In Defense of my Teenage Self

I think one of the best parts about growing up is realizing that as a teen, it wasn't just you — EVERYBODY was a mess. And it's true: as a teen, your brain's trying to sort its shit out, your hormones are all over the place, you dye your own hair blonde, and all you want is to be cool. Oh my GOD, do you ever want to be cool. Which, of course translates to "fitting in." And which, of course, is actually the worst.

I did not fit in (SHOCK, I know), at least not with the people I wanted to fit in with. The people I did fit in with are still my friends now, and were the ones who also obsessed about pop culture and jokes as much as I did. They also had "weird" senses of humour (some fucking guy's description of us, not mine), and they were also too loud, and too brash, just and, well, too. (And even if they themselves weren't, they encouraged me to keep being those things, like all real friends do.)

But at the time? I — and most people — weren't thinking about "real friends." You see who you aspire to be; you see the group you aspire to belong to, and you want to be anybody but who you actually are. You want to like the same things and laugh at the same jokes. You want to look good in the same kinds of clothes and care about the same things and be good at sports because that's the kind of things that seem to matter. And since I was a teen before the Internet was what the Internet is now, I — personally — just wanted to feel like I wasn't the only person who felt the way I did. (Which, for the most part was really, really alone.)

But surprise! I was not. And the further away from high school I got, the more I realized how insane everybody else felt, too. (And, well, that doesn't mean I like those people now, but hey — congratulations, we all should've probably talked a lot more.) I also realized that as socially-awkward and impossible as I was as a teen, that girl wasn't actually too bad. And, despite the disgrace I feel about most hair styles between 2000 and 2009, I actually owe a lot to her.

I KNOW. (Please take a seat when the "WHAT?!" has worn off — I'm throwing a lot at you today.) I mean, I make fun of her more than anybody and she nicknamed herself A-Dawg (summer of 2001 was certainly a time to be alive), but she was okay. At 17 she picked up the Live From New York book and read about SNL, convincing herself that when she got older, she'd find a group of funny people who, at the very least, would be able to joke around with her (so keep going, goddamn it). She wrote, and wrote well. (My claim to fame is 88% on a paper about a book I read a 1/4 of.) She was outspoken, and she was tough, and if it wasn't for her, I'd be a very different person now.

I think accepting who you used to be is just as important as accepting who you are now. We laugh at how awkward and uncomfortable we looked, or how poetic and/or interesting we thought we were, but maybe, well, we shouldn't be laughing. One look at the teens changing the world today, and it's obvious that teenagers aren't full of shit. Which means that we probably weren't full of shit. (Unless you were the girls who told me to "dress sexier" if I wanted to hang out with you — in your case, you absolutely were.) We may have been brimming with emotions and acting on the defense, but even series like Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life show that those things are just as important as the moments of feeling hip. We were valuable then, and teens are valuable now, and there's nothing wrong with liking who you used to be.

Teen me also liked cool shit: she liked good TV shows and Titanic after it was cool (or BEFORE, depending on how cool we all still think Titanic is), and had a freakish knowledge of the Spice Girls even after they'd broken up. She liked Jay Z and Beyonce before they were Jay-Z-and-Beyonce, and you know what? Her clothes were fine. (Do you hear me, "sexier clothes" rule-makers? HER CLOTHES WERE FINE.) 

I mean, don't get me wrong: there are still stories from high school I tell with a million disclaimers. ("I was really drunk, guys!" / "I was really sad!" / "It was a . . . dark time?") But ultimately, we owe our sometimes (or often)-miserable selves some serious kudos, since it was then we started to learn and to grow and to challenge. Did I do a bunch of stupid things? Oh Jesus, yes. But it was that sense of "fuck you, I'll try it my own way" that led me me to things like being able to write for a living. (Even though, yes: that sense also scared the fuck out of my parents for about eight years. BUT! It's fine now — I'm a grown-ass woman.)

So I'll defend Teen Me (TM) to the bitter end. Maybe not the skate shoes or the self-imposed nickname, but she was a loud weirdo, and those are my favourite kind of people now.

Tags: essay, growing up, self esteem, self help, teen self

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