SUPERGIRL MELTDOWN; Perfect Grades,perfect Bodies, Perfect boyfriends.Too Many Teenage Girls Today Are under Unprecedented Pressure to Succeed - and It's Sending Them Into

Article excerpt

Byline: by Sarah Hughes

ON THE phone to a friend, the talk soon turned to her teenage daughter. At 17 she is beautiful, popular and doing well at school -- yet, despite this, she is also, her mother revealed, unhappy.

'She's so worried the whole time,' my friend said. 'She's convinced that she's going to fail her exams, that she won't get into any of the universities she's applying for, that she'll never do well at anything... she gets so wound up about the slightest thing. I find her in floods of tears and nothing I say can convince her that she's going to be fine.'

And my friend's daughter is by no means alone. One colleague's smart, attractive daughter has been battling anorexia since her early teens.

Another saw her teenage girl drop out all together -- exhausted at the age of 17 and on the verge of burn-out after years of academic achievement. She refused to apply to university and is being treated for depression.

Welcome to Generation Supergirl. They are the young women who are supposed to have everything. Unlike their grandmothers, they don't have to fight for their right to be heard. Unlike their mothers, they are confident they can have the career without sacrificing the home life.

Record numbers of them are achieving top grades, heading to the best universities and on to great jobs.

But are all these opportunities making them happy? Well according to a new book Supergirls Speak Out: Inside The Secret Crisis Of Over-Achieving Girls, the answer is an overwhelming no.

As the book's 21-year-old author, Liz Funk, explains: 'These "super girls" believe that in order to be happy, they must excel at their job or career, have the best grades, wear the coolest clothes, date the best-looking boy, and have the perfect body size.' What is especially cruel is that to the outside world this particular band of girls seem to have it all.

Glimpsed walking down the street, these girls look blessed: beautiful, skinny, stylishly dressed, their confidence as they chatter away about this book or that film, this TV show or that boy is enough to make even the most self-assured 30-something feel dowdy and outof-place.

Yet they are increasingly unhappy. Their quest for perfection has not led them to contentment, but instead turned them into what Funk described as 'stressed-out women whose drive overwhelms their lives -- their body image, diet, exercise, school schedule, career choices, romantic relationships and interactions with family and friends'.

So why have so many teenage girls come to the conclusion that anything short of perfection is failure? Stephen Hinshaw, professor and chair of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the bestselling book, The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls From Today's Pressures, believes that they are suffering from the weight of expectations: society's, their parents', and, most crucially, their own.

HE SAYS: 'In many ways at least in the U.S. and Europe, this is an unprecedented time to be a teenage girl -- it's what their mothers and grandmothers fought for and we certainly don't want to take the level of choice available away from them.

'However, we must also acknowledge that there is a problem with our culture's growing insistence that girls must excel at everything: school, sports, relationships, looks.' We live in a world where it's not enough for a woman to want to be a great athlete, she needs to be a highly marketable athlete as well -- then it won't matter if she sells more cameras than she wins matches on court.

Similarly, our female musicians must be either non-threateningly winsome verging on fey, or prepared to shake their barely clad booties on stage.

Even the supposedly less photoobsessed industries aren't immune. Our female politicians should apparently show some semblance of sex appeal, our scientists should shimmy in well-cut suits and it is no longer enough for a woman to be an award-winning author, she must also be a beautiful, thin awardwinning author. …