High School Sweetheart

Howdy from Texas y'all - I'm back in my home state for just a couple of days.  And ohmygosh it is COLD here.  Like 32 degrees and sleety!  Eesh!

But it's fun to be back in the Lone Star State!

Less fun…the super bowl on Sunday.  Ugh, I can't even.

So!  Let's talk about Texas some more (and how the Cowboys really need to bring it next season).  Being back here is always nostalgic for me - I went to elementary, middle, and high school here, so I did most of my growing up in TX.  Today the reminiscing put me in a mood to do some creative, non-fiction writing, capturing some of the more vivid memories from my high school years.

 

She's fourteen - though she is often mistaken for twelve - and a complicated mixture of insecurity and confidence is etched into her movements.  Not quite sure how to carry herself; this body of a girl, all angular and flat, while her friends are blossoming and budding.  She's shy around strangers, quick to cry, even quicker to blush.  But there's a grittiness to her; beneath the awkwardness there is a flicker -  a flame of mischievous passion.  When she runs there is no stopping her, and when she smiles it's captivating.  She's not beautiful, no, not exactly.  But she's different - those big, blue eyes hold countless dreams - her imagination stirring behind the pupils.  Her sun sign - a Leo - prone to drama and a need for the spotlight…though she's often scared to claim it.

She's fifteen and girls are mean.  Heart wrenchingly mean.  She comes home and collapses into her cocoon bed, staring at the moody, melancholy purple walls.  They called her a bitch, the word scrawled messily onto the front page of her notebook.  She rips the paper to shreds, but the black ink seems to snarl…the words feel damning between her shaking fingers.

She's fifteen and dating a boy.  He's sweet, all goofy laughter and gangly limbs.  They meet after school and make out in the hot tub at the gym.  She wonders if she's doing it right, and navigates the lust and the fear with her lips.  She thinks she likes the way it feels.  Isn't kissing supposed to be like fireworks?  There's no flash bang of July 4th, but his mouth is warm and, besides, everyone else is doing it.

She's fifteen and a boy touches her.  She let's him - she thinks she wants him to feel her heartbeat, feel the rush and pulse of her body.  But almost immediately, a crashing, shattering feeling of shame slams through her chest.  She pulls away, breathless in the worst possible way, and leaves without a word.

She's sixteen and counting calories.  Sixteen and convinced that 99 pounds isn't low enough.  Every meal becomes a nightmare, but she learns how to hide her hunger and hate her appearance.  Her heart beings to dance, skipping beats and aching through her shirts.  She feels dizzy, terrified, and weak...but pretty.

She's sixteen and everything comes crashing down.

She's sixteen and realizes that she's stronger than she ever thought.  She finds strength in her family, her friends, and - most importantly - in herself.  And for the first time, she begins to understand that "pretty" is a dangerous and destructive word.  A word that will take years to lose its power over her.

She's seventeen and reckless.  There are late-night parties at the lake, with bonfires and guitars and talk of alcohol.  The boys tease the girls, and relationships swell and collapse in the midnight hours.  They listen to metal bands with funny names, and she laughs with her girlfriends as they make up new lyrics and finish each other's sentences.  On the Fourth of July she sneaks out to set off fireworks.  The boy she likes is there - the one with the charismatic smile and the silly nickname.  He aims a Black Cat at her - she gasps at the shocking heat and tingling phhhhhhst as the firework catapults past her face, stinging the side of her cheek.  She's angry, rattled by the scent of burning air.  But he scoops her up, throws her over his shoulders, and she laughs wildly, the sound brighter than the fire singed sky.

She's seventeen and has the best friend in the world.  They are closer than sisters - cosmically connected.  They dress up for photo shoots, and strut down hallways like runway models.  They run together and no one else can keep up - cross country and track addicts, they spend weekends running, laughing, and daydreaming about the future.  This is the sort of friendship that lasts forever, in spite of distance, time, and growing up.

She is eighteen and about to head to college.

She is eighteen and everything has gone by so, so fast.  She's nervous but ecstatic, vulnerable but strong.  Her body still aches with the scars of insecurity - some wounds will take years to heal.  But the fire in her eyes glows brighter than ever.  She is smoldering, a lioness just waking to her potential.  A girl on the cusp of becoming a woman.  A dreamer who's adventures, hardships, and joys are just beginning.

 

As always, thanks for reading y'all - it means the world to me :)

XOXO

While I was home today, I tried on my old prom dress.  Somehow I managed to squeeze my more womanly form into a dress made for a girl (I couldn't breath and I'm pretty sure I broke the zipper).  I've gotta say, this frilly little Betsey Johnson ensemble made me feel - for a few minutes at least - like I was 17 again :)

While I was home today, I tried on my old prom dress.  Somehow I managed to squeeze my more womanly form into a dress made for a girl (I couldn't breath and I'm pretty sure I broke the zipper).  I've gotta say, this frilly little Betsey Johnson ensemble made me feel - for a few minutes at least - like I was 17 again :)

The Teenage Diaries - Navigating Femininity

I've been thinking a lot recently about my experience as a teenage girl.  After stumbling upon Petra Collins collection of photos called "The Teenage Gaze" - check them out here - and talking to two of the wonderful young girls I carpool, my mind's been filled with memories, stories, and imagery centered on the teenage years.  Nothing can compare to being a teenager - it was one of the most colorful, vivid, confusing, wonderful, tear inducing times of my life.

When I think of my time as a teenager, I remember having to start navigating femininity, and the sudden – and confusing - importance that girls/boys/society began to place on stereotypical ideas of being female.  I already wrote a little bit about undergoing the transition from girl to woman, but I want to get a little more specific with my experiences, the problems I see, and how to fix these issues.

