Remember junior high?
Ugh. So fraught with awkwardness. So plagued with insecurity. Throw in bad hair (hello, rooster bangs of the late 80s/early 90s) and a lack of fashion sense, and you have serious angst.
I had a million unrequited crushes on a million different boys, and I wrote their names all over my school notebooks. “I ‘heart’ Brian 4-ever.” Brian never hearted me back. None of the boys I crushed on hearted me.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I wasn’t the coolest kid in junior high.
But I wanted to be, so much. I pored over Teen and YM magazines, studying very important articles like, “How To Make Him Notice You,” “What Are Guys Really Thinking?” and “225 ways to LOOK REALLY CUTE!”
The girls in those magazines were perfect. They skipped barefoot through fields of wildflowers in formal dresses, shoes dangling from one hand while an adoring (and adorable) boyfriend grasped the other. They had sun-streaked hair and tans, and they piled into a cheerleader pyramid on the beach, mouths open wide with laughter. Often there was a girl perched on some guy’s shoulders.
They were beautiful and energetic and surrounded by adoring boys and fun friends. Everyone had lovely skin and straight teeth.
To me, those images represented the ideal teenage experience. They were what I wanted my life to look like. Yeah, it was silly and superficial, but I was 13.
My life felt like kind of a letdown, when compared to the girls in those magazines. Boys never carried me around on their shoulders, and nobody asked me to the homecoming dance. Also, I couldn’t apply eyeliner to save my life.
I’ve been thinking about the junior high girl I used to be, and how I never felt like I quite measured up. I’m 38 years old, but she still lurks around in my head sometimes. Except now, instead of teen magazines, she has Facebook and its stream of perfect images of people she KNOWS. Beautifully coordinated families on the beach, laughing, arms around each other, nobody crying or throwing sand. There are shots of handcrafted teacher appreciation gifts and gourmet home cooked meals with arugula and couscous and things that are “braised.” And there are laughing friends crowded in fancy restaurants, or multi-family backyard barbecues before the big game.
The 13-year-old in my head notices their trendy clothes and stain-free children. And once again, I don’t measure up. Also, I wasn’t invited.
Hello, junior high angst.
I’m fun! I’m nice! Why didn’t they invite meeeee? The 13-year-old wants to know. She also thinks I should buy some new boots and use fresh herbs in my cooking.
Here’s the nice thing about being a grown-up: I can tell the 13-year-old to pipe down. I can tell her just because nobody Instagrams their dinner of frozen fish sticks on a paper plate, doesn’t mean they’re not having fish sticks for dinner. Once a week. Maybe even twice.
I direct her toward the perfect-looking beach portraits of my own family, where everyone is smiling and adorable and you’d never know my husband and I left the session fussing at the kids and each other and sped through the drive-through daiquiri shop on the way home. (Although I might have shared the daiquiris on Instagram.)
And I ask her if she really wanted to drop $100 on dinner with those people, anyway. The 13-year-old tells me yes, in fact, she did. Well, so did I, but another nice thing about being a grown-up is you get to decide if you’re feelings are hurt.
The ghost of my 13-year-old self is insecure and scared and so very vulnerable. She’s gutted when she’s left off the cool party invite list, and she’s convinced there’s something wrong with her not to have been included. I wish I could go back and tell that 13-year-old she is enough, that the party probably wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and that she’s pretty cool and interesting even if Brian never hearts her. Also, the girls in those magazines–not real.
And hey, 38-year-old self–those Facebook images aren’t real, either, not entirely. They’re a single moment, a glimpse, with the piles of unfolded laundry carefully cropped out of the frame.