I spent a large chunk of my most formative years inhaling author Lisi Harrison’s groundbreaking young adult series The Clique, which centered around the glamorous life of very rich seventh-grader Massie Block and her group of minions, known as The Pretty Committee to their fellow students at the exclusive Octavian Country Day School in Westchester, N.Y.
The squad, who was first introduced to us in 2004 in the series’ debut novel titled “The Clique,” was comprised of fellow wealthy preteens Alicia Rivera (a famous lawyer’s daughter) and Dylan Marvil (a talk show host’s daughter), as well as not-so-rich preteens Kristen Gregory (a scholarship student) and Claire Lyons (a Florida transplant).
They were all extremely beautiful, flirted with boys and secretly hated each other’s guts, and I wanted to be them so badly.
But, as it turns out, I didn’t have the most discerning mind as a middle schooler, and, looking back, there was a lot more questionable, inappropriate and sometimes downright damaging material in the 15+ Clique books and one direct-to-DVD film adaptation than I remembered.
To be clear, I absolutely adored these books back in the day. They were full of petty drama, fun outfits and awkward young romances, the pinnacle of good preteen content. I am just not certain they were the type of material my — or anyone else’s — developing self-esteem needed.
So let’s try to unpack a few of the most problematic themes woven throughout the #1 New York Times Best-selling series.
I *need* a think piece about how fucked up & unhinged these books are! Who let an 11-year-old girl read these?? pic.twitter.com/xI8cL2eGuf— 𝓢𝓹𝓸𝓸𝓴𝔂 (@lek_9677) September 15, 2020
Based on some of the series’ titles — like “Revenge of the Wannabes,” “It’s Not Easy Being Mean” and “Bratfest at Tiffany’s” — it probably does not come as a shock that the girls depicted in these books were shallow and dramatic to a nearly soap-operatic level.
The five protagonists (or antagonists, depending on the page you're on) were so image- and brand-obsessed that they had me concerned with premature wrinkle formation when I was a literal child. They also had me Googling "can I get a nose job at the age of 12" (hint: no.)
The members of the Pretty Committee certainly weren’t the first-ever characters to act far more mature than their supposed age (Blair Waldorf is 16 years old at the beginning of Gossip Girl). But, something about Massie Block wearing Chanel No. 19 and attempting “sexy” Halloween costumes feels particularly egregious, considering she is a seventh-grade girl.
The Clique books also took delight in elitism to a nauseating degree. The first book in the series treated us to the following character description: Enter Claire Lyons, the new girl from Florida in Keds and two-year-old Gap overalls, who is clearly not Clique material.
Adults with fully-formed brains can see that mocking a girl for wearing Keds is, well, superficial and ridiculous. But that type of ridicule reads a little more severe to younger readers, especially those who lack the funding to wear vintage Ralph Lauren to school every day. Also, two years is a perfectly acceptable time-frame to own any item of clothing, so I simply won’t be processing the second half of that sentence.
One of the most notably problematic themes presented throughout the Clique books is the main characters’ obsession with their bodies, their weight and dieting. Every member of the Pretty Committee was either thin or trying to lose weight (we meet them when they are 12!), which leads Dylan to experiment with a new fad diet in nearly every novel (again, 12). Although not directly linked, it is believed that fad dieting and eating disorders may go hand in hand.
Beyond glamorizing fad diets, the novels also treated readers to an unhealthy amount of food shaming.
“Claire was shoveling a massive piece of sugary cake into her mouth as if Cosmo suddenly declared ‘fat’ was the new ‘thin,'” reads one particularly brutal passage shared on TikTok by user Christie, who has been revisiting the Clique books and documenting her favorite “out-of-pocket” lines under the hashtag #cliquetok.
Preteen girls, the precise demographic the Clique books were made for, are highly susceptible to such negative messaging about their bodies. A 2015 review from Common Sense Media revealed that 1 out of 4 children had dieted prior to turning 7 and that one-third of boys and the majority of girls ages 6 to 8 wished their bodies were thinner. A similar 2012 report revealed that a staggering 80 percent of American girls have already dieted by the age of 10.
Dylan trying the Circle Diet to lose weight when she was a size 6 and then dropping 5 pounds in 7 days on the South Beach Diet probably isn’t the best thing to expose a fanbase predispositioned to struggle with body image to. As one Twitter user so eloquently put it, “Who let an 11-year-old girl read these?”
The one thing the books did capture well was how tumultuous and emotional those pre-teen years can be. Sure, Massie Block may terrorize her friends, her peers and her parents, but she does it because she’s wildly insecure about herself. And for that, I feel seen.
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