No experience is equal to that of being a teenage girl. For centuries, novels, dramas, and films have attempted to capture the essence of girlhood between the ages of thirteen and nineteen and, most often, they fail at the task. There is something so frustratingly internal about being a teenage girl that is only understood if you’ve been one. I believe it is one of the hardest things to be.
Now as a sage twenty-year-old, I can reflect on my teenage years with absolute clarity. They were a blur. They lasted a lifetime and no time at all. I kept alternating between versions of myself and had no idea what I was actually like. I experimented with lots of things and also experimented with doing nothing entirely. Truly, I had no idea what I was doing. Every day for about five years, I’d wake up and guess. It was a painstaking way to live.
With endless guessing came waves of questioning. What did I want? Who did I want to be? Why was I the way I was? When would it stop? Questions like those are nearly impossible to answer at fifteen, even if it felt like I needed the answers immediately. This constant harassment of myself, to no avail, was one of the most difficult aspects. I grew progressively more tired as my uncertainty increased. I was aware that I was a half-baked person, but couldn’t figure out how to make myself whole. That dichotomy is a symptom of teenage girl hyperawareness. I felt like I was always being watched to see if I’d make the wrong move. Sometimes I would wonder if Ashton Kutcher was going jump out from behind the camera and tell me I’d been “Punk’d!”
From being one myself, I notice the intense intersection between teenage girls and sadness. I’ve never met a sadder bunch. Certainly the aforementioned reasons contributed to this, but there is also an endless cycle of realizations that hit you as a young girl. You think the world around you is changing, when really you’re the one changing. You assume you can keep living how you did when you were eight, when that time has gone forever. The hardest pill for me to swallow was the realization that not everyone was on my side. I felt isolated, or even that there was a target on my back.
As much as I wish someone had written a how-to guide on being a teenage girl, I don’t know how practical it would be. There’s not much you can do but live through it, and live through it you must. At the risk of sounding like some ignorant adult, it really does get better. You get stronger, things brush off you easier, and you stand a little taller. I won’t say this happens the moment you turn from nineteen to twenty, and I’m not even sure it has happened to me yet, but soon enough things will become manageable. What seems like life or death during your teenage years will become nonconsequential in hindsight. The girls I knew in high school who had a terrible go of it have turned into incredibly capable and interesting women. That’s what makes it all feel worth it.