Almost everyone I know – guys/girls – has suffered through the infamous “puberty movie.”  I remember it clearly, though bits and pieces stand out more clearly than others.  I must have been about 12, right on the cusp of teenage changes, and had been hearing stories about the dreaded video for several months prior to the actual viewing.  I remember that the boys and girls were separated, the boys shuffled off into the gym, the ladies corralled in a classroom.  We sat with our legs crossed – I was wearing a dress and recall being uncomfortable sitting on the ground - in front of an old-school television, waiting nervously as one of the teachers plunked in a VHS.  Cheesy graphics and bubbly font explained pimples and told us we’d develop hair in weird places.  There were tips on starting to shave and buying a bra.  An overly excited lady popped on screen and talked about tampons and pads, and how “No one has to know you’re on your period!”  Then the video clicked off, and our teachers passed out a miniature box of feminine products and a pamphlet on puberty. 

They then proceeded to ask some of us when we’d started our periods and what the experience had been like.  Timidly, girl after girl admitted to having started hers, each sounding increasingly embarrassed and grossed out about the blood seeping between her legs.  As the uncomfortable decision continued, I began to navigate a strange mixture of emotions.  I hadn’t begun menstruating, which, in some ways, was a relief since it sounded terrible and disgusting.  But, on the other hand, starting your period equaled “becoming a woman,” so did that mean something was wrong with me?  

Suffice to say, I didn’t know what to feel as I exited the classroom.  And things only continued to get more confusing.  When the boys and girls were reunited, things seemed different…awkward.  My guy friends looked at me funny; some of them made jokes and I couldn’t figure out whether to be upset or laugh.  I became much more aware of the differences between guys and girls.  And perhaps more significantly, I became acutely aware of the differences between myself and other girls.

In the following days, weeks, and months, I observed more and more of my peers carrying colorful tampons in their purses.  Almost all of my friends were buying bras, and I couldn’t help but notice how their clothes began to fit them differently.  Meanwhile, if you blurred out my face, I could have easily been mistaken for a boy in a skirt.  I begged my mom to let me get a bra and begin shaving my legs.

Even though my mom let me get a training bra (she said no to the shaving), I still felt unsure and perplexed about going from girl to adult.  I wanted to experience the whole “becoming a woman” thing, but couldn’t help feeling that I was lagging behind.  But on the other hand…becoming a woman sounded pretty damn unappealing and limiting.

That ridiculous video and all the hype surrounding it taught me a whole bunch of bullshit about femininity and puberty:

1.    Boobs, curves, and bleeding mean that you are becoming a woman

2.    Undergoing these changes – and only these changes – means you are normal

3.    Being normal – AKA fitting into stereotypes- is desirable

4.    But heaven forbid your hips get too big or you become undesirable

5.    If you grow hair on your legs, shave it!  No one likes a girl with excess hair.

6.    If you start your period, shove a piece of cotton up your juicebox and don’t talk about it with anyone, ever.  That’s just gross.

7.    You’re either a girl or a boy; that’s it.

8.    If you’re a girl, you like boys.  If you’re a boy, you like girls.  End of discussion.

Those are the lessons I took from a shitty, thirty-minute movie, the subsequent responses by my peers (and myself), and the mainstream thought process in society.  There’s nothing unique about this experience.  All around the US, pre-pubescent teens were shown similar videos - I desperately hope they’ve changed since my time in middle school.  I grew up in a society with an incredibly narrow definition of femininity and womanhood.  Certainly there were and are a multitude of women who think differently (my mother, many of my friends, my cousins), but unfortunately, mainstream thinking still has some catching up to do. 

It’s taken me 24 years to start understanding just how f-ed up stereotypical ideas and notions of femininity are.  As a teenager, our views of ourselves, and society, begin to form – those years are a prime time for developing ideas/insecurities/opinions/etc.  And whether your chest begins to swell or stays the same, whether you begin to get more attention or seem to go unnoticed, the effects imprint themselves on you.  In my case, I became self-conscious about my very un-womanlike figure, my inability to fulfill the standards and stereotypes presented to me, and a fear of what womanhood would be like should I ever actually reach it.  Feelings of undesirability, unattractiveness, and shame planted themselves in my deepest, darkest corners, and to this day I struggle to uproot the seeds planted during my teenage years.

My suggestion?  Instead of filling young girls heads with a singular idea of womanhood and what it means to be a girl, why the heck can’t we embrace and espouse the fact that going from girl to woman is an extraordinary process, one that doesn’t have to center around developing breasts or beginning to like boys.  Not everyone likes boys for god’s sake!  And not every little girl wants to be a girl!  There are so many nuances to femininity and sexuality that aren’t addressed!

And why not?  Are we afraid to tell young girls and boys that it’s okay to be different?  Are we afraid to accept that not everyone fits a certain mold of “girl” or “boy?”  This fear is founded in ignorance and hurts our community of young people every single day.

We also need to insist that, no matter what each individual’s experience is growing up, becoming a woman doesn’t have to be negative.  Stop telling girls they have to shave in order to be appealing.  Stop acting like menstruation is something to hide; that tampons should be bought stealthily in the self-checkout line.  In some cultures, when a girl begins her period, her female family members and friends throw her a huge party.  How awesome is that??  I one hundred percent plan on celebrating my daughter’s period – whether it’s when she’s 10 or 18 – with red and pink balloons, a cake shaped like a vagina, and a reminder that she’s an amazing human being, no matter her size, sexuality, or anything else.

We’ve made great strides over the years in promoting self-expression, acceptance, and love.  But it’s time go from striding to sprinting.  Let’s start making videos that are honest and encouraging.  Let’s start talking about this.  Let’s start making sure that teens – and adults – know that femininity has millions of ever-fluctuating definitions – all of which are right.