime solver or talented singer is a somewhat more admirable aspiration than the PLL characters.) In one anecdote, she talks about a subject who had bought several copies of a magazine, to the bafflement of the newsagent owner. When she explained that she was on the cover and wanted to send copies to her aunt, grandmother, cousins etc, this exacerbated rather than cleared up the newsagent’s confusion as the made-up, airbrushed figure on the cover looked nothing like the girl who was buying the magazine, in much the same way I, a thirtysomething white woman, looks nothing like Beyonce. I think that particular anecdote jumped out at me because of how far removed what we see on TV, in the movies and in magazines is from the reality, and how badly we are setting up our young people for failure when the things they aspire to are only attainable through airbrushing.
There were some helpful tips about engaging with teenage girls looking to push the boundaries, and recognizing that the need to push the boundaries that made me think of Drew; I made a mental note to bring them up the next time it’s relevant to the conversation. I guess what I really took from this book was how relatable it was, despite not having children, and never having had an interest in them. I think that’s a measure of good writing, when someone who has no vested interest in the subject matter still finds it interesting.