13 Going on 30: A “Girl Power” Tragicomedy

When it comes to movies that don’t pass the smell test, let alone the Bechdel test, I’ve purposely watched my fair share. I’m a Rad American Woman who is a product of my time — and my most vulnerable time was the early-90’s to the mid-2000’s. The time I have now come to think of as a period of a sort of proto-feminism in pop culture. Like Will and Grace to the still very homophobic audience the show aired to, my generation of young women were thrown some real cultural shit nuggets under the guise of a rebranded ‘girl power.’ Here is the first in a series of best/worst examples of how turn-of-the-century media and producers pitched their woo to we 80’s baby sassy gals:


From slut-shaming her friend AND her own adult self, to deciding that getting with her stupid, goofy manic pixie dream boy (Mark Ruffalo) was more important than “getting ahead” in her career, Jennifer Garner’s character in 13 Going on 30 is the purveyor of many questionable messages for teen girls — and as we know, any movie about teens is actually aimed at the even-younger tween set, who will think shitty, plastic characters are cool no matter what. Although this movie clearly presents itself as a “hero’s tale” of a girl who is the star of her own life, the actual content of the film says otherwise.

When she finally “succeeds” at work, this sexy 13-year-old shows everyone at the big presentation that their editorially-styled, at least a little bit racially-diverse models, are what’s wrong with the magazine’s image — not that they’re giving “beauty tips” and super sexy romance tips to children:

“Jenna to room full of editors: Who are these women [more diverse models]? Does anyone know? I don’t recognize any of them. I want to see my best friend’s big sister, the girls from the soccer team, my next door neighbor, real women who are smart and pretty and happy to be who they are. These are the women to look up to. Let’s put life back into the magazine. And fun and laughter and silliness. I think we all — I think all of us — want to feel something that we’ve forgotten or turned our backs on because maybe we didn’t realize how much we were leaving behind. We need to remember what used to be good. If we don’t, we won’t recognize it even if it hits us between the eyes.”

What used to be good? Make America great again? Give the cultural cache back to good old high school white jocks? Ok!…I guess. Actually, no.

Let’s look at the “real women” she champions:


Every one of them is a white lady with straight, blond hair. I’m sure we can all agree that skinny, pretty, white cheerleaders and their football boyfriends who ask them to prom are under-celebrated and seriously in need of a chance to see more role models that look like them in magazines.

The ending covers everything that’s important, of course. Jenna goes back and picks what’s his name, and they end up getting married (squee) and live together in a big suburban house.


Does Jenna still get to have the bad-ass editorial career in NYC she originally wanted and already had? NOBODY KNOWS! What is important is that the woman has achieved romantic partnership and has enough outdoor space for a bbq grill. WOMEN ON TOP, amirite?

One thing I will say is that this movie actually contains a really good example of a 13 year old behaving vulnerably in the face of magazine.


It reminds me of going to the library during 7th grade lunch to read 17 Magazine and write the word “biatch” over and over again in my notebook.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s