Yesterday I embarked on an extensive mission.
The task ahead would be difficult, it would force me to confront my fears, to explore the darkest depths of selfhood. It was time to review the facebook statuses of my 14 year old self.
Things got ugly pretty quickly. Even if it were possible to disregard the godawful grammar (special mention goes out to my ability to unnecessarily extend every vowel and even consonant available – ‘hhheeeeeeeeeeeeyyyy’) it was the content that officially sunk the already submerged ship.
When elderly people scorn facebook for being nothing but boring recount of peoples actions I can’t help but roll my eyes a little (they save that for twitter bc its 2017, duh!). In my almost hyperreal newsfeed, memes, video and news dominate- meaning diarised content has become virtually non existent (save an annoying distant cousin or a weird relative or two). But in hindsight if I could unroll my eyes I would, as the statuses of 14 year old me were very much a manifestation of this.
Fig 1: Seems a little hypocritical, all statuses considered….
It’s not the oversharing aspect that concerns me, I do realise the hypocrisy of me writing a blog post (or snapchatting- as I did) about my 14year old oversharing and then labelling it a problem. I’m only too happy to reproduce relatively similar content under new media channels such as, instagram, twitter or snapchat (in accordance with the strict socially accepted standards that govern them). Rather, what truly troubled me is the tension of self and performance present of my meanderings. I’m hardly suggesting my modern dalliances in social media aren’t linked to ideas of performance, but what I am suggesting is the immense confusion 14 year old me was experiencing when she wrote them.
Almost too fittingly I woke up to hear the wise words of Madonna King, author of the new must have book, ‘Being 14’. She spoke on ABC’s the drum, discussing the pressure 14 year old girls face trying to identify themselves in a world where they are supposed to ‘beat the boys at science and on the sporting field’ while ‘dressing in a pretty dress and waiting to be asked to a dance. Add in increasing access social networking and hormones and you have a cocktail for anxiety and insecurity.
My old posts reflect this; if i’m not writing about how much I LOVE films about cars (modern day me couldn’t care less about them) and football ( I barely watch it) I’m posting about how girls my age ‘really shouldn’t act so desperate around guys’ and sharing images of overtly feminine dresses. I’m the ultimate male ally, I can be one of the boys and I want them to know it, but also I’m NOT a boy!!! I love dresses silly!!!. I guess I was waiting for someone to tell me I wasn’t like the other girls, waiting for them to tell me I was smarter, more well rounded, more interesting….. because isn’t that exactly what a fourteen year old girl thinks she wants?
Again I’m not suggesting females can’t be engaged in action films or have an interest in professional sport as well as loving feminine dresses; these things are hardly mutually exclusive. Rather, what I am suggesting is that for me personally these statuses were obvious acts of gender performance not an expression of a passing phase of interest. I saw girls my age as my competition, I had to be better than them, more well liked, far nicer and of course a lot smarter. Most importantly I had to avoid getting caught up in all that stupid *girl* stuff they were interested in. All the mean while I engaged in a system of ratings, posting on girls walls and ranking them on a scale of 1 – 10. I liked their posts “Like this status and me and Jade [sic] will give you a rating xoxo” waiting anxiously for their response, craving the affirmation and a sense of validation from the number. They did the same back and I laboured over my responses, ensuring ‘accuracy’.
It was cruel, and although at the time people cited my ‘niceness’ and ‘kindness’ (they never do that anymore) my language could be incidentally biting. I always meant well, I meant to help (I think), but what i was actually doing was simply rejecting any lifestyle choices that didn’t fit into my narrow frame. Its easy to see these statuses as a manifestation of my youthful world view- and of course in part that is true, but I think I was also seriously overwhelmed. I was 14, no longer really a child but definitely not an adult, how can a parent relate to that? how can anyone relate to that?. The question became am I enough? And for who?
I just want to take a moment to apologise to any 14 year old girl who I’ve simply dismissed as being a little misses. Being 14 is really hard and relating to a 14 year old is even harder. I want us to remember that these girls need to be actively built up rather than torn down for their ‘silly little interests’; they already feel insignificant enough. The language we use reflects a lot more about our own personal insecurities than it does about the person we direct it to. At 14 we need to teach girls to stop seeing their peers as competition and to start seeing them as what they actually are – which is their equally confused and scared allies. If we teach girls that they are enough they will go on to teach other girls the same and help to stop the dangerous exercises of comparison that kill their confidence. We need to listen to young girls and remind them that soon they’ll be 15 and then they’ll 18 and onto their 20’s and while the world won’t be any confusing they’ll have the skills to cope the room to carve out a space to discover themselves.
Another pressure young girls face is sexting, what do you think about sending nudes ?