Sunday, January 25

Supergirl: Interviewing Debut Author Liz Funk

Today we welcome Liz Funk to TFC. Liz is the author of Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls, a nonfiction look at the pressure on young women to be perfect. SUPERGIRLS SPEAK OUT is being published in paperback by Simon and Schuster's Touchstone imprint on March 3rd and has received advance praise from Leora Tanenbaum, Janice Erlbaum, Leslie Bennetts, Robyn Schneider, Gloria Feldt, and Abby Ellin, among other well-known women writers. The book is geared towards girls between the ages of 15 and 25.

LBL: Welcome, Liz! Tell us, what is a Supergirl? Is it something people should want to be?

LF: Thanks so much for inviting me to weigh in on my book! A Supergirl is a young woman who appears to have it all—in her career, looks, friends, romances, and charm—but is secretly struggling to keep her day planner from exploding. I think a lot of Supergirls feel overstressed and often unsatisfied, so I wouldn’t really recommend aspiring to become one. I think it’s important for girls to have a healthy amount of ambition and drive, though, and I discuss how to strike that happy medium between underachieving and overachieving in my book.

LBL: Please tell us a little bit about your own professional history.

LF: I knew in high school that I wanted to be a writer. I started off thinking that I wanted to be doing screenwriting, but when I went to a fiction writing workshop taught by a writer in my town when I was in the 10th grade, I thought that I should write books instead, and I started writing long-form fiction and nonfiction, just for fun. I started writing freelance in my later years of high school for smaller newspapers and niche magazines, and I was asked to write a blog for the Times Union, a newspaper in Albany, NY. In my sophomore year of college, helped by some mentors and “Getting Your Book Published for Dummies,” I wrote the proposal for SUPERGIRLS SPEAK OUT. By my junior year of college, I decided that I really wanted to dedicate myself to writing about gender and Generation Y and social issues, and by then I had written for USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, CosmoGIRL!, Girls’ Life, the Nation, the New Humanist (a British magazine), and a lot of other cool places. Today, I’m at work still writing freelance, working to promote my book, and blogging at lizfunk.com/blog.

LBL: Wow, that's quite a resume! How did you come to write SUPERGIRLS?

LF: I had always felt a lot of pressure to be perfect and I felt like there was always a better version of me that I could become—more successful, prettier, more desirable, at a better college, etc. etc.—and I’m pretty sure I had that impression and those self-depreciating thought patterns from the media. I had just always been thinking about these pressures on teen girls. I had read a great article in Rolling Stone in May of 2006 that talked about the women at Duke University and used the term “effortlessly perfect” and it really resonated with me, and I began noticing that many of the women around me who looked perfect were doing a lot of pretending. I wrote the proposal for SUPERGIRLS SPEAK OUT in January of 2007, and I was lucky because a story ran on the front page of the New York Times in early April that had people talking about overachieving girls trying to do everything. Two weeks later, my agent Wendy Sherman was sending out my book proposal to a few editors in New York City. It felt like the timing was right to everyone I met at Simon and Schuster, the publisher that took on my book. I’ve been working with a great editor, too, so I’m been really lucky on all counts.

LBL: What is what you refer to as "the limiting female ideal in Generation Y"?

LF: You know, I was watching “the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” on TV last night and there was this one scene for me that I thought perfectly illustrated “the limiting female ideal” so it’s funny that you should ask. In this scene in the movie, Blake Lively’s character is running on the beach with a big group and she is racing with the really cute guy who is leading the group. She is in tiny shorts and a sports bra and her skin is bronze and her hair goes all the way down her back and she looks extremely sexy; naturally, the cute boy seems interested in her. Bridget (Lively’s character) flirts with the running guy and says that she knows the guy is an athlete at Columbia and she asks him what he’s heard about her and he says, “High school. Won nationals.” And then she says something like, “MVP. I play forward…. I’m 17. Come on, I’ll race you.” So she’s beautiful, charming, and a soccer star?! Young women can’t live up to those kinds of standards! A ton of young women have girl crushes on Blake Lively and I honestly think it’s because Blake Lively represents this beautiful, charming teen girl that we all want to be, but it raises girls’ expectations for themselves in real life. Girls in real life get so caught up in wanting to look perfect all the time like this that they forget that they are allowed to have flaws and make mistakes and be awkward some of the time and have that be okay!

LBL: Is there one single thing that you feel is the greatest challenge facing young women today and, if so, what would that be?

LF: I think it’s so important for young women to find their real meaning. There’s so much pressure in youth culture to be a blonde tennis player or a pretty girl who works at the Abercrombie store, plus girls are also raised to find themselves in the reputation of the college they get into, find themselves in boyfriends, and find themselves in designer possessions; as said, we have a rather limiting female ideal in this country! So, for girls to realize why they matter outside of how they look and what they do and how long their resumes are is so important! Girls need to develop a sense of “intrinsic worth” and get to a point where they feel like they have genuine value!

LBL: We TFCers are obsessed with a variety of things, and I understand you have an obsession with hair products and television. Can you say more about that?

