Just two months before my 11th Birthday, the Spice girls released ‘Wannabe’ which hit me like a tonne of platform shoes. They were, quite simply, life.

I was flicking through music channels at my Mum’s house the other day. I don’t watch TV at home, so it’s always a rare treat to see what’s playing on Magic or Vintage.

‘Too Much’ by the Spice Girls came on which gave me a nostalgic giddiness only music from my childhood can. It was their second Christmas number one, and anyone who lives in the UK knows what a coveted trophy that it is.

That year, I had Spice Girls everything! Chupa Chups branded lollipops, a jigsaw, high-quality collectible photos and of course, the ‘Spiceworld’ album. It came out in November ’97, but I’m sure I had to wait until Christmas to have it. This was back in the day when singles came before albums and you’d have to ask Santa instead of instantly streaming.

While watching the ‘Too Much’ video, I couldn’t help but cringe inside at the obvious female stereotypes these five grown women were peddling to the youth of the day, myself included.

Yes, their brand of girl power was palpable but so was the power of suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong, they made me feel good on a surface level. My favourite past time was re-creating dance routines and I worshipped their style. As a creatively driven, imaginative kid, I’d stare at the same pictures of their outfits over and over again. I even had my own scrapbook and Spice Girls magazine I was the editor-in-chief of. 

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

Typically, young girls would pick out their favourite member, usually if they had a relatable quality. Or they’d automatically inherit a girl to imitate within their group of friends due to physical attributes.That was clearly the idea and a very clever marketing ploy. The fact they hired five very different personalities was no mistake. As much as they’ll try to dress it up in documentaries, talking about instant connections, we all know there was a blueprint.

Who was my favourite Spice Girl? As with most things in life, I flip flopped between a few of them because I never truly felt like I identified with one in particular. Perhaps if they had an ‘Overweight, Shy, with a Strange Sense of Humour Spice’ I would have felt more included. 

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

I guess I was lucky because it meant I didn’t throw myself into a box and get wrapped up in the ‘shoulds and shouldn’ts’ of a stereotypical childhood. Fitting in has never been easy for me and as a kid, it crippled me with fear. Now, I embrace it.

It’s not exactly breaking-news that pop groups are big business and dissecting the Spice Girls isn’t what some may deem a crucial matter. But let’s get real, pop music and celebrities sometimes have a far greater impact on a child than a school teacher or a subject ever will.

It’s sad, but it was completely true for me. I hated academic life and all I ever wanted to do was listen to music, sing and dance, even if it was just for my teddy bear audience of five.

The era of the Spice Girls and the subsequent bubble gum pop years were important for female kids, tweens and teens. The likes of Britney and Christina set the tone, and I’m pretty damn sure that the 2017 equivalent is even more influential.

Today, pop stars are purposefully intertwined through-out social media and into the lives of young girls. They’ve got access to a steady stream of celebrity Snapchat stories and religiously follow their (cough) real life on Instagram. What’s more, pop stars of today release singles and music videos like it’s going out of fashion. It’s all consuming, all of the time.

So, how did the Spice Girls perpetuate female stereotypes? Did they really pass the Girl Power torch to young girls across the world, or help to oppress girls further into stereotypical roles.

Baby Spice | Emma Bunton 

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

It was when Emma Bunton sang the line “Easy lover, I need a friend” in the ‘Too Much’ video with her blonde hair, blue eyes and sickly sweet lip synching, I felt a pang of sadness.

You’d never get Mel B playing that role, even if her real life persona was Holy as Christ and as sweet as a maple glazed doughnut. Mel B does not fit the baby brief.

So a ten-year-old blonde kid would always play the role of Baby. Encouraged to smile, suck lollipops and wear short skirts. But it’s ok because the pigtails make it less sexual, right? 

So did Emma’s character paint a picture for the youngster trying to imitate her? Did it subconsciously set a standard? Do the blonde hair and innocent eyes give her a leg up within society that would not have been afforded to one of the other girls?

Scary Spice | Mel B

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

Scary Spice, otherwise known as Mel B, had possibly the most shockingly stereotypical role of the group. The only woman of colour, deemed the ‘crazy one’ with big hair, ferocious animal patterned threads and a ball busting attitude. 

Young black girls who were likely to relate with Mel B were fed the same old story. Scary Spice? Scary? Of all the five girls, her name is the only one that has any negative connotations. It’s the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype that black women are, quite rightly, sick of seeing within pop culture.

