A user’s guide to TV, film and music that centers teen girls

(Washington Post illustration; Kailey Schwerman/Netflix; iStock)
7 min

Teen and tween girls — and the media they inspire — have a cultural pull unlike any other demographic. Thanks to movies and shows about teens, we can wear pink on Wednesdays and spend the day trying to replicate Wednesday Addams’s gothic demeanor and ghoulish dance moves.

Decades of pop culture touchstones made with girls in mind (“Bye Bye Birdie,” “Heathers,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Gossip Girl”) have hinged their success on stories of teenage girlhood.

Fast-forward to today, and teenage girls are “engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma,” according to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re experiencing more sadness, suicidal thoughts and sexual violence compared with their counterparts from a decade ago.

In tandem with the grim statistics, a discussion about female teen and tween representation launched recently on Twitter, where some commenters cited a similar thread that emerged on TikTok at the end of last year.

“They don’t see themselves in mainstream anything. They jump from being a kid to a baby adult,” one poster with the handle @TheOhEmmDee tweeted about the erasure of teen girlhood. “ … They don’t market anything specifically for them like they did for us.”

Twitter and TikTok users reminisced about the beacons of pop culture they cherished as girls, such as the Spice Girls, the Cheetah Girls or J-14 magazine, but they also agreed that the magazines, singers and sitcoms that girls once turned to for entertainment and that catered to them seem to be disappearing.

Actress Edwina Findley, who plays Helen in the upcoming Prime Video series “The Power,” which places teenage girls at the story’s forefront, said seeing the flawed yet funny women thriving in shows such as ’90s sitcom “Living Single” gave her a glimpse of what her own future could look like.

“Everyone wants to feel like they can see themselves, that they’re somehow a part of the story,” she said. “My hope is that shows, especially shows that are catered toward young women, will do that, will show an aspect of life that is possible for them.”

These recent television shows, movies and music selections curated by The Washington Post were made for tweens and teens, their creators have said. And these picks, often feminist in nature, focus on girls and teens roughly between the ages of 9 and 19.


‘The Power’

What would happen if women and girls suddenly gained the upper hand and upended the world’s balance of power? The upcoming Prime Video sci-fi drama “The Power,” based on the 2017 Women’s Prize for Fiction-winning novel of the same name, by Naomi Alderman, explores what would happen if all teenage girls and women worldwide were to discover their power to electrocute people at will. And as a bonus, the show has an all-women writers’ room. (Streams on Prime Video on March 31.)

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As one of Netflix’s most-watched series last year, “Wednesday,” starring Jenna Ortega in the titular role, hardly needs an introduction. But it doesn’t hurt to emphasize the comedy horror show’s cultural impact for girls: normalizing being a little different and, in addition to inspiring a popular TikTok dance, spawning a goth fashion revival among Gen Zers. (Streams on Netflix.)

‘The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder’

In many ways, this animated series has kept the elements that made the original, which entertained millennials and elder Gen Zers from 2001 to 2005, special, such as having actress Kyla Pratt voice the beloved teen Penny Proud. But as the new show’s title suggests, “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” came back last year with some major upgrades. More queer characters, expanded discussions of racial and gender identities and improved character designs that veer away from stereotypes are just a few of the added bells and whistles. (Streams on Disney Plus.)

‘The Baby-Sitters Club’

Many ’90s kids and parents of ’90s kids will recognize this title from the popular tween book series by Ann M. Martin, or even from the 1990 TV series and 1995 film it inspired. Regardless of whether it’s your first or 50th time in the Baby-Sitters Club realm, the two seasons of the comedy drama updated for Gen Z in 2020 are sure to warm your heart and remind people of all ages about the redeeming qualities of friendships. (Streams on Netflix.)


‘Turning Red’

Oscar-nominated for best animated feature film this year, “Turning Red” is the quintessential tween girl flick. Director Domee Shi, of animated short “Bao” fame and the first woman to solo-direct a Pixar film, weaves a plotline that navigates coming of age and the emotional complexity of mother-daughter relationships in a fun and nuanced way. Have a tissue box nearby for this one. (Streams on Disney Plus.)

‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’

In the 2019 family adventure live-action movie perfect for young tweens, Dora (Isabela Moner, now known professionally as Isabela Merced) takes a pause from her world adventures to tackle being a teenager at a public high school in Los Angeles. And as anyone who’s viewed the Nickelodeon series can imagine, Dora’s personality (and fashion sense) sticks out from the rest of her peers. In all of its cheesiness, there’s a heartwarming message within the humor: “You’re not just teaching Spanish to the kids,” “Dora” actor Eugenio Derbez told The Post. “You’re also teaching them, through Dora, that being true to yourself is something good.” (Streams on Prime Video.)


‘Party Like a Pop Star,’ XOMG POP!

The six-member pop group of girls aged 11 to 15 oozes with energy in songs such as “Disco Believer” and “Sparkle Queens” in its debut studio album, released this month. XOMG POP! is the brainchild of the equally glittery mother-daughter duo Jessalynn and JoJo Siwa, known for their two-season stint on “Dance Moms,” among other acting and singing projects. They’re reality TV pros, and it makes sense that their creation of XOMG POP! was also captured on camera, specifically for “Siwas Dance Pop Revolution,” streaming on Peacock TV.

‘I Used to Think I Could Fly,’ Tate McRae

With song titles such as “she’s all i wanna be” and “i’m so gone,” it’s clear 19-year-old Tate McRae’s debut album released in May is the perfect soundtrack for any teen or tween’s next sob session. The “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist turned pop star has drawn comparisons to fellow singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, whom she collaborated with to write her single “tear myself apart,” but McRae told Australian magazine the Music that her discography, although similarly somber in style, is “wildly different” from the “Ocean Eyes” singer’s.

‘Sour,’ Olivia Rodrigo

When it comes to edgy teen breakup ballads, few modern singers have dominated the genre the way die-hard Swiftie and former Disney star Olivia Rodrigo has. “History has taught us that if there’s anyone pop stardom goes well for, it’s anxious and insecure teenagers,” Allison Stewart wrote in a review of the 2021 album for The Post. And it was well-received: Rodrigo’s work on “Sour” earned her three Grammys last year, for best new artist, best pop vocal album and best pop solo performance for “drivers license.”