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These are the girls that drive Pretty Little Liars.
It is a rare series where the cast is dominated by women and not only that, but women who make decisions. Together they provide a great platform for young girls to admire. Allison, Emily, Aria, Spencer, Hannah and Mona come from different social circles, with different interests and, besides the fact that each of them are being tormented by A, they are dealing with real life situations that are also being experienced by their viewers. Divorced parents, Dad in the military, coming out as LBGT, mental health issues, being interested in hobbies that might be seen as less popular, being bullied, trying to stay on top of studies, family pressures, boys (just…. boys) and the difficulties in discovering your place in the world – or at least your place in high school. This is the short list of what they go through and you can already begin to see why these women could be assets to female viewers. Nearly everything they face is relatable and the way they handle these issues is admirable. They are not afraid to make mistakes, they learn to stand up for themselves and their friends and they are not afraid to cry when things get hard.
After catching up with the whole series, it becomes clear to me that PLL should NOT be considered a silly, guilty pleasure for girls to watch in secret with their best gal-pals (though there is nothing wrong with that).
Now, I understand that what I am about to say has the potential to cause heated debates and quick judgements on my personal character. I do understand that the mature content (aka: sex) might not be suitable for young girls, that no one should be encouraged to keep secrets from their parents or siblings EVER (especially if it deals with alcohol, drugs and/or bullies) and that perhaps high school girls might idolize the more conceited aspects of this show more than the message of the girl’s decisions, HOWEVER… and here’s the big ‘argument-starting’ statement:
There is a lot of real, genuine value / life-lessons that all young women could gain from watching Pretty Little Liars.
These girls stay beside their friends to help them in their weakest moments. Both Spencer and Hannah get mixed into battles with substance abuse, and rather than turn their attentions away, their friends support them in the struggle to sober up. While Spencer and Hannah know they are in trouble during these unrelated occasions, they deny how dangerous the situations really are, but their friends do not shrug off the problem and, in reality, end up saving their lives. The message here is simple, and if you see someone in trouble, make sure to get them the support they need if your help isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if you will be unpopular for a moment when it comes to saving a friend’s life.
We also watch them go through the steps of first love. When Emily comes out to her mom she is met with heartbreak at her mom’s bold disapproval. The girls support Emily in her decision to be honest and encourage her to be herself, and love who she loves. To them, it is that simple. Emily is able to take strength from their honest support, knowing that she has them to rely on even if her mom is un-supportive. She takes that to heart and chooses to always be completely true to herself, no matter how challenging the battle may become. In this bravery, she finds herself a partner where they equally empower and challenge each other to be better, to be more honest and to never lose their edge.
Hannah goes from being a quiet shy girl to finding her confidence with the support to grow alongside her friends. While she is a gorgeous girl, it is evident that the boys she dates are more in love with her feisty personality than her unhelpful talent to create the perfect outfit. Her boyfriend, Caleb, supports Hannah in her direct approach to problem solving and independent nature that allows her to learn from her own mistakes. It is his love for who she is as a woman that allows them to become one of the most healthy relationships represented on TV (… if not a bit too mature for their teenage-years). The point really is, that they support each other, trust each other and are able to live independent lives as a couple that understand the value of communication. Caleb takes the time to discover who Hannah is as a woman, and knows when Hannah will want his help and when she needs her space. He appreciates her value as an important person in his life. Hannah, is able to approach Caleb without fear when she senses there’s something bothering him, or when she knows that something in their relationship needs to be discussed. She, in her honesty, has built a relationship in which to have faith.
Beyond the exciting romances, I even have a positive opinion on one of the main vanities in the series, aka – fashion: There is a sub-plot to the series where Hannah realizes that perhaps her outfits might have more power over her personality than they should, and she steps away into a series of new and unique styles. It values importance of self-discovery as a growing individual, and that the clothing ‘brand’ becomes a thing of minimal value when it comes to a person’s true substance. Beyond Hannah, we see each of these ladies dressed down to their sweats / messy buns (see Aria and Spencer below), and still show confidence as if they are still wearing their signature trendy, teenage fashions. Hardly ever do you hear their partners speak just of their beauty, rather they are much more entranced by their zest, and are not afraid to admit that the girl’s personalities are where their attraction truly lies!
In all honesty, I could continue in length on why I think young girls should be encouraged to watch Pretty Little Liars, with the understanding that is is fiction so it must be taken with a grain of salt. If I reflect on my personal high school years, I can see how a show like this would have benefited me in many ways. Not only would I have understood the butterflies in my tummy when I saw a crush (act cool and breathe), but the confidence that could have been gained by simply associating with their age-appropriate fashions, and the open minded behavior of all the lead characters. It would have been an early lesson that not everyone will like you and finding friends who accept your faults is something to be truly valued.
While I would never trade the life lessons I gained from Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass, having a story to follow such PLL, where the sub-plots are more relatable to a 15 year old girl would have been a great addition to my ‘most-loved’ collection. Let me tell you first hand that it’s not easy to emulate Arwen, the elven princess, during puberty, or Hermione when you’re not a brilliant student.
However, to understand Hannah’s self-conscious behavior as a need to be liked, beside Aria’s ability to get lost in a book? Now, that would have been something I could have related too! To follow these characters though the series as they find their confidence and become independent women is an incredible value to a young girl – that is what I am so keen for you readers to see and rejoice for.
And it’s equally fun to watch!
I do understand that perhaps this article will cause you judge me, or see me in a new way, but I think that is one of the main points to this piece. I really like watching Pretty Little Liars and I enjoy following it every week. I am unafraid to admit that I see exceptional benefits to this story from the sub-plots to the character development. It might not be the Shakespeare of of today, but that should not negate that values do exist here. Argue against me, make your notes on why you think this is a silly show for girls, but you might just help me prove my point. Think twice before you announce your judgments of PLL to ensure that all sexists remarks are removed, and then let me see how strongly you can argue against me. I truly believe that if this show can give young girls an early message of empowerment and a true message that friendship should be valued like the rare treasure it really is, then why not encourage them to enjoy watching this series?
So, tell me readers, what do you think of Pretty Little Liars?
(And yes, Hannah is my favorite character).