I Was a 16 Year Old Stereotype

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.

Hiding my thoughts led to losing them.

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.

10 thoughts on “I Was a 16 Year Old Stereotype

  1. I readily identify with you feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. I had a lot going for me in high school–great grades, I was athletic, and I had a boyfriend of 3 years–but I had always been a shy girl, ridiculed for my appearance. My boyfriend, though a good guy, constantly put me down and called me ugly and fat. I realize now that those things are far from the truth, but at the time, I felt stuck and worthless. I hated high school, and there are days I wish I could go back and change so much. My parents were right…I really didn’t know anything at 16. But my life now feels fuller than ever because of those experiences. It’s all a balance.

    Nice post!


    • You never want to admit your parents are right when you’re a teenager =) It just goes to show that no matter how good you have it, if you don’t like yourself, nothing else will work quite right. I guess it’s good that I had those experiences though. Otherwise I wouldn’t be as grateful to be a confident woman now.

  2. Hmmm… interesting post. When I think about the things I did as a teenager, I certainly see a lot of thinks that I wouldn’t have done now (some twenty years later), but still, I kind of trust the person I was then, and that he/I did the right things. In retrospect certain things then to disappear from memory, and I’m not “qualified” anymore for judging my actions… But then again, you are a little closer to your teenage years…

    However, the caption to your mask-photo makes a lot of sense to me. Thoughts need to be elaborated, and the only way to do that is to articulate them. I could have done a very much better job in that department in my youth.

    BTW, great blog.

  3. Awww, never knew you felt this way during high school! *Hugs* I went through high school half miserable that I was the “shy smarty pants” stereotype and counting the days toward graduation. But now that I’m out of school, I kind of miss high school, but definitely NOT for the awkward teen moments.

    • Aw it’s okay. It’s just a part of it, I guess. I sort of wish I could do high school over again with what I know now in mind. I’m sorry you were miserable, too! People thought I was either shy or stuck up. I also got pegged with this weird, “aw, Brenda’s so innocent, she doesn’t know anything about the world.” Made me want to hop on top of a desk and shout, “F— You!” But that wouldn’t have been appropriate. lol

  4. Wow, this post really did something for me. I’ll think about what you said for a few days coming, I’m sure. I’m not sure if I hate the kid I was then, but I sure wish I had the guts to turn my mother’s husband in for the abuse and molesting I put up with. On one hand, I realize that wasn’t my responsibility, it was my mom’s. On the other, I know I was scared of not being believed, so that’s understandable but not a good excuse. Ah, well. The man’s dead now. I, like you, am a LOT more outspoken than I used to be. Thanks for this.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. What I went through is very mild in comparison to what you describe, but I think the feelings of powerlessness transcend to all teens with self-esteem issues. Honestly, I’m not sure that I hate my teen self, either–more embarrassed that was me at one time. I guess all we can do is move forward and try not to let other people step on our thoughts. Again, thank you.

  5. i so identify with everything you said. even at fifty some of these issues still crop up in a small way. and its really painful for me to watch as my daugther goes through the same thing. one would think i could do a better job helping her through it. keeping her from the suffering. life doesn’t work that way i guess. we have to stumble on our own. oh thats a sad thought.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I was too tall, too thin, awkward, shy, self-questioning, etc– and in the last decade or so I have been gratified every day to know that however I felt at the time, I wasn’t alone. This is how it is.

    And yet the person you are now wouldn’t exist without that girl. So it goes.

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