LF: Haha, hair products and television are probably two of my favorite things. My freshman and sophomore year of college, I dyed my hair ice blonde and it totally took a number on my hair; I used to have long, thick brown hair and it became thin and constantly breaking when it was light blonde. So now I’m a medium blonde (who only trusts salon color artists now—let that be a lesson to me!) on the hunt for the most restorative combination of shampoo, conditioner, and leave-in conditioner in the world. Some of my favorite lines are Bed Head, KMS, Aveda, and It’s a Ten. I also love television; I watch “30 Rock,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” every week. I also watch “Arrested Development” reruns on Hulu.com all the time. I quote “Arrested Development” at least five times a day.

LBL: What is one thing about yourself that you'd like readers to know about you?

LF: I think that a lot of young people are so creative and so ambitious, and I think that they should feel completely emboldened and unapologetic as they work to publish their writing. I started seriously writing freelance and writing SUPERGIRLS SPEAK OUT when I was 18 and although there were definitely some hurdles, I would encourage all young people to keep an eye out for subjects that they might like to become experts on and write a book proposal or articles or a novel! I think the media needs Generation Y writers and I really encourage my peers to get published!

LBL: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

LF: I guess the most important thing is, outside of teens developing a sense of intrinsic worth, is that I hope that teens become a little more privy to media literacy. I think very few young people understand that the media is really created mostly for entertainment and that it’s not meant to be a model for our lives. On TV, they have hairstylists who do magic on people’s appearances and Carrie Bradshaw is a journalist who improbably lives in a spacious one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and the girls of “Gossip Girl” have wardrobes that cost in the four figures. It’s not real and girls shouldn’t compare their lives to what they see on TV. I think a lot of teen TV and movies raises teens’ expectations for how they’re supposed to act and look, and I think it’s more damaging than we’ll ever know.

LBL: Which YA books have you read recently that you loved?

LF: YA is honestly one of my favorite genres. Over the summer, I read I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle, and it was probably the funniest book I ever read. I was laughing out loud through the whole thing. I also like Melissa Walker’s trilogy about Violet the model, Violet by Design and so on. How to Be Bad, by Lauren Myracle, Sarah Mlynowski, and E. Lockhart was really good, too. And then I love some older stuff, like First Part Last by Angela Johnson and Twelve by Nick McDonell.

LBL: Do you have a website where readers can learn more about you and your book?

LF: My main website is lizfunk.com. Readers can check out my blog at lizfunk.com/blog and learn more about my book at LizFunk.com/Supergirls.

So there you have it folks, our interview with the lovely Liz! It was pretty thorough, I think, but please weigh in with more questions for Liz and also answer our questions of the day for you:

ARE YOU A SUPERGIRL? IF SO, IN WHAT WAY? WOULD YOU LIKE TO STOP?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

6 comments:

Gerb said...

I'm so not a supergirl, but I've had my moments of being a supergirl wannabe. I sometimes can't help comparing myself to other authors who are so much more accomplished (*cough* Lauren *cough*) but then I have to remember that I can only run as fast as I have strength - and I'm still a mom first. I see my daughters dancing around the supergirl thing, too, involved in student government and drama and band and National Honor Society, etc. etc. It's important to find a balance.

FWIW, I just met Liz online recently and she's agreed to visit my blog for a Freebie Friday in March where she will be giving away copies of this book, so stay tuned!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Gerb, you are the giveaway queen! As for comparing ourselves to others, that way lies madness. I try to tell myself that the only person I ever have to compete with is me - I'm not always able to convince myself, but most of the time.

Melissa Walker said...

I've had the pleasure of hanging out with Liz, and she is a supergirl in the best possible ways. Great interview!

Alyson Noel said...

So not a supergirl. Never have been. I just try to focus on my journey and ignore the rest. Though I do think this is a really good book for this generation of girls who face ridiculous amounts of pressure, bombarded with images of perfection that can never be obtained!

Way to go Liz, and best of luck with your book!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I definitely tried to be a supergirl in high school. Mostly when it came to my grades, which was kinda funny because I was this punk chick who definitely ditched class and acted out quite a bit, but I maintained straight a's and was obsessive to a self destructive point... And then, guess what. I went to two colleges that were basically open admission. They didn't care about my high school grades at all.

I think I have too much on my plate still a lot of the time and that's probably where my insomnia was born from and why it continues. Yeah, I should go to bed now.... But I wanted to say great interview! And Liz will be coming to Women Who Rock Wednesday too!

Hermione said...

I loved this article! It annoys me how girls are always supposed to be perfect – they have to be beautiful, smart, admired, nice, polite, etc. They have to have a boyfriend, get good grades, wear trendy clothes, be good at everything they do.

I think there are a few different types of supergirls – there are the homecoming queens who get good grades, are impossibly nice, and good at seemingly everything. There are the girls who have straight-a's and are the captain of the varsity soccer team. There are the girls who have amazing boyfriends who ask them to every school dance. I could go on and on.

Lots of girls feel like they have to fit one of these models – or all of them. I know I've felt that way. I know a supergirl. She's the principal violist of one of the best youth orchestras in the country, she's smart, pretty, and nice. But she can never be good enough for her mom. I was jealous of her for a long time, until I knew this.