The first lesson I ever learned was how to write my 3's. First, I wrote them backward. Then, to my dad's chagrin, I constantly wrote them with swirls in the middle. It was because I found them too dull, and I couldn't fathom having atrociously boring numbers on my homework.
But, more important are the first lessons I ever remember unlearning. These were that pink is an ugly color, and being condemned to the label girly girl is just about as awful as being punched in the face.
From the beginning of one's life, navigating girlhood is an extensive process. To make things even worse for just about everyone, at about seven or eight years, it becomes an isolating process. Rather than flocking together, figuring it all out with the company of other girls, learning everything we can from each other before we get the chance to grow up and thus ensuring that we grow up in the most efficient way possible - rather than appreciating each other and the fact that we all exist at the same time in the same moments, in almost the same way and yet a simultaneously unique way, we do our best to separate. They say there's safety in numbers; for a girl going into puberty, the exact opposite is true. Life quickly becomes a race, a competition, in which nobody wins, and everybody loses a piece or two of themselves. Even from an outside perspective, I could tell this was something unique to girls. Guys were cool for playing sports and cool for not playing sports - they could love math or hate it, wear ostentatious neon clothes, shout out stupid things in class. And, every time, they were on each other's side. They were laughing at each other's bad jokes. Punching each other on the arm. The boys were busy being boys together. The girls were too busy trying to survive.
In Mean Girls, high school is likened to the bloodthirsty world of animals, in which everyone wants to rip someone else apart and feed on their remains, and we're all very narrowly avoiding succumbing to the animal nature that makes us want to tear at each other’s hair and lob acorns at each other's heads. Girlhood is an entirely different phenomenon in itself - yes, we've all resisted the urge at some point to avoid throwing punches and biting like toddlers at each other's skin like hungry piranhas. But to be a girl is most realistically described as an insatiable hunger, the hunger of a foreign entity from Mars or the moon scouring the Earth for any type of sustenance that tastes like the otherworldly food it's used to. As toddlers and little kids, all we want to do is pick flowers and skip around holding hands with our best friends, and we never starve because there's always another girl down the street looking to share her cookies with us. Then, in what's probably the most tragic transition of all, we become aliens.
I hated other girls. Like millions of us around the world, I hated them. I hated it when they wore pink, and I hated it when they said they liked blue. I hated it when they were nice to me, and I hated it when they didn't talk to me, treated me like I was doomed to be irrelevant. I hated it when they were faster than me. I hated when they were too slow to keep up with me. I hated it when they asked me to share and when they asked others to share instead of me, and, similarly, I hated it when they asked me to play just about as much as I hated it when they left me stranded at recess on the playground bench, left to my own (miserable) devices. I was confused, and growing, and confused about growing, and more than anything I needed a scapegoat. I needed someone - or multiple someone's - to blame for every single one of my shortcomings. And the girls in my class were pretty - they had freckles and always smiled. They had friends where I didn't have friends, and they had fun when I didn't have fun.
I was ten, and I hated them.
This newfound war I had waged was by no means unprecedented. Just a few years ago, I had refused to be near boys, insisting, like any other girl my age, that they were infected with cooties. But like a light being switched on or a match being lit, I suddenly found myself leaning closer and closer to the boys I was seated next to. I didn't like them by any means. They smelled awful and were always making fun of whatever books I read, pretending to be interested behind a sly facade of giggles. But I couldn't hate them. I knew that to hate them would be to give up any chance I had at being normal, that to some extent, they called the shots, they ran this miniature version of the world. To be in good favor with a guy was to be in God's favor; it was to have people crushing on you, laughing at your jokes, giving you their lunches. Who cared about the amicability of girls when the guys had so much more to offer? The girls could be your friends, could pick you up when you'd fallen down. But the guys could put you on a pedestal. The further you separated yourself from girlhood, the higher up you reached. So, in waves, we said goodbye to girlhood, abandoned the notions of forever friendships and rainbow loom bracelets. Grade school became ceaselessly violent. The boys got to be boys. The girls ate other girls for lunch.
