Superheroes have made a real comeback these last few years and I am especially pleased to see the burgeoning popularity of girl power and empowerment with heroines such as Bat Girl, Super Girl and Super woman. Girls need strong and positive role models and it’s great there are so many out there that rely on both physical strength and confidence.

I know how much some girls like to dress up as their favorite superheroes and this can often include wearing a mask. In this sense, a mask hides her true identity and allows her to be someone that is both unrecognizable and unknown.

Yet in my work with girls, I have also noticed a growing trend for girls to wear different kinds of masks: the metaphorical mask that she “wears” to hide her true feelings and her authentic self from others when she feels afraid, attacked, insecure and uncertain of herself. The masks can provide the emotional armor they want and the protection they feel they need.

These masks make sense to me as they proffer girls both safety and security when they feel too vulnerable to show their deepest thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, masks will serve her well, especially, when she meets new people who have not yet earned her trust. However, I can’t help but wonder if these masks are preventing girls from really connecting to others and experiencing true connection and belonging. Being a preteen girl can be difficult, scary, unpredictable, and, at times, overwhelmingly challenging and yet girls’ masks are causing separation and loneliness when they need security and inner strength the most.

The four most common “masks” I notice with girls include: the mean girl mask, the popular mask, the know-it-all mask and the perfectionist mask. With a better understanding of each mask and what she is really hiding, we can help her take steps to unveil herself and become more relatable, approachable and human.

The Mean Girl Mask

This mask is hiding a deep insecurity. Girls wearing this mask are often afraid of having no friends and no power. So, they use their mask to gain power and dominance over other girls by being cruel and unkind to ensure that they will never be alone.

To help her unveil her mean girl mask, suggest connecting with other girls in positive ways, so it’s less about control and more about care and cooperation. Encourage her to take small steps towards healthy friendships by asking questions, finding common interests, and inviting girls to be included in games and activities. Once the mean girl mask is unveiled, she can learn feel empowered by a new kind of “power” and to be an influential leader.

The Popular Mask

Similar to the mean girl mask, this mask is hiding the fear of loneliness and not being liked. However, girls who wear the popular mask are also overly concerned with social status and what peers think of them. They worry about not belonging, so they become preoccupied with fitting in.

Instead of focusing on being better than other girls and attaining superior social status, speak with her about firstly, accepting herself—the good and the not-so-good parts of her and secondly, accepting and respecting differences in others. When she can see other girls as different and interesting, she can learn that she shares more with other girls than she may realize. Then, she can focus on real friendships and togetherness, not division and separation. Once this mask is unveiled, she can become a loyal friend and much less concerned with her ranking.

The Know-It-All Mask 

The girl who wears this mask knows something about everything and isn’t afraid to share what she knows. She is smart but holds deep feelings of not being smart enough, especially by comparison to other girls. So, she works really hard to impress others with facts, figures, and factoids. She yearns to impress and prove just how much she knows.

Teach girls who want to prove they know it all that—well, they don’t—and truly, nobody does, either! Shift from a focus on what she knows to a focus on what she can learn from others—by listening and asking questions and understanding that everyone has something to offer her—a unique perspective or a different story. Also, explain that it’s okay not to know and this is an opportunity to discover what else she can learn. Not knowing is every bit important in the learning process as knowing. Once this mask is unveiled, girls feel the freedom to embrace learning in every way.

The Perfectionist Mask

This mask hides not feeling “enough,” whether it’s smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough or good enough. She is hiding her fears and worries about her own self-worth and so she works really hard to show how polished and perfect she is so that nobody ever knows the truth—she doesn’t feel very worthy at all.

This mask can be unveiled by teaching that there is no such thing as perfect and it is neither a healthy, nor realistic goal. She can keep trying and striving for excellence but the goal is process and practice by taking baby steps along the way instead of trying to be perfect. Encourage her to take risks and fail but to fail forward—meaning, learning from mistakes, and being kind to herself as she continues growing. Once this mask is unveiled, she can become more empathetic and compassionate with herself and others as well.

We need to notice girls’ masks and explain that although we understand their choose to hide and empathize with how scary it can feel to become more known and vulnerable to others, it is also important to consider unveiling her masks to allow her authentic, superhero self to shine through.