In recent years, there’s been some what of a backlash against the ‘Scary Spice’ title as racism in the music industry is increasingly put under the microscope. Mel B has been quick to point out that it was a ‘lazy journalist’ of a teen magazine that nicknamed the girls.

Other girls groups and pop stars of the time were a certain shade of white, so to have a strong black woman in the group was a refreshingly positive change. But I suspect it was only their intention to have one black girl, even if they came across three or four other brilliant candidates for the job.

I read a brilliantly written perspective on The Debrief website, by Tobi Oredein who praises Mel B for keeping her natural hair and not giving in to white beauty standards. I wonder though if this was the objective? What if one day Mel B felt like straightening her hair and dressing like Baby? The limitations the Spice Girls set in place perpetuated the stereotypes. It was as though girls were put into a pigeonhole and forced to make a home there.

Sporty Spice | Mel C

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

Sportswear was big news at the time, trust me, I had the Liverpool kit to prove it. Mel C represented young girls from economically challenged areas. She was aggressive and just like the girls I’d be scared to walk past at the park. She called out Liam Gallagher live on stage at the Brit Awards, gold tooth and all. 

Sporty was actually one of my favorites because she was the singer of the group. Everyone loved singing her parts, but Baby had the cute outfits. I doubt many girls looked up to Sporty for her fashion or image. She wasn’t typically attractive in a mainstream pop culture sort of way, which reinforced the idea that girls who were into sports aren’t the ‘hot’ ones. Also, many accusations flew around of Mel C being gay which is yet another sporty girl typecast.

I really enjoyed this interview with Mel C on The Pool. She’s actually pretty chill and softly spoken.

Her struggles with bulimia and negative body image are well documented. All five girls were beautiful in their own right, but Sporty was always branded ‘the ugly one’ by boys or ‘the boring one’ by girls. That’s got to chip away at your self-confidence, and it clearly did have an impact.

Posh Spice | Victoria Beckham OBE

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

Posh Spice was my least favorite due to her wooden, robotic model like persona you’d see in those fashion magazines I was too young to read. I suspect older teens were her target audience. The kind of teens who were scraping together their wages from babysitting to buy the latest issue of Vogue. She was also a bit of a favorite for the Dad’s. She was a ‘real lady’ after all. 

I can’t imagine any young kids relating to Posh spice. No one in my group ever wanted to be her, but then I didn’t have any posh friends. Her character confirmed the notion that if you’re posh, you like expensive shit and sleek, Chanel-esq fashion. This further solidified the idea that fashion is for rich people. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wblaptlxbXA

Posh was the opposite of Sporty. While Sporty rocked an Adidas track suit for the council estate kids, Posh donned an LBD for the middle-class wannabes. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like her. I grew up in a single parent home, and although my Mum did a wonderful job of making us feel like we weren’t poor, we were. It was pretty much an unspoken rule to hate on people who had money, which is sad.

Victoria Beckham’s persona in the Spice Girls set the precedent that women should be seen and not heard, love handbags and never smile. 

Ginger Spice | Geri Halliwell 

Did the Spice Girls empower or oppress young girls? Here's a look at how the mega pop group encouraged female stereotypes. Click through to read in full.

Ginger Spice was the Jessica Rabbit of the group. Big boobs, curves, a raspy voice and a cheeky wink. She’d spill out of her dress, pinch bums and nude photos from the past were always cropping up on the front cover of The Sun. 

Clearly, the least amount of effort went into the name Ginger Spice. It probably went something like, “Well we can’t call her Big Tits Spice. She’s got ginger hair, so… Ginger?”

Women are more than tits and ass, way more. While the other four were sexualised to a degree, none more so than Geri Halliwell. For a woman who obviously had something to say and truly believed in the girl power manifesto, she was overshadowed by her chest size.

Perhaps this is why she shed so much weight on her return to pop? Her breasts defined her in the Spice Girls and as a woman, I imagine that’s pretty fucking annoying. She also had issues with bulimia, and it’s easy to see why being Ginger Spice would encourage that illness. 


I’m not taking away from the individuals within the Spice Girls. I’m sure the characters they portrayed stemmed from a place of authenticity, but it also glamorised the stereotyping of women. It’s a blue print which will continue, I’m sure. Maybe the lines will be a little blurry as time moves on but I couldn’t discuss pop stars of today with any level of authority because quite frankly, I know fuck all about them. A fact, I am grateful for.

