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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

This summer, I celebrated my 20th journey around the sun. If you talked to me at all throughout the few months before my 20th birthday, you would have quickly realized it was an age I had long dreaded turning, a conclusion to the liberty and frivolity of my teenage years. Twenty felt like a harsh wake-up call into adulthood and an indelible ending to my childhood.

Ever since the fateful day I was propelled into the adult world of responsibility and maturity, I’ve reflected on why this fear of getting older has been so prominent in my life and the lives of so many other young women. Why do we cherish our teenage years so dearly and spend all our time after forever searching for things that make us feel like little girls again?

To begin to answer this question, I want to examine the concept of girlhood. For me, the term girlhood encompasses a transitional period between childhood and womanhood, a time of innocence and naivety when we gain more freedom without the burden of significant worldly responsibilities. As I grow older, I sense this phase of girlhood slipping away right in front of me and I find myself grieving it before the chapter has even reached its natural conclusion. I am constantly reaching for my past years and rejecting the present and future realities of life after college and the unpaved road that lies ahead of me.

Up until now, life was generally planned out without forks in the road; after high school, college was a logical next step. But passing the halfway mark for my time as an undergraduate leads me towards a time when the future is unknown. The impending roadblock of uncertainty for my time after college accentuates my fear of entering my twenties and life beyond girlhood.

However, I believe that our never-ending desire to cling to girlhood is not merely a fear of aging, responsibility and an unknown future, but it is also a fear that is deeply rooted in the patriarchal standards of our society. As we age, we lose our innocence about the world around us, our shoulders burdened with greater expectations and demands on how women are intended to perform.

What was once considered endearing and blamed on my youthful innocence is now redefined as something unpleasant. Showing emotions and caring deeply transforms into sensitivity and melodrama. Women are consistently discounted for their feelings and emotions, leaving me fearful for the day when my voice runs mute. More and more, I find myself trapped in a constant struggle to be taken seriously without being discounted.

I think that Taylor Swift said it best in her song “Nothing New” from her album Red: “How long will it be cute,/All this crying in my room,/When you can’t blame it on my youth,/And roll your eyes with affection?/And my cheeks are growing tired,/From turning red and faking smiles,/Are we only biding time til I lose your attention?”

Our society has an ingrained desire for young girls and their innocence, introducing a stark dichotomy between the expectation to act one’s age and an unnatural clinging to our late teenage selves. Women strain to look, act and feel younger than they are in hopes of not getting washed away and replaced with someone younger, newer and more desirable.

In this way as well, the competition between ourselves and other women increases with our age, fighting with each other for the last few seats at the table. Yet, this intense contest directly counteracts the girlhood and camaraderie of our youth. Our constant competition with one another only perpetuates society’s preexisting criticism of women.

All of this reflection on my fear of getting older produces a need to look at how to proceed from here. Am I destined to continually be discounted and less desired? And if so, what is there to look forward to as I continue throughout my twenties and into my thirties? I can’t single-handedly change society and its perception of myself and other women. However, I can frame this unfortunate reality in a more positive light.

I can reject society’s perception of myself and other women, denying it the power to turn down the brightness of my youth and my future. I can reaffirm my knowledge that I have value, purpose and merit that only increase with my age and experience. In addition, I can nurture my girlhood rather than grieve it before it has even ended. Through my friendships with other young women, I can build a strong support system rather than compete with my peers.

As I formally enter into my twenties, I am taking with me my girlhood. I am eager to celebrate this time of uncertainty in my life and reach for the opportunities of my future. Through cultivating friendships, embracing self-discovery and rejecting society’s limiting perceptions, I am excited to embrace this new chapter of my life with the unbridled passion and elation of my teenage self.

Nicole is a third-year student at UCLA from Plymouth, Massachusetts pursuing an International Development Studies major and Global Health minor. She loves the beach, hiking, traveling, and coffee.