ask Jessie Spano: Elizabeth Berkley’s Book for Teen Girls

Elizabeth Berkley reaches out to girls with her upcoming book, Ask Elizabeth. Note that the fairy on her shirt is the same one from her website, also titled Ask Elizabeth. (image courtesy of

Tonight while watching the local news, an item on the reader board at the bottom of the screen caught my attention: Elizabeth Berkley, the actress from Showgirls, is set to publish a self-help book for teen girls. I dug a little and found this story on Apparently the 37-year-old actress has been running a site aimed at teen girls (ages 11-17) called Ask-Elizabeth. On the site Berkley talks to (rather than about) teen girls and answers their questions about beauty ideals, health, and friendships, and relationships (Berkley repeatedly mentions boys – not sure if Ask Elizabeth is a site where queer girls are invited to ask questions about relationships or love). Berkley will be publishing a self-help guide book for girls, also titled Ask Elizabeth, based on the questions teen girls have asked her over the years.

The website is interesting and includes advice on how to pick out beauty products as well as how the cosmetic industry manipulates girls. There’s also a section under “Our Friends & Supporters” where Berkley lists her “Amazing Celebrity Supporters” including Pink, Janet Jackson, Eva Mendes, Parker Posey, Fergie, Cameron Diaz, Rosario Dawson and on and on. The site’s layout is a little too conventionally girlie for my taste (tons of pink, rainbows, charm lockets, and a fairy), but it is highly interactive and incorporates music and videos. I wonder how much the self-help book will incorporate the site’s style and design elements.

While some are mocking Berkley and her upcoming book (ahem Perez Hilton), or mentioning Berkley’s turn in Showgirls as a way to suggest that the actress may not be qualified to offer advice to girls, let’s just remember the pressures Jessie Spano (Berkley’s character) faced on the hit teen TV show Saved by the Bell. Spano was the character I identified with the most on the show. I never had the fashion sensibilities of Lisa or Kelly, and I’ll admit I was a total nerd who worked hard to excel in school and enjoyed learning. I could relate to Spano’s hardships in trying to achieve scholastic excellence and the pressures she faced in trying to live up to “can-do girl” expectations. As an adult I can still relate to Spano. In fact during my first year as a Master’s student, my fellow peers circulated the clip of Spano’s caffeine pill freakout moment as a way to express our own experiences furiously writing/editing final papers before the end of the first term (see the clip below).

Considering that Berkley was a teen when she began modeling for Elite, and consequently landed a role on Saved by the Bell, I would think she has plenty to discuss in terms of mediated representations of girlhood and Hollywood’s insistence that actresses strive for unrealistic beauty ideals. Information on Berkley’s career trajectory (including the hits and any missteps) could be useful for girls, especially in terms of pulling back the curtain and explaining the inner workings – and politics – of the entertainment industry.

~ by actyourage09 on April 14, 2010.

2 Responses to “ask Jessie Spano: Elizabeth Berkley’s Book for Teen Girls”

  1. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I also identified with Jessie. Why didn’t she come up in any of our can-do/at-risk discussions in Girls’ Studies? Alas.

    Also, Jessie is the first TV character I remember self-identifying as a feminist (this was before Designing Women, Murphy Brown, and Roseanne). Now why she’s dating AC Slater, who she repeatedly refers to as a chauvinist pig, is another story.

    All of this is to say that I like this post. I also appreciate Berkley’s efforts, but would like less pink in that message.

    • Haha I guess it’s a good thing that you and I constantly think of other texts, characters, people that could have been brought up in Girls’ Studies – better to have too much than too little. I’ll be sure to make a note for my future Girls’ Studies syllabus – “note: include Saved by the Bell episode when discussing Anita Harris’ work on dominant discourses of girlhood.” Done and done!

      Also good point about Jessie identifying as a feminist – yet another reason I gravitated towards her character on that show, yes even despite her relationship with Slater. And like you I’m happy that Berkley is reaching out to girls, and apparently enlisting the help of her famous friends, but the pink packaging of her message makes me (and I’m sure more than a few girls) want to tune out.

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