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Mean streak? Not us, kids say

By Trine Tsouderos and Lisa Black
Tribune staff reporters
May 11, 2004

Yes, you can find some mean girls on the North Shore.

And yes, there are cliques. Plenty of them.

But are North Shore high schools ruled by ruthless queen bees who crush the spirits of their classmates under the toes of $130 shearling Ugg boots, as portrayed in the teen movie "Mean Girls"?

Kids at Evanston Township High School, where the movie was set, say no and point to the north.

"I think it's more New Trier-ish," said Kiona Baker-Mitchell, 17, a senior at Evanston.

The kids at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka tend to agree that the rich school in the movie could be theirs. And they make no apologies.

"We're lucky. So sue us," said Beth Joyce, 16, a junior at New Trier.

The movie follows a home-schooled girl as she naively plunges into the jungle of public school reality when her mother takes a job at Northwestern University. She is greeted at her new school with outright hostility, provided with an unofficial map of who sits where in the cafeteria, and sent on a mission to ingratiate herself with three fashion-conscious, back-stabbing girls who call themselves "The Plastics."

The movie has reignited, to some extent, the rivalry between the haves and the have-mores in the suburbs of the North Shore.

"Evanston kids rip you apart for driving your dad's BMW," said Maddie Bosack, 17, a junior from New Trier.

"Everyone outside of New Trier is more judgmental than kids inside New Trier," Joyce said.

Some New Trier students refer to Evanston as "E-Town." And in case there's any doubt, it's not meant as a compliment. As school let out last week, a security guard at New Trier warned a handful of smoking, cursing students to stop talking as if they were from "E-Town."

The stereotypes fly both ways, though. Some Evanston students deride New Trier students for dressing grunge.

"They dress down," said Ariel Rogers, 18, a senior at Evanston, citing as an example what she called a New Trier propensity for wearing puffy sleeveless vests.

When New Trier students returned from spring break, two dozen or so girls were sporting the same Juicy brand terry-cloth shirt.

"Guys were like, `What's with that?'" Bosack said. "They were all bright colors, so you couldn't miss it."

And last fall it was those Ugg boots. Worn with short skirts, of course.

"It's with every change of season," said Colleen Coughlin, 16, a junior at New Trier.

A deep tan is another fashion statement. "Girls go tanning like it's their job," Bosack said.

By the way, saying, "like it's their job" is a very trendy expression at New Trier.

Despite admitting there are some similarities to the movie, students from both schools said they did not appreciate the North Shore characterization.

"The stereotype is preppy rich kids who have everything they want," said Daryl Ceaser, 16, a junior at New Trier. "The reality is, it's pretty mixed."

Cliques abound, but the lines can be crossed, the kids say. This isn't the land of the Jets and the Sharks.

"We blend our clique lines," Rogers said.

And the hallways are not ruled by a handful of Ugg-booted thugs with good hair.

That was middle school.

"Middle school is the time when nobody is willing to be different or be themselves," Rogers said.

Experts agree middle school is the mean girls' time to shine.

"The meanness is really among the younger kids," said Rob Callender, trend manager for Northbrook-based Teenage Research Unlimited.

By high school, teens have accepted their place in the social structure and find it hard to change their status, Callender said. "They've been in a battle for social supremacy," he said. "It sounds mercenary and cutthroat, and it is."

One Northbrook mother of a 6th grader said her daughter has been excluded from certain groups of girls since 2nd grade, when she was told she needed to follow a dress code and kiss a boy to fit in.

"It's all about status, about [clothing brand names]," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

It's all about the Juicy, basically. Until it's not.

"Once you stop caring what everyone thinks," said Ceaser, "that's when you make the most friends."

© 2004, The Chicago Tribune

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