Throughout the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about my 11 year-old self. Maybe it’s primarily due to the fact that I am slowly getting one year closer to graduating and feeling nostalgic, or maybe it’s because of the release of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret?, the film adaptation of Judy Blume’s 1970 novel about a young girl dealing with puberty and middle school.
Growing up in Texas, I remember specific moments before I turned 12 that taught me about the messiness of being a young girl. The summer before I went to middle school, I sat down in my room and made a promise to myself that I needed to reinvent myself. I had grown up sheltered and shy, two of the worst qualities to be called when you’re young. I would look to my peers who seemed to be advancing further than I was, whether it was getting their periods, growing into their bodies, or getting their first boyfriend. I felt like I was so far behind, I needed to run faster to catch up with everyone else. Margaret gets this feeling, too.
I never realized at 11 that girlhood is messy. You’re never quite sure if you’re “cool” (anyone who says they were cool in middle school needs to be serious), and you hope to find your true friends while dealing with a new trouble: junior high. When I watched Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, it made me think back to my 12 year-old self. Of course, there are a lot of differences between Margaret and myself. The film takes place in the 1970s, while I was in middle school from 2013 to 2014. Margaret moves to a new town away from the city she’s always lived in, while I had lived in my hometown at this point for almost five years. But I feel like I will always carry the lessons of the film with me as I get older, like how to feel content and comfortable in a growing body, and realizing that it’s OK to feel far behind everyone else as you get older.
At one point in the film, Margaret goes with her mom to buy a bra even though she doesn’t need one in order to fit in. It’s an important lesson I wish I had seen on screen as a 12-year-old. Sometimes we give into peer pressure at such a young age and do our best to appeal to other people so that they find us cool or interesting. If I had seen this scene at 12, I definitely would’ve felt more comfortable realizing that I didn’t need a bra just yet.
As I was growing up and my body was developing, I felt like I needed to see that experience mirrored in media. I remember standing in front of a mirror and picking myself apart: I felt inadequate with my body hair, certain parts not growing yet, and the growing pains that took over my body during my dance classes. I felt like for the first time in my life, I didn’t know how to deal with trying to figure out who I was going to be. I desperately wanted to be cool and knew that to be cool, I needed to change myself to satisfy the judgmental popular kids. I loved watching movies as a young kid, and I would often look up to objectively beautiful actors. But no film that I watched at that age could make me feel better in my own body and also acknowledge that everything I was feeling was normal.
Coming-of-age films have always been marketed towards older teenagers, but it’s important that we have additions to the coming-of-age genre for young women in middle school to make sure that their feelings are validated. It’s not just me that struggled with this: According to statistics collected by the National Organization for Women, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies” by age 13, and 50% of teens are self-conscious about their bodies.
I wish I had been able to see a character like Margaret coming to terms with not knowing everything during puberty. The acknowledgment that I was late in getting my period and the reassurance that everyone is growing into different bodies at their own pace would have alleviated so much stress. If a film had told me that there was nothing wrong with me because I had not been kissed at 12, I would have felt less self-conscious of these thoughts.
Margaret grows from the person we first meet in New York, and transforms herself while also acknowledging all of her growing pains. Young girls deserve the opportunity to have more films like this because even as we advance into hopping on beauty trends or what is currently “in” right now, we are consistently evolving and changing so that we sometimes forget that there is beauty in growing into a teenager. It’s normal to feel unsure about your body, and it’s important to treat these subject matters with respect. Margaret is pieces of every young girl combined, and I hope we can continue to find pieces of her in future coming-of-age films throughout the years.