I checked out of that bubble when I discovered nu-metal. That’s not to say nu-metal is any better, stereotypes are everywhere. Loving nu-metal as a teen somehow led me to believe that someone who had a spiked metal belt, tattoos, and baggy jeans made them a better person. 

Obviously, realisation comes with age, or at least it should. As an adult I know someone who listens to Pantera can be as much of a wanker as someone who listens to auto-tuned, sexually charged, manufactured pop garbage. I’m not exactly on the fence regarding my tastes, apologies if you’re a fan of the latter.

Spice Girls were my everything, but with hindsight, they probably didn’t help me as a young kid who constantly felt pressure to be pretty, thin and popular. Their overt sexuality and the age of the target demographic will never sit right with me. But at the same time, they did promote a girl group culture and help open the floor for a ‘girl power’ discussion in mainstream pop culture.

I’ll forever cherish those memories of busting out the ‘Say You’ll Be There’ dance in front of the whole school wearing an orange mini skirt and leopard print silk blouse. It was probably inappropriate, but I didn’t realise at the time and ignorance is bliss.

Who was your favourite Spice Girl and what’s your opinion on the girl power vs stereotyping debate? Comment below!


47 thoughts on “Did the Spice Girls help empower or oppress young girls?”

  1. Hi there! First, I want to tell you that I ventured here from one of the Facebook groups… And I had decided I was done responding and reading because one needs to participate in the real world in order to have internet and other equally important things… But then I got a notification and I looked (just to see what the title was- because honestly, I do a lot of cover-judging…) Your title sucked me in and I HAD TO READ IT. So here I am supposed to be preparing for the day, but instead reading and commenting. Kudos to you for the attention grabbing title!

    Now, before I even started reading the teenager that still lives somewhere within was crying in outrage that you would even suggest such a thing! I remembered feeling empowered by the Spice Girls and I wanted to point out that Mel B is still the same, great Mel B she ever was…

    But then adult me said jamming in the carwith my friends to a catchy tune, wasn’t empowerment. I wanted to say how I looked up to Mel B and felt I could “be myself” because of her… But that wasn’t really true, either… Long before I knew better, I was using characteristics of the angry black woman, guided by Mel B, to determine who I was. It was a farce, for sure. Plus, Mel B isn’t even angry (looking solely at her character as a judge on AGT).

    Anyway, this was a spectacular read and I’m glad that I read just one more- even if it turned my inner teen all topsy turvey!

    1. Hey! One definitely does need to participate in the real world, but I’m glad my article sucked you in first. It’s a subject I really enjoyed writing about. It was a weird one for me because I was a Spice Girls mega fan, but the adult in me can see through it all, which is sad. It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real. I’m sure Mel B was an idol for many kids, and I think her personality is infectious but I think girls need more diversity and truth from their idols. Hopefully, time will help with that. Thanks so much for reading, commenting and giving me a little bit of your time. Have a lovely day 🙂 X

  2. I loved how detailed this was. In many ways their representation might or might not have triggered stereotypes depending on the person. As for me, the spice girls of then couldn’t inspire me at all. Probably because of my beliefs and other things. Mel B is a nice person (my reference being AGT) I dont see an angry black woman in her but rather a woman with passion for music and life and a woman I can learn from. Truth be told, I dont like watching music videos, I would rather listen to audios on repeat than watching a video. Why? Because when I watch videos I lose all the meaning and love I had for the song. So I stick to audios.

    Great post, Leanne 🙂

    1. Yeah, I totally agree about music videos sometimes ruining the meaning of songs. With some videos, it’s hard to get it out of your head when you listen to the song on its own. Thanks, Jane xxx

  3. Great thoughts and insights put into this post, loved reading! Definitely in the same boat – as a child I was a huge fan (even had the Spice Girls handbag radio lol) – but as you get older you see through it all, which is sad. I loved the GIRL POWER vibe they brought but young girls could have definitely had better role models to grow up with and aspire to.

    Emily x | http://www.thelittlechronicles.com

    1. Very much so! The sexualisation of the girls was pretty bad too when you think of the age group they were aimed at. Also, a handbag radio? that sounds incredible! haha, Need to look that up. Thanks xx

  4. O wow! I haven’t seen the Spice Girls in a while. I liked their music, but never really thought anything else of the group. I grew up in Japan and we just liked to sing their songs at Karaoke boxes. There are so many images, media, music out there that empower and or press young women. We need to look deeper into the problem for sure.

