February 23, 2016

Writing For That Teenage Girl

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As a teen, I would be glued to my chunky digital camera, always making sure it was in my bag; easy to access and fully charged. Now of course, it’s my iPhone. Super-glued to my palm.

Most Monday nights, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, me and my friends would sneak into our local nightclub dressed to the nines wearing all-black-everything. A grimy basement of an old building in the centre of town. Monday’s was the night. We’d all tell our parents we were going for a sleepover at each other’s houses to “revise”, when really we’d stay at our friend T’s house because her parents were the most laid back of the lot and even let us smoke in her bedroom. Even though we were underage, the door men would always let us in because one of us would usually have a bit of side-boob showing, or would do a wink. I once borrowed the driver’s license of a friend’s older sister who had long black dreadlocks to use as my ID for the night. The bouncer took a glance at the dreadlocked photo and then again at my short blond hair, raised an eyebrow and then opened the big heavy club door to let me in.

The dance floor was what could only be described as a bustling cattle market, a conveyor belt of people, moving around and looking for their “catch” of the night. Round and round we’d go, navigating towards new groups of young men like broken compasses. We’d be dancing like no one was watching. And no-one ever was.

During these evenings, I’d start feeling down in the dumps and sneak off to the ladies toilets, perching on top of the loo seat for about 25 minutes to try and pass the time. I’d receive panicky texts from the other girls: “where R U…..do u want another shot”. I’d ponder to myself why we put ourselves through it. My ankles were sore from walking in heels. I was hungry because I’d starved myself all week to get a flat stomach. I felt awkward not being able to properly talk to anyone.

Being judged solely on appearances with my shoes sticking to the floor and someone pouring beer on my arm was my idea of hell. But I’d look around and everyone would seem pretty happy.

By the end of the night, most people had paired up. They were deemed the lucky ones. Snogging as the strobe lights lit up around them. Everyone would try not to stare too much, but they couldn’t help it, everyone deep down wanted to be with someone by midnight. If you weren’t, you hadn’t been chosen. By the end of the night, the drinks would do their job, me and my friends would be wasted, thrashing around in a circle forgetting all about our original aim for the night: whipping hair, holding hands, air-guitaring, doing the robot, not caring about our sweaty armpits.

In that moment: we forgot to care. All the anxiety had momentarily slipped away.

Once the lights came up and most people around us wiped away the saliva from snogging their new partner, we’d then have to do the depressing walk towards the taxi rank at around 3am. Usually my best friend Charlotte and I would hobble along, our feet practically bleeding, holding our heels in our hands, our hair wet from the light rain and I’d say: “Well, that was shit.” She’d reply: “Yeah, it always is.”

We’d walk to the taxi in silence and I’d be asking myself questions in my head. I think I’m too fat. Are my boobs are a weird shape? Maybe I’m too veiny. My hair is too thin and I hate how it goes curly in weird places. Omg I have a cow’s lick. I wish I had longer eyelashes. If my hair was thicker, my skin better, and my legs were thinner, then my life would be better. Everything would be better.

That girl is a faded memory but she’s still there if I think hard enough. The girl who replays this internal monologue to herself without having yet unpicked why we keep on saying this stuff to ourselves. Why we punish ourselves for not living up to a constructed media world, that capitalises on women feeling bad about ourselves. How, if we dialled down the Regina George that lives in inside each of our heads, what a difference it could make to our lives.

Just think, if women felt amazing all the time, especially within our own bodies, a lot of businesses would go under. No one would buy a £95 anti-ageing cream. Those magazines that circle woman’s cellulite would cease to exist. So many companies capitalise on women hating themselves.

I don’t want to forget these feelings, in case I ever have a daughter. Remembering that girl, who was made to feel like she has to Look A Certain Way, or Be A Certain Way to be accepted or successful. Any girl who has hated herself for no reason other than her appearance doesn’t marry up that of the photos of women on billboards, magazines, the sides of buses or with millions of followers on Instagram. The girl who hadn’t yet realised how fucked up the world has been towards women for so many years. That we still get the dregs of a long-standing attitude that women are just a walking pair of ovaries and tits. In a “modern” world, it’s still a little strange that is so “trailblazing” to be a woman in any kind of media space who loudly talks about periods, masturbation, standing up against stereotypes, prejudice or to be slightly overweight and proud.

It’s for any girl who has felt rejected, alienated or felt like an outsider simply because we cannot live up to the expectation the glossy media put on how women should look at all times. It’s for anyone who has done something drastic to try and fit in and hidden it from the people they love. It’s for the girls who go home and read books in bed alone and wonder what’s wrong with them. The ones who don’t want to be treated as just one big Tinder swipe of life. The ones who want to put a middle finger up when anyone asks you to just “sit there and look pretty”.

I grew up confused at not being able to identify with hollow, PhotoShopped, stock images: the airbrushed women who featured on the tags of my new bra, leading actresses with perfect teeth, a model for a Car Phone Warehouse advert on a bus shelters: everything. It all looked the same. Symmetrical, airbrushed, robotic. Who is that girl really, I would think, staring up at a billboard poster. What is behind that empty smile? I bet it’s something interesting. Maybe she orders pizza on Fridays, or gets sore boobs each month. That’s the thing about the unspoken sisterhood: when we’re truly honest about how we’re feeling, it’s hard to find anything to fight about.

It’s not easy to write down your life on a plate. We all want to give an illusion of who we are, or who we think we are. We don’t necessary want to break the fourth wall of life. It’s easier to get someone guessing about great your life is.  But what if we tried to erase the glossiness a bit? Less filters, less illusions? It could help someone. Life is not perfect. Women are not perfect. You may have muffin tops, lop-sided boobs and occasional thrush but HEY, you can get to a point where you really really like yourself. Telling your story can encourage more stories.  Big or small or seemingly insignificant; the knock on affect of sharing our truth on the Internet is often like a string of Dominos. So let’s keep on sharing.

  • Connie

    I’ve never commented on any of the blogs that I follow before, but I think this is one of the best articles I have ever read. I can relate to it in so many ways. Thank you for writing this.

  • I feel this so much.. I’m 17 right now and oh god I feel that internal monologue thing. I’ve had to started writing up things up because I’m so scared of forgetting how we feel now, how it is both awful but brilliantly fucked up. Or, as my friend put it “I’ve not seen a book about queer mentally-ill teenagers in a co-dependent relationship with their cats discussing the implications of wanting a thigh gap and how many dildos its acceptable to own. Ellen, you should write that.” Thanks for this post. Seriously.

  • That’s a book that I would love to read, please write it! 🙂

  • I agree with your friend, please write that book! 🙂

  • This is so, so true.
    I am sixteen and I can relate to so much of what you have written.
    I am big on feminism and loving yourself but still I find it hard to love everything about me and I still find myself looking at women on the magazine and wondering if I’ll ever look like that. I hope this fades over time, I really want to love myself for all that I am.

  • Wow, now that sounds like a book I would worship!

  • this was wonderful to read. Thank you for this.

  • McKenzie

    This feels like it was written for the sixteen- year- old me of 2010. Thank you Emma for your wonderful writing!

  • Jenna

    You should definitely read the book Dietland. I think you would be so inspired by it. It has the ability to change the world in exactly the way you want it to change. 🙂

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