"It takes a long time to become young." -- Pablo Picasso
I had a conversation earlier this evening with my oldest niece about the trials of youth. She's 16, and struggles with wanting to be older while simultaneously clinging to things seemingly "young" for her age. This isn't a new conversation for us to have - we had conversations about her desire to "be a grown up" several times over the summer while she stayed with me in California. Part of this desire to be older comes from a misguided perception that age = maturity, and maturity = money "for better clothes/style." She lives in the same small town that I went to high school in, and kids can be pretty cruel there when you don't fit in. (I'm sure this is true elsewhere, right?) She also desperately wants to get older so that she can make her own rules, seemingly ignorant about how the few rules she is expected to follow are there to help her succeed. Being a teenager is rough, yo.
I reflected on this for a while, and started reminiscing about my own journey into adulthood. I started baby-sitting very, very young, and consequently thought I was an adult before I was even 10 years old. I would often try to interject myself into adult conversations, usually ignoring conversations with my friends and siblings. Those of you who have only known me as an adult will find it interesting, then, for me to describe myself as a serious, quiet child... but I that's exactly what I was! I preferred the company of adults, but was usually too shy to actively participate. I would instead sit by adults quietly and eavesdrop on their conversations.
As I got older, I watched the adults and teenagers in my life intently... desiring so much to be like them, but always falling appropriately short. I embraced their style to an almost comedic extreme. So young and naive I was that I often confused the dress of my teenage cousins with that of my mother and her friends (see granny dress with shoulder pads above paired with rainbow sweatbands). My young and unfashionable brain was unable to decipher style trends amongst the generations, so I often combined them and pretended it was on purpose.
To top this all off, I came of age at a time when tacky fashion was all the rage. My favorite dress for a good 3-4 years was the beautiful blue number above - so 80s/90s, so "Saved by the Bell." I genuinely thought that if I dressed like this, I would make friends with the people who's attention I craved the most - the teenagers and adults! I was wrong, of course, and ended up mostly attracting the attention of bullies and jerks instead.
As I moved on into middle school, I started to relax. I made a few good friends, and started learning to have fun. Ever the imitator, it was their style that I started to copy. I never quite knew what my sense of style was, so I copied from those that I considered to be the best dressed. It was fun, and I started to fit in... for a while.
My desire to look cool, however, was always tarnished by the fact that I looked nothing like my peers. I was not only tall-ish for my age, but I rapidly developed into the body of a curvy 20 year old by the age of 13. My dark skin and wavy hair was nothing like the pale-skinned blondes I hung out with, yet I copied their hairstyles and makeup all the time. This led to a dark period I refer to as the Permed Era - a time of blue eyeshadow, permed hair, and pink blush. The horror! Let's never go back there, friends.
None of my attempts at "being cool" were ever well received by my peers or my friends. I was teased by classmates and friends alike throughout middle school, often resigning myself to a quiet corner in class rather than anywhere I would be the center of attention. By the time I got to high school, I stopped trying to be fashionable altogether. I felt like I looked like an "old lady" anyway, so I sort of started dressing the part. This not only helped me avoid attention from the mean girls and boys at school, but it also stopped the unwanted advances I started getting from creepy old men and a few of my friends' dads/uncles. I became sorta invisible, and I was ok with that. (Thank GOD there wasn't any social media back then!)
By the time I got to college, I finally started to feel comfortable in my skin. I discovered a more casual sense of style that worked for me, and started to care less what others thought of me. I chose to go to the biggest school in the state, and that helped me too - most of the mean girls didn't end up at my college, and the ones that did weren't in my social circles anyway. I ended up dating a guy from my high school in college that would have been way out of my league in high school, but it was a non-issue for the most part. If/when our social circles did collide, I was always pleasantly surprised that most people forgot about those awful, awkward years and pretended to remember me as the nice, friendly girl who hung out with their mutual friends.
Now, this journey down my tragical history is not simply a comedic break from reality. I share all this to show to my niece that nearly everyone goes through their awkward phases. Middle school and high school are hard times for most of us, and that's ok. You can survive it, and come away ok!
If your teens are the time to figure out your style, your twenties are the time you figure out the rest. I had plenty of ups and downs, but with age came the maturity to learn how to sort those feelings out better than I had when I was younger. I won't say anyone ever figures it all out all the time, but you certainly get better at trying. As I move through my thirties, I embrace my goofiness more and my sense of style reflects that. If someone is saying something bad about how I look, I'm pretty ignorant to it these days. I am who I am, and I'm ok with that. Boy, do I wish I had figured that out earlier... but at least I know this now!
Bottom line - don't be so hard on yourself, kid. Being a teenager is rough, and you're not going to figure it all out before you're 18. Stay in school. Do what makes you feel good. Embrace the goof! And keep in mind that everyone is going through the same struggle as you are in high school - even those mean bullies I keep hearing about. Be kind. Be thoughtful. And don't spend so much time thinking about what has already happened. Embrace today, and look forward to tomorrow. I know people say again and again that "it gets better," but I'm here to tell you that it does! Enjoy your youth while you still have it. Have a little fun! And, dammit, stay in school!
Love you so much, Katiekins!