  5. Whenever the Spice Girls pop up now I’m shocked. I hated boybands as a kid and the Spice Girls were the first major music fandom I had. I was completely obsessed and had all the merchandise, I’d spend all my pocket money on those pointless collectable photos. I remember begging my Mum for platform shoes and crop tops but she didn’t budge. I used to mimic Sporty spice in my dress sense, I had a hideous purple and green Adidas tracksuit I was particularly into. The stereotypes are ridiculous, as is how heavily ‘girl power’ was pushed as a marketing ploy. But this was the 90s. The craze of blue for boys and pink for girls. When I think back on some of the stereotypes which were marketed to kids so heavily it’s quite amazing they were able to get away with it.

    1. So true! I think my issue is that often it can seem like ‘a bit of fun’ but kids are so impressionable at that age, and can take a lot of it to heart. I know I did. I always wanted to be skinny, and idolising pop stars definitely didn’t help me in the long run. I had some classic baby spice platform sandals, they were the best! haha. Always wanted the trainers though.

  6. I wasn’t a huge mega fan of Spice Girls, but loved the imaginary, the music and what they represented for their time. I think we don’t really need to dissect every part of a celebrity, to see whether it is fake, or put together by two guys or whatever. Pop music has since 1958 been about fantasy and enjoyment, and if a certain celebrity (even if its Kylie Jenner – can’t believe i said that?!) can help a young person to gain a little confidence in themselves and it really makes a difference for them then I actually don’t see it as a bad thing but as a positive. Great detailed post and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting 🙂 I agree, anything that gives a kid some confidence is great. But I guess sometimes it can do the opposite if the kid doesn’t fit the mould. X

  7. I am a big fan! I too didn’t identify a specific spice girl because I just don’t. I simply love all of these girls and their songs.

    BUT I have to say that I didn’t go deeply crazy over mirroring them or following their lifestyle and all. What’s important for someone following a group/a celebrity is his/her personal stand, attitudes, upbringing and of your faith. These should be non-negotiables no matter what. …

    Nowadays, when we look at the life of these 5 girls, surely they weren’t perfect and not the “role model” type. I just hope that fans idolize only the craft/talent of such personality but still keep their own identify of WHO THEY ARE.

    I am STILL a BIG FAN, I would still buy a ticket for their reunion concert if it will push through! 🙂

    God Bless!
    JM Kayne | #InMyHeart♥

    1. Totally agree! I think it’s great to enjoy pop stars and celebrities if we don’t start comparing ourselves to them or trying to be them. I never got to see them in concert, which is a bummer! XX

  8. I loved the spice girls but I can honestly say I was a rare one in that I really just loved bopping along to their music and didn’t study them or want to be them. I think they were awesome and I love this post because it brings back great memories!

  9. I loved Mel b , being that she’s the only black member and has curly hair like I do . I also loved baby spice too loved her style and personality . I grew up listening to the spice girls and watching their movie countless times.

  10. My brother and a lot of my friends were spice girls fans growing up. I could take or leave them. We did dress up like them for one Halloween. I was Baby Spice cause I was the blonde, but in general I never felt like I had to pick one, I just felt like they were all different aspects of my personality. In general, I didn’t really follow them just listened and sang along when they came on the radio.

  11. Sorry that Posh Spice was your least fave, but she was always my fave seeing that I love fashion at the time and still do. But I am not going to box them in and feed to the stereotype lol.

    1. haha, to be honest, she’s probably my favourite now. I just don’t think the 11-year-old me understood her. She’s a much better fashion designer than a singer/dancer, that’s for sure! Thanks Juli, X

  12. I guess I never seen the spice girls that way. You made a vaild point. Growing up I thought spice girls were about girl power, femininity. I was sporty spice and never thought she was ugly. I thought she had a great voice, fun and not so sexualized. But in my mind even I was larger than the other girls growing up and more athletic so I look up to sporty spice. Because she was like me. Spice girls represented the acceptance of all women whether your a tomboy, voluptuous, shy, outspoken, or fun in general. It was about giving women the freedom to be themselves and owning it.

  13. Girl, this was so well written! Thank you so much for sharing.

    I have to say, even being from Canada, growing up the Spice Girls were life. I, too, had all the memorabilia, the CD covers taped to my pink bedroom walls, the SG diary, and the Double Bubble gum stickers plastered on everything. My friends and I used to choreograph and lip sync entire concerts that we would perform for our poor parents. So yah, I was definitely IN IT. Because I was the friend who played the most sports, I was always dubbed the Sporty Spice of the group. While usually this was fine, and I could easily get “into character” I do remember feeling, even as that young girl, that my friend who played Baby Spice was much cuter and more lovable. I actually remember feeling envious and insecure about it.

