Once I hit puberty, I had one goal: don’t get lumped in with ‘all the other girls’. I had a bad taste in my mouth from the ‘popular’ scene by the end of my first semester of Junior High, so I decided to distance myself from that group, especially those girls. The ones who couldn’t be seen wearing an outfit their friends didn’t approve first, partook in Degrassi-style groupthink, and frankly, scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want to be one of them, and didn’t want to be part of any other clique I could find either, so I took my life and, more accurately, my image into my own hands.
I wanted to be a renaissance woman — to be cute and smart but also edgy and gross enough to fit in with the boys. To begin the transformation, I shifted my focus and sought the shock of my peers in place of their approval. It was more fun that way. I did a lot of things that are still too cringeworthy to include in this essay (even as I’m writing a decade later), so I’ll list some examples of things I’m willing to admit to give a better idea of what I was like:
- My mom occasionally sent me to the mall with a twenty-dollar bill hoping that I would return with girly Abercrombie t-shirts. Instead, I purchased as many band t-shirts from Hot Topic as I could get my hands on, hid them in my backpack, and picked one to change into on the school bus every morning.
- I rented a book with a title along the lines of ‘Things My Mother Never Told Me About Sex’ and passed it around to my entire 7th grade social studies class. Doesn’t everybody want to be known as the class perv?
- I convinced myself, and a few others, that I was a Wiccan for about a month. I provided ‘proof’ by renting spell books (I’m serious) from the library and carrying them around with me in case there were any doubters.
In High School, things took a less obnoxious turn. I settled into my body and identity in a way that made me pretty happy. When I started dating my first high school boyfriend, I proudly infiltrated his group of guy friends, leaving even the punkiest of my few girlfriends behind. That’s not to say, though, that I was purposely subjecting myself to a horrible time. I eventually came to embody the weirdo I wanted to be, and these kids made me feel like I was really part of their group. We smoked cigarettes and drove around in cars that (I’m convinced) were held together with super glue, and listened to our music as loud as any stereo would allow.
It was only toward the end of high school that I befriended two of our own Ladies, foolishly thinking that I had discovered the only two other ‘cool’ girls in the ENTIRE WORLD! Cool, here, entails knitting, girl band-ing, and speaking in a made up accent for an entire school year. As the first real female friends I made since I had started feeling sort of comfortable in my own skin, I felt like we were soul mates — I still do.
In college, I figured out that many of the relationships I had with my guy-friends were (as my mother had long suspected) less than genuine. This happened as I was exploring college life and meeting and befriending heaps of awesome women. I realized that my high school bff’s weren’t the only interesting females in existence. I was finally able to start ditching the stereotypes, both internal and external, and appreciate the female population as being every bit as diverse and valuable as any other.
The choices I made while trying to create an identity for myself led me to be the person I am today, but I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like now if I had managed to enter adolescence without those preconceived notions about women —and if I hadn’t hated every one of them.
It took me way too long to realize that every woman I’ll ever meet is an individual. Every woman I meet has something to teach me. The craziest thing to think about, looking back, is the fact that I was so deeply affected by the unappealing stereotypes I had internalized about women before I could really understand what they meant. If you had told me that I was “not like other girls” when I was 14, I would have taken it as an enormous compliment. If you said the same thing to me today, I’d probably tell you to really talk to some more women.