After being slighted by her peers for failing to properly perform femininity, Helga takes action. She heads to the corner store for some teen girl magazines, which she slips in with her other “usual” reading at the store. Helga knows that the hyperfemininity of teen mags doesn’t mesh with the tough exterior she’s created. As with the idea that a child can’t throw spitballs and be a girl, Helga has swallowed the idea that a child can’t be tough and read girls’ magazines or attempt to make herself over.
There follows a montage of Helga’s ministrations, as she browses the magazine ads with their Barbie-like models. She manages to apply fake nails and mascara with ease, but grunts in pain as she tweezes her not insubstantial unibrow, pointing toward the pain of beauty regimens and hearkening back to the tween years when we are all truly and legitimately ugly in some way. (RIP, Winnie the Pooh t-shirts. NEVER FORGET) Finally, she throws her childlike pink hair bow in the trash, and the camera zooms in on it to punctuate the throwing away of her childhood. The femininity Helga is striving to perform is womanly, not girlish, which is all the more disturbing when considering that the magazines she uses for reference are marketed toward teen girls not that much older than her. This becomes clearer as she crashes Rhonda’s party. At the party, Helga’s peers can be seen performing the same femininity Helga is, but giggling and enjoying it in a specifically childlike manner. Instead of performing the girlish femininity of her peers, jumps right to womanhood, greeting Rhonda with a “Darling!” and a kiss (not to mention her ridiculous appearance, which is hard to describe without using some pretty rude language, though Phoebe thinks she looks “great”). She goes beyond being one of them and takes on an air of superior femininity, offering them makeup tips and fashion advice. Of course, the performance isn’t flawless; Helga accidentally sits with her knees spread open and allows the cotton she’s used to stuff her bra to slip out onto the floor.
Meanwhile, in the girls’ absence, their male peers play at performing masculinity, playing “boys only” baseball and dressing up like a ragtag band of special ops in order to infiltrate Rhonda’s party, betraying their need for the company of girls and their curiosity about the performance of femininity. The fact that the girls are doing something secret and feminine by themselves drives them crazy (anyone remember the gender-segregated fifth grade period talk?), so they crash the party in order to reinstate their control over the situation by scaring the girls and ruin their secrets. If the girls have no secrets from the boys, then the girls can’t have power over the boys.
However, the boys end up being scared more than the girls, all thanks to that sleepover staple, the facial mask. Rhonda’s ingredient of choice at this particular sleepover is avocado. Helga thinks she’s game for whatever femininity throws her way, but she is shaken by the avocado face masks. She finally breaks down and flings the spoonful of avocado away. Rhonda, puzzled, argues, “But Helga, this mask will reduce wrinkles and signs of aging!” to which Helga retorts (in the funniest line of the episode), “We don’t have wrinkles! We don’t have signs of aging! We’re nine years old!” Helga pulls her hair in exasperation, returning it to its previous pigtails and returning her to her previous self. “I’m not like the rest of you! I’m not wearing a mask!” She means the avocado, of course, but she also endows the performance of femininity with a masklike quality. It’s false, not genuine. Rhonda argues, “But Helga, this is what girls do!” rooting feminine identity in activity.
Meanwhile, the party-crashing boys peering in through the window are horrified rather than entertained by what they see. The avocado masks – the symbol of the performance of femininity – frightens them more than anything. And of course, when the girls discover the boys’ presence, there is revenge the likes of which can only be meted out by a pack of nine-year-old girls. The girls chase down Harold, and the final scene of the episode opens with Harold tied to a chair being given a makeover by the girls. The trappings of femininity have not been abolished, but turned back onto the boys who tried to gain knowledge of them in order to dominate girls. They also become a tool of play instead of premature womanhood. Rather than being a serious concern as before, the performance of femininity takes on its rightful place in a nine-year-old girl’s life – pure fun. Helga agrees: “Now this is what I call a good party!”