These beliefs are only further affirmed the older you get. Everyone around you seems disgusted by women in one way or another. It became normal to see pictures of girls older than me and judge them, for the skin they showed, for the makeup they wore. To the depths of our subconscious, we wanted to demean these girls, prove to our friends and family that we were better than them, would never be like them. Cousins, acquaintances, neighbors, crazy uncles, just married aunts, they spewed insults with the delicacy of prayers. Someone was always doing something wrong. That someone was always a woman - and one way or another, she was always to blame.
Dresses, Hello Kitty, matching shirts, handmade bracelets, singing, dancing, flowers, selfies, giggling, lip gloss, crushes. These were of the unforgivable sins, the never ever ever's. Commit them, and surrender yourself to an eternity of being known as a girl. We clawed at each other, vying for the winning position, the confirmation that we weren't like other girls, we were better, we were one of the boys, we were better. For years, I and nearly everyone else treated these unspoken rules like a holy grail. And I will admit, hopefully for the betterment of others, that it would be years until I grew out of this. Years until I realized that I did not need to isolate myself from the people I loved to spend time with simply to validate boys who didn't know my name. I remember the moment it all dawned on me. I was in seventh grade and had long since considered myself entirely separate from the girlhood notions. My friends were mostly girls, yes, but they were the "right kind," the ones who understood submission to the greater tides of the male-centric world. And then, in a German class, the girl next to me started to hum a song. I recognized its tune from a song my sister had often played on the TV, one I'd so sweetly called worse than nails across a chalkboard. But from this girl next to me, who had yet to have a name to her face, it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard. I wanted to carve not just the lyrics but her voice itself into my bare skin, if only to feel it every day.
There is a warmth that can be found in a woman's heart and nowhere else.
From then on, it was as if my eyes had been pried open. The times I forgot my gym clothes and my friends jumped to help. The friends who fought tooth and nail for me when I didn't have the energy to do it myself. The ones who gave me sweatshirts without a word when they noticed I was shivering in class. The ones who taught me I was better than the mistakes I made, the ones who kept me from succumbing to the insistence of insecurities, the ones who yelled at teachers when they could see me sinking into myself, the ones who smiled at me in the hallways without even knowing my name, the ones who waved, the ones who liked my hair and my shoes and my brand new sweater and the ones who were always, always there.
There was more passion, more comfort, more individuality than I had ever experienced in this new and seemingly foreign notion. I craved the years I had left to spend time with them, to learn about the girls who would make me who I am. At some point, this love would begin to overflow, but it had only come to me in the moments I was willing to accept it. I gave up a superficial belief in status for the unconditional love of the women around me who cared, cared, and cared until their hearts bled. There was no more girly girl, no more look at her, ew, no more peculiarity in femininity. I cried without feeling I was too emotional, because the girl on my left side wiped my tears, said it was okay, would always be okay. I mourn the years I could have spent indulging in this love that, instead, I spent disgusted with the women who had reached a level of happiness I simply could not fathom.
I am just like every other girl. When I'm ranting, my 8th-grade science teacher breathes through me. She laughs at the time wasted and continues telling us the story of her sister's disastrous baby shower. I am pulling on mismatched socks in honor of the girl I met in sixth grade English who always wore her patterned knee-highs pulled up as far as she could. I learned in band from the clarinet player that you shouldn't press your pencils too hard or use .5 LED when taking notes on your music sheets, and as a sort of offering to the friends who have spent years upon years with me, even in my most dilapidated form, I wake up every morning and say a wordless greeting to the sun, a goodbye to the moon, just like she taught me. I once spent an entire weekend listening to hundreds of songs from a K-pop band, learning all their names, memorizing birthdays, just so I would have more common ground with the girl at my lunch table, just so I had an excuse to speak to her more and more. Whenever I reread the Song of Achilles, I think of the girl who read me the entire first chapter theater style, sitting in her front yard. When I pull on platform shoes, I giggle at the silent joke that is remembering the girl who always laughed at me under her breath because she was just barely an inch taller than me. And how amazing is this - to live every moment as a girl? To project the most beautiful things in the world, to become a reflection of all that you've learned and all the love you've felt?
Why shouldn't you want to be like other girls? Has anyone else had experiences like me. Let's Talk?