    Today, I still love The Spice Girls — they represent a very nostalgic period of my experience growing up GIRL, and I am thankful for their success in making “GIRL POWER” mainstream. But I can’t help but see your very valid points. They were the only GIRL POWER reps we had, but maybe they weren’t the ones we needed.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing. Super fun read. xx

    1. I’m so so glad you enjoyed it! I love that line “They were the only GIRL POWER reps we had, but maybe they weren’t the ones we needed.” – I think this is the crux of the matter. Girls have got to work with what they’ve got, but they deserve so much more. Thanks 🙂 XX

  14. So interesting to look back at things through a different lens. We don’t often question things beyond face value but it’s interesting to see how there was another side to girl power which involved pandering to gender and racial stereotypes. Interesting read!

  15. I loved Spice Girls!! And I wanted to be Posh Spice!
    I think the important part is to remember what they did for us when we were kids and just not over-analyze it… Although you bring up some fascinating points I’ll be thinking about for quite a while! 🙂

  16. So the funny thing is I can agree with the stereotypical things that you mention but I also think there were not faking who they were to a large degree. I think they were more than just a pop tart girl group- they helped a lot of girls gain self confidence. So I am mixed on this post. But it was a great read with good points.

    1. Yeah, I agree. They encouraged me to put myself out there more as a kid, and get into music. But they also got me fixated with wanting to be pretty and skinny. Double edged sword! Thanks for reading xxx

  17. I very vaguely remember the Spice Girls. I was much more into Britney, Destiny’s Child and Christina than anything. I think the media always puts twists on who celebrities really are. I didn’t even know Spice Girls had a black girl. Just goes to show how much I paid attention lol.

  18. I am not ashamed to say that I wasn’t much of a boy band or girl band person growing up. I didn’t really get into Spice Girls back in the 90’s even though my best friend was CRAZY about them. I think deep down I disliked their generalization and stereotyping (for both boy and girl bands) and I didn’t like how one band member is pigeon holing the entire generation of boys and girls. This is a great read, and it pretty much validated all of the reasons why I never got into the bands.

    xo Sheree
    Posh Classy Mom

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I’m glad you’re not ashamed to say you weren’t into girl bands. That’s probably a good thing, in hindsight. Listening to the Spice Girls now makes me question my childhood self haha. Thanks for stopping by x

  19. I loved the Spice Girls when I was a teenager -a still a bit of a fan if I’m honest. Mel B was my favourite when I was younger simply because she had hair like mine and it was unusual then to see mixed race women with natural hair. However, listening again to the lyrics recently makes me cringe. Promoting Girl Power almost constantly by talking about relationships with men frustrates me.

    1. Yeah, it was very relationship based. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure any of their music was particularly ‘girl power’ related. X

  20. I was crazy about the spice girls back then, my room and beddings were covered in stickers and pillow cases that had their faces. I never really looked at them as you have talked about them in this post, but coming to look at it from your perspective I think they were kind of an inspiration to bring girls together, but also brought about bullying to the girls who weren’t “spiced up”. All in all, I love how you’ve broken it down!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it. I agree, they definitely brought girls together into groups, which was great. It got girls singing and dancing. But I think the fact they were all skinny, good looking and sexualised didn’t help girls who didn’t fit that mold. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 X

  21. You definitely hit the nail on the head with Scary Spice. I remember in 3rd grade I was kicked out of the Spice Girls Club because they found another black girl, and of course, there could only be one. It was sad, but I spent a ton of time obsessing over them.

    You were such a cute kid! I wish kids had more natural nonstereotypical idols to look up to.

    1. That’s so awful that you got kicked out! Stuff like that really sends a bad message to young girls. ‘natural nonstereotypical idols’ would make such a difference! Thanks Chelsea 🙂 X

  22. Insightful read on both sides of the Spice Girls era.. I was born in ’94 I was still young during their peak but I could clearly remember how I had their cassette tapes on repeat and performed their songs on family events. They really were icons. I personally didn’t understand how Mel B had to be named Scary Spice :/

  23. I’ve been a fan of them as a little firl, not really knowing who and what they did represent. I just happen to like their songs and Mel C was my fav.
    Gret insights!

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