"This picture was taken in 1998, at a time when people were just beginning to realise what "mean girls" were, and how brutal and cliquey and excluding they could be. I was on an assignment for the New York Times magazine, for a special issue about being 13. They sent me to a place in Minnesota called Edina, right in the heartland of the US. It was so interesting: in a book I did called Fast Forward, I had been taking a look at how kids grow up really quickly in Los Angeles. But in Minnesota, where life is supposedly not as fast-paced as in LA, I found kids who were equally precocious.
This group of girls were in the popular clique at their school. Popularity was very codified: all the kids knew you had to shop in three particular stores, and that you needed to be blond, thin and blue-eyed. The girls were on their way to their first big party of the seventh grade. I spent a lot of time inside one of their houses, photographing them doing their makeup and combing their hair. Then we came outside. In the beautiful late-afternoon light, they lined up and started posing – it was very much their idea rather than mine.
What I love is that each girl has a different personality in the image, and you can read into it what their status is in the clique. Hannah, the third girl in the purple, was actually deemed the most popular girl at school. But she told me later that she wasn’t actually sure about her group of friends: they could be mean, and people would get criticised if they didn’t look a certain way. Even if you’re in the place everyone wants to be in, as she was, there’s still a lot of pressure to keep up the grade. In a way, she felt it was bad to be popular."