Teenage girls get a bad rap. They’re told that they’re shallow, stupid, spoiled, and ditzy. They’re told that their interests are stupid and that, overall, they don’t have much to contribute to the world. Sadly, television shows often choose to reinforce this stereotype instead of challenging it. But there are some glorious exceptions. We collected seven TV shows that decided to take the road less traveled and represent teenage girls who are important, smart, and strong.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If you ask me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the beginning of it all. Buffy came at a time when there wasn’t a whole lot happening on TV: a few decent dramas, a lot of bad comedies, and some odd shows for teens. Buffy, despite its campy style, decided to take its viewers seriously and offer them a top quality show with a 16-year-old girl as the main character.
The eponymous character, Buffy Summers, is a stereotypical teenager in a lot of ways: she likes cheerleading, shopping, and dating. Oh, she also slays vampires and prevents the apocalypse. NBD. Buffy teaches us that being interested in “stereotypical” teen girl stuff doesn’t make you stupid and that even a 16-year-old girl can save the world. A lot.
Buffy has to hide her powers from almost everyone, so she is constantly navigating being a “normal” girl with being responsible for protecting the world from evil. This creates really interesting parallels to our world, where young people’s problems are often minimized and overlooked. Buffy shows us that these problems are real and that, sometimes, high school literally is hell — even if the adults don’t see it.
2. The Carrie Diaries
A lot of people quickly dismiss this Sex and the City prequel, which was unfortunately cancelled after only two seasons. I think it got its bad rep because it is bright and innocent in comparison to the darker and harsher shows that seem to be popular these days. But the truth is: The Carrie Diaries was a lovely show that managed to give positive messages without being preachy.
The show is really nothing like Sex and the City (which is probably good considering that it’s aimed at teens), and 16-year-old Carrie is a great role model. The young Carrie actually seems more grounded and confident than her older Sex and the City Carrie counterpart. She is a good friend, a dedicated sister, and very determined in her career. She holds her own in her relationships with guys and knows that there is more to life than dating.
3. The 100
This post-apocalyptic teen drama is all about teenagers who step up and take charge under difficult circumstances, proving just how strong and capable they can be. The teens in The 100 know that good leadership has nothing to do with age and (most of the time) they don’t do what we expect from a bunch of juvenile delinquents who are on their own for the first time ever.
The 100 treats female leadership as the most natural thing ever. Clarke, Raven, Octavia, Lexa, Anya, Indra. The list of badass female leaders is seemingly never-ending and, honestly, we can’t get enough of it. This show took advantage of its sci-fi setting and, instead of simply copying our world’s gender roles, it created a different reality where the glass ceiling doesn’t seem to exist and women are just as strong and badass as the men (and no one seems to mind).
4. Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars, the teenage detective. Veronica is so cool, smart, and good at what she does that it’s almost a little unrealistic, but who cares? She’s awesome. She helps so many people and is extremely dedicated to uncovering the truth and making things right.
Veronica faces a lot of criticism in the show. Similarly to Buffy, she’s a small, blonde girl from California, and people look at her a certain way because of these traits. They often try to silence her and are constantly underestimating her. But Veronica couldn’t care less. She has crimes to solve and no time to worry about haters, so she combats every dismissive comment with a witty comeback and just goes on investigating.
5. The Legend of Korra
I have to admit that I am a little out of my element with animated TV, but even I couldn’t miss this gem. The Legend of Korra — as well as its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender — show us that sometimes the fate of the world is in the hands of a few teenagers, and that’s totally okay.
Korra is both a teenage girl and the Avatar, meaning that she is super special and powerful, and is in charge of protecting the world. (You may be getting a bit of Buffy déjà vu.) But, like the Avatar before her, she doesn’t do it all by herself. Korra is surrounded by friends and allies like Asami, a teenage engineer/businesswoman who is a total badass although she’s the only non-bender (meaning she has no super-powers) in the gang. There are many other strong women and girls who help Korra (Jinora, anyone?) and give an awesome display of female power and friendship.
6. My Mad Fat Diary
This British teen dramedy deals with some really difficult topics and takes the struggles that teenage girls go through very seriously. At first, My Mad Fat Diary introduces us to some teen stereotypes (the popular mean girl, the bad boy, etc), but then it totally takes them apart instead of perpetuating them like so many other shows like to do.
MMFD has an awesome (but not perfect) female lead, and it’s one of the few shows whose main character doesn’t look like a Calvin Klein model. This matters. Rae, the leading lady, has to find ways to love herself and allow herself to be cool, smart, funny, and loved, although she weighs more than she wants to. If that is not real, I don’t know what is.
7. The Fosters
The Fosters is a sweet show about a unique family that happens to feature two strong teenage girls in its main cast. This show is also one of the most racially diverse on this list and features some very strong women of color, as well as people with a variety of sexualities and gender identities.
I can’t deny that the kids on The Fosters do silly things sometimes. At times, they make really bad decisions that don’t make sense — probably because that’s what fits the plot. But if we overlook that tiny detail (which we do because it’s a great show), we can see that The Fosters takes its girls seriously and doesn’t give into stereotypes. It shows us that high school clichés are more complicated than they seem, that dancers can be geniuses, and that girls who end up in juvie often just had a lot to deal with.
Thank you, Leslie Knope (an honorary member of the list, despite not really having many teen characters on her show). Some people do seem to object to powerful depictions of awesome (young) ladies, but now we saw that there are at least seven shows that know better. Feel free to recommend more shows about awesome teenage girls, we’re always looking to expand our horizons in this genre. Hopefully this will become a trend and more shows will start taking girls seriously without belittling them or their interests, because we know that they really do matter.