A few months ago, I went to a big family gathering at my grandparents’s house and ran into a cousin of mine. She seemed much older than the last time I had seen her (oh, the passage of time), so I asked her what age she was. She replied, “Oh, I’m fifteen.” And my immediate reaction?
“Oh my god, I am so sorry.”
She laughed, which gives me a little bit of hope that maybe, for her, being fifteen isn’t a complete fucking nightmare. But I think she recognized what I was saying on some level. Fifteen is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst age. Wait, maybe fourteen. Thirteen? Twelve was pretty bad, too. Fuck it, they all suck. Nothing summarizes being a young girl better than this simple quote from The Virgin Suicides: “You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.” “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”
It’s amazing, really. I spent my entire childhood counting down the days until I could be a teenager. I planned everything out perfectly: I would go shopping with friends by myself downtown by fourteen, kissing cute boys by fifteen, losing my virginity by sixteen, driving a cute car by seventeen, and off to university to have even more amazing experiences at eighteen. My life would be a fucking commercial, starring me, my best friends, and Jordan Catalano. It was going to happen.
Until it didn’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually had a few of those things on my list. I drove a pretty bitchin’ baby blue VW Beetle and I did end up going to university. I’m luckier than most. But where were the boys? Where were the cute clothes? Who took my fantasy and dumped a steaming bag of hot garbage juice on it?
We sell this idea of what you’re life is going to be to young girls from the fucking get-go. To be fair, that’s advertising, right? Selling you the life you want, no matter the age? Well, unfortunately, little girls can’t see through the bullshit. We internalize all of it. And that’s what makes the hardships of being a teenage girl sting even more.
I was thrown into the pot of steaming dogshit pretty early. I was wearing a bra at nine, dealing with self loathing by ten, and by twelve, I was officially balls-deep in it. And it didn’t go away. Between twelve and (I’ll be generous and say) seventeen, all the garbage just kept circulating in my system. It would just evolve, or die down, only to flare up at the slightest irritation. That’s what being a teenage girl is: you’re full of poison. Mostly, you just poison yourself over and over again, but sometimes some of it leaks out of you and onto someone else.
At twelve, most girls understand real sadness. Twelve, though it seems so young to us now, felt really old at the time. By this point, you’ve already been told how to be, and realized that you’re not measuring up. By twelve, your skin is already shit, and your body is too flabby or your breasts haven’t come in yet. Worst of all, when you’re a girl, by twelve you’ve probably already been in a situation that made you feel threatened sexually. Let that sink in. From the top of my head, I can think of four moments in my life, before the age of twelve, when someone crossed a line with me. Four. This is not abnormal.
By thirteen, you’re already prepared to destroy yourself. When you’re a sad teenage girl, you try a lot of things out, see which ways work best for you. It’s like you can feel the poison bubbling under your skin, all the time. I recognized this in other girls. I could see them clawing at their skin, lashing out at others, trying everything they could possibly dream up. So they cut themselves, make themselves sick, scream at their mothers, smoke, drink, send pictures to the wrong person, do things they might not want to do. Because literally anything, anything that might make things go away for five minutes, is worth it.
By fourteen, I felt like a veteran. In my mind, I had seen some shit, man. I had felt some fucking feelings. And honestly, I thought things were getting better. I was still a bit broken from things that had happen in middle school, but hey, this is high school! I had been dreaming about this forever! It has to be better, right?
At fifteen, the optimism in me had died. I woke up every day with an anchor on my chest. I went from a solid B student to barely passing. I wouldn’t go out with friends, because suddenly they were branching out, meeting new people, and I didn’t know how to handle that. My lifelong fear of men really didn’t do me any favors with boys. When you flinch every time they move a hand too quickly, and find it nearly impossible to look them in the eye without wanting to throw up, you don’t get asked out much. My mother didn’t know what to do with me, so I would spend all day, every day, locked in my room. University? Fuck no, man. I could barely get my ass out of bed as a basic daily requirement, how could I possibly want to continue my education?
Sixteen was… different. Good and bad. I had woken up from the dead, but it’s not like things just go away. I was doing well in school, I started thinking about university again, and I even hung out with friends sometimes. But things were not great internally. I gave myself over to some extremely unhealthy behavior, which went completely unnoticed. Whatever. It’s still kind of a blur to me. What can I say? I’m an almost adult, I’m allowed to not have everything figured out.
And then, like the rising sun, seventeen happened. I got better. I worked harder. I had a goal, and I was rising to the challenge. I actually enjoyed school, and sometimes, I even went to parties (and had a little bit of fun!). I gained enough control over my unhealthier behavior to start healing, even if the process has been painfully slow. I finally understood what it was like to wake up and be okay. I graduated high school and went off to the university of my choice. Not happily ever after, but I’ll save that for another time.
Now, if you’re still reading, you might be confused. Why am I listing off all the crappy shit I felt between the ages of twelve and seventeen? If you hated being a teenage girl so much, why do you love them?
Because even with every single fucking thing a teenage girl has to deal with, they still manage to do something so mind blowing, yet completely simple: love, unabashedly.
You know those girls everyone loves to shit all over? The ones who really fucking love something? Those girls, man. They take all that energy, all that circulating fire in their veins, and instead of letting it destroy them, they choose to love, ferociously. Be it a band, or a book, or a series of films. They do it to keep themselves sane, and yet we mock them for it. Teenage girls find a buoy for themselves in the sea of emotional ruin, and they hold on tighter than anyone else.
One of the most popular ways people like to hate teenage girls is to complain about their “insane” crushes on boy band members. Now, let me fucking tell you something: those big dumb crushes are what helps a teenage girl develop her sexuality in a safe environment that she can control. In her world, she can listen to One Direction and hear all these songs about how great she is, and how much these cute non-threatening boys want to make her feel special. Why is this so important? Because no one is pushing them. There’s no fourteen year old boy shoving his clammy hands down your shirt without your consent. These fantasy boys are not convincing a girl to send naked pictures, only to show all their friends and call her a slut. In the fantasy land of boy bands, the girl has all the power. And we need to stop judging them for wanting to escape into that.
I love teenage girls because even if they hate themselves, they love other people. I remember how I felt, seeing other girls go through what I was going through. It ruined me. I wanted so desperately to help them out of the muck, but when you’re submerged yourself, there’s not a lot you can do. Teenage girls understand, and they want to make sure no one else feels the way they do. I see it on websites like Tumblr all the time. It’s fucking beautiful.
I love teenage girls because society loves to blame them for everything. The self-obsessed teenage girl is always the face of the “problem” with youth today. Apparently, these superficial teenage girls who love their iPhones too much are the issue. Not, you know, the people conditioning them to believe that their worth is tied to how many Likes they got on their last selfie. No, you’re right, let’s focus on the girls who post on Facebook too much. Great.
I’m in film school now, so often I get asked, “What kind of work do you want to make?” Usually, I don’t have an answer. Good work, I guess? But thinking about it, I know what I want to do: I want to make movies for teenage girls. Stories about teenage girls with agency, who rebel, who take all that energy and channel it into something, even if it’s not necessarily positive. I want to represent the girls I love so much. Because I have been one of those girls, and I will always carry a part of that with me.
So just try and talk shit about teenage girls around me. Just fucking try it.