December 12, 2014

What I Learned From Re-reading My 2005 Teen Diary

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One thing I am so happy to have done this year is to have been brave enough to read my teenage diary at the “Cringe” open-mic night in front of a crowded pub. For those of you who haven’t heard of Cringe night, it’s an event founded in NYC by the very awesome Sarah Brown – where people gather around, grab a strong drink and read out a passage from their embarrassing teen diary (I read from my 2004 diary; I’m fourteen and it’s all very light-hearted and funny). It’s nerve-racking but you feel AMAZING after.

You can read all about my experience HERE and why I recommend it to anyone to try out. It’s fun, but also it reminds you that we were ALL embarrassing teenagers. Together.

(And luckily, according to an *actual* study, apparently the worst thing you could ever do in life is be a cool teenager, because it all goes downhill from there. Thanks Salon. That is great news).

Anyway I went through my bookcase in my old bedroom last night and I discovered another diary – one I hadn’t come across before. I’m 15/16 in this one, so a little bit older but it’s SO different – the tone, the language, the imagery. Basically it’s a whole lot darker than my chirpy 14 year old self. Some of it shocked me – like the amount of images from women’s magazines I had stuck inside.

diary

How DARK is this page? (to the left, taken from my diary). I don’t remember caring that much at the time. But like most teenagers I used to read magazines religiously and this page shows just how much the media’s representation of women is pretty screwed up. I obviously saw the words “beauty” over and over again next to this thin images. It really shocked me to find that a huge proportion of the diary is cut-outs of women all looking the same. My first thought now is that you’d think these were from a men’s magazine; everything is so sexualised, even though the articles are stuff like “What To Put In Your New Pencil Case” or “10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Opposite Sex” (I found the full clippings inside). There’s no real need to constantly put women in a bra and pants, is there?

In between this pages are lots of chirpy internal Dear Diary pep talks – I’m clearly trying to be OK about it all. HI DIARY I WANT TO DO THIS COOL THING TODAY BECAUSE I FIND IT INTERESTING, I WRITE. BUT ALSO: LOOK AT ALL THESE WOMEN THAT I AM SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE.

I felt a bit sad for my impressionable fifteen year old self when I saw pages like this. Loads of montages of girls in underwear, adverts, bones poking out, ribcages and legs and boobs – mostly all taken from teen magazines and glossy monthlies. Most of the clippings are advertorials/adverts… (I definitely didn’t have a clue what an advertorial was back then, I just soaked it all in like a sponge):“Ooh Rachel Bilson uses this foot cream. I must buy it immediately. She’s definitely not endorsing it for money, she just likes this foot cream, and she has nice feet.”

It’s hard to say whether we have more of an advertising industry issue on our hands than the magazines themselves, because it’s a bit of a joint problem. Only this month did Katie Hardie carry out an experiment showing how awful the media representation of women is (mainly in tabloids like The Sun, unsurprisingly).

It’s clear from re-reading this diary that I would innocently cut out bits from shampoo, waxing, weight loss adverts and let all the subliminal messaging clearly just wash over me. “BE SKINNY” or “LOSE WEIGHT” I would write next to these images, writing little hearts around the shouty words. It’s quite frightening to have discovered so many half-naked women and no real diversity in so many teen magazines and it having such an effect on me back then.

Imagine if there was variety, or more clothes on women, or more messaging about having a BRAIN? WHERE WAS LENA DUNHAM when I needed her?? No-one should be calorie-counting like this, especially at fifteen years old. I do not remember having many female role models even ten years ago. Wherever they were, they did not speak to me in the magazines I was reading.

Although I feel blessed to be living in a world where feminism is still a huge conversation in the media, it makes me angry to think that women’s magazines haven’t moved on visually in the ten years since I wrote this little diary. Magazines still sell strange ideals of body image, still tell us how to diet, how to be better, to be happier, to have better sex. A glossy magazine will NEVER have the answers to any of these things, but it’s their responsibility not to feed you lies or anything totally unattainable, whatever your age. It’s not fair to make anyone feel that way. This is also why I still find Victoria’s Secret a bit too hard to stomach. It’s the same old boring conversation of making women feel inferior because they don’t look like a thinspiration montage in a teenager’s diary.

Fuck, that.

To make this post a little less depressing, I thought I’d put in some other (more lols) things I found in this same diary:

It includes my first celebrity signature on a napkin

Pritsticked inside one of the pages in this diary is a napkin from a restaurant in Portugal of my FIRST celebrity signature. I remember being starstruck. Embarassingly, the signature is of Keith Duffy – the one in Boyzone related to B*Witched twins and later did a strange cameo in Eastenders. The shame.

I was obsessed with the O.C. and thought Adam Brody was also 16

Most pages are covered in tributes to the O.C cast, mainly it’s pictures of Seth and Summer (I preferred them to Marissa and Ryan). The funniest part is I’m convinced that he is also sixteen (same age as me, we’d get married and grow old together) when in actual fact Seth was 24 and Ryan was 26. Back then, that was OLD. WTF.

I thought being bad at Physics would legitimately ruin my life

For some reason I stuck in a ‘highly important’ letter that my Physics teacher had sent to me (I think I was supposed to give it to my parents) because she was concerned about my “attention span” when learning about fun things like solar systems and gravity. Little did they know I’d watch Gravity and Interstellar at the cinema years later and GOOGLE MY HEAD OFF and become an expert in the laws of physics. (Cough)

It’s all about speaking in song lyrics

Every now and again my writing goes a bit warped and poetic and I’d think “hey that’s a good piece of writing there” then realise that actually I’d spiralled into some Alanis Morrisette lyrics in the middle of a mundane entry about my day at school.

Train tickets are exciting, apparently

Even your standard train ticket into the city centre of Exeter DESERVE A WHOLE PAGE in the diary apparently. “Such a gd nite out” etc.

Text-book crushes

It’s all about the safe, vanilla man crushes. Most of my Dear Diary submissions in 2005 are dedicated to Jesse Metcalfe (who?), Ronaldo (what) and basically anyone from HollyOaks.

You could tell who I’d fallen out with

There’s one girl who features in my diary quite a lot and in every photo one tooth is coloured in using biro.

It’s the year I discovered Primark

“I got 8 things for £3.50!!!!”

Early mornings weren’t a thing

One entry starts with “I had to go to work (the classic Saturday job) at 11am, GOD WHY do I have to get up SO EARLY”. Oh…..you don’t know how lucky you are.

The language is enough to make me wince

A genuine dig at someone is calling them a “poo head”. And using the term “strutting my stuff” with SANS irony.

Fancying your friend’s brother is the norm

I cannot elaborate on this one – it’s too cringe.

All of life’s truths lie in your horoscope

I don’t really believe in Horoscopes or Tarot cards etc (I had my palm read in New York and it was the biggest waste of money EVER) but back then I predicted my future by going through every month’s horoscope. Dissecting my relationships with people – WELL OBVIOUSLY, he’s a Scorpio! Duh!”

You only know how truly weird you are when you write down your dreams, in DETAIL

This is the best, juiciest stuff ever. I literally had to make a cup of tea and read settle down before tucking into this one. Most of the time I write down the dream and then take up 10 pages trying to psycho-analyse myself; it’s hilarious.

I would like to thank my fifteen year old self for such an entertaining read, but I also wish I could go back in time and tell Little Me that you don’t have to starve yourself or go on sun-beds or want a bigger fucking thigh gap.  And I have those ridiculous magazine images to blame for all that temporary bullshit and anxiety.

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