I am 26 years old. My face has grown narrow and my body tells me I’m no longer infallible each time I stand (creak, pop). I’m a college-educated business owner. I’m married. In sum: I’m a grown woman with her own mind, wants and needs. Great right? Sure, only it’s left me wondering how I got here.
You see, I was such a weak willed girl. That might sound harsh, but truly, I was a 16 year old living, breathing stereotype that I’m ashamed to identify with today.
Let me back up.
Part of me recognizes that it’s normal to be boy-crazy in the midst of puberty. As a teenager, I obsessed over boys and celebrity crushes and all of the things depicted in popular culture that girls that age love. These images of teen girls are likely rooted in truth. Hormones are to blame, for sure. But how much of my behavior was influenced by a culture that said I should do anything I could to catch a boy’s attention?
Each morning when I woke up, I preened in front of the mirror, hating everything I saw. My female friends made it a point to emphasize every one of my flaws for their own amusement. Some “friends,” I know. And my perpetual shyness got in the way of talking to people and showing anyone who I truly was.
Society told me if a boy liked me, I was worth something. If no one from the opposite sex would glance my way, I was useless. Yet, if you were to pursue anyone of your own accord, you’d be labeled, stigmatized and derided for being too bold, too brash and dare I say a shameless hussy!
I’m exaggerating, but you get the point. There is an unspoken balance teens girls must hold onto. The tightrope walk between virgin and slut. The ever-present need to attract a mate, but not do anything overt to accomplish that. Because we girls just aren’t inherently worthwhile, you know. We have to do something to get a guy. But I’m getting off topic. The virgin/slut paradigm is so engrained in our culture that I do no one a service by delving into it here.
Back to being 16.
I wasn’t a “bad” girl. Yes, I’m talking sex here. That wasn’t me, but I did compromise myself on occasion for the sake of a boy. I definitely felt the pressure to be something I wasn’t and to mold myself into a girl that a boy would like.
Pitiful, isn’t it? I acknowledge that feeling inadequate and out of place is a part of growing up, but hiding who you are to gain favor transcends the teen years. It can set the tone for a life lived in the shadows. A life only half lived in the wake of another’s expectations.
If all of this sounds melodramatic, I’m sorry. But the realization that you spent the better portion of your teen years trying to be someone else for everyone else’s sake is mentally taxing.
Thankfully, I’m at the point now where I better understand myself (though it’s always a learning process) and feel no shame at voicing my own opinions. I think back 10 years ago when the walk across campus at high school every day filled me with so much dread, I’d rather stay home and sleep than face people that were supposed to be my friends just waiting to take a shot at my crumbled self-esteem. I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if I hadn’t been afraid to be myself around my peers who mocked my clothes, my teeth, my skin and my body. Would I have stood up and had an opinion?
The positive side of me thinks, yes. Of course I would have. Anyone who knows me now has no doubt encountered one of my unfettered tirades about something. But the pessimistic side hits closer to the truth: I couldn’t have voiced an opinion when I was 16 because I didn’t have any.
Spending your youth accommodating everyone with false agreements and complacent smiles (just so they’ll like you) does an awful thing to your mind. You forget how to think for yourself.
When I was 16 and a stereotype, I was so unhappy. And though I know that girl with a shriveled up soul was me (and is in me and will forever haunt me), she is not a girl I want to know. I understand her and why she made the decisions she made, certainly.
But I despise her.