Memory of a Beauty and Boys-obsessed Teenager

from "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" Movie

from “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” Movie – 12th Zürich Film Festival 2016

So there I was: 12 years old. A new phase of life had started.

Finally I was allowed to grow my hair longer and choose my own clothes. What I thought was the freedom of “expressing my identity” (when really I couldn’t have a clue what my identity was) turned gradually into a never-ending search for the right image and a constant, growing insecurity of getting it wrong and not being wanted.

I was the smallest and youngest girl in my class – due to having started school a year earlier – and I wanted to project the image of a strong, assertive, secure girl who nobody would mess around with. Nothing wrong with this one I think, especially considering that this was the image I’ve always identified with during my earlier years.

But of course there were “the boys” too…I attended a mixed school, so there was a continuous attention coming from them: something completely new to me which I was not used to…something that totally fascinated my teenage self: in other world, I was excited in discovering the “power of seduction”, when I had no idea of all the usual drawbacks that come with it…

Drawback number 1)

I started to look at myself and compare my face/body with the images of beauty in the media around me, and the “real women”, pubescent bodies of my peers and best friends (I was the only one in the class still waiting for my menarche the first period – to “turn me into a woman”). All my best friends were so much bigger and bustier than me; all of them played with pads and tampons, they shared their “menstruation stories” and missed gymnastic class during that time of the month. I was envious of them and felt incomplete; I was impatient to experience it all.

Result: I wished I was bigger, taller, and with a prominent breast to impress boys.

Coping Strategy: I was indeed quite petite and in my view the only way I could claim more of their attention was through wearing provocative clothes and make-up (of course…with quite disastrous outcomes most of the time!)

Drawback number 2)

I became constantly concerned with my appearance, even during situations where I used to truly enjoy myself. Despite this – and as far as I can remember – at this stage I was not yet experiencing any resentful feeling regarding the constant urge to look good (this will develop later, after a couple of years). I was enthused by the new possibilities of gradually becoming a woman I guess. I was basking in anticipation: it was a new game, a new world to discover, something exciting, new identities to play with!

Result: I was quite self-conscious and pretending most of the time. I was convinced nobody would actually like the real me.

Coping strategy: I had to use different masks depending on the people/situation I was dealing with. I had to project a different personality, a façade that could protect me from that unbearable critical scrutiny of the world around me (my parents/family, my peers, my teachers, “the boys”).

Drawback number 3)

Everything that was important to me in previous years became the hallmarks of childhood: something I had to distance myself from at every cost.

Result: My interests and attitude, my favourite toys and play were all abandoned in favour of the “new me” and more “mature” pursuits (make-up and making-up with boys were on top of my list).

Coping strategy: Bye bye to the studious, dutiful girl: the “new me” was a provocative and rebellious one, who would skip classes to smoke cigarettes in the school toilet, wear ripped jeans and knee-high boots and write indecent graffiti everywhere I could.

This scenario will sound familiar to many teenagers girls today, despite this being an account from thirty years ago (the ’80s). This means that we didn’t have computers, the internet, social media, mobile phones or tablets. We had fewer TV programs we could watch (4 or 5 channels) with typically one TV per family, so that watching time was restricted to a minimum and parental control was almost inescapable. We had no access to pornography, we could not get much information about sex (my only source was girls’ magazines at the time) and there was no way to be tempted to share a compromising picture/video online and to be shamed publicly after that.

Forwarding to the digital revolution, I wonder whether teenager (and young adults)’s feelings and coping strategies have changed that much and whether they are being aggravated by the hyper-connectivity of today’s world. While there is little doubt that the main issues remain the same  – all boiling down to the elusive quest of one’s own identity (who am I?) and fear of rejection (will I be loved?) – the increasing demands of our hyper-connected world hardly allow modern young people to escape

Recalling the memories of my teenage self makes me wonder about how I would have coped with living in such connected world and played my identity-games in social media. When I observe my son I wonder about the pressure he must be feeling: he told me that with Instagram and Snapchat “it’s all about appearance”.

How are young people coping with all this? How does it feel to be complete pioneers in a new, unknown territory? How does it feel when your parents are less savvy than you in using gadgets and digital technology? Can they take adults seriously enough for advice when all sort of information is available to them through a simple click on their portable devices? Do they consider all this an advantage or are they wishing to live in a less connected world? Are they screaming out for protection or do they revel in this newfound independency from adults’ control? As parents, should we leave them free to play their “identity’s games” online and how much privacy should we allow them in the process?

We desperately need more research to address these questions 😉

21 thoughts on “Memory of a Beauty and Boys-obsessed Teenager

  1. I was so grateful when I came across this blog article. I loved how after each Drawback there was a way that the author coped. I myself have had these similar, yet slightly different drawbacks, and at a young age didn’t know how to really cope. Instead of being the last girl to get a period, I was the first. I was the first to develop and it was embarrassing. I would get made fun of or judged even at the early age of 10. However, once other girls started to develop, I quickly noticed the change of how the boys viewed us, viewed me. There were many sexual comments thrown my way because I was significantly bustier than most girls, and I had to try to learn to dress in away to minimize, even as a preteen.

    However, like most girls, I did start to like SOME attention, especially in college. Though I do wish I still had gone about the attention differently. To be more modest in my clothes, to not be as forward.

    In all, I wish I had more coping methods back then, but all I can do now is encourage the younger girls now to be their own person and to be beautiful just the way they are. That the don’t need the attention of boys to build their self-esteem, that just their bright personalities are JUST as good.

  2. I was a teenager in the 90’s but can still relate to what you said. Access to images, articles, and sources of information that influenced me in my search for identity wasn’t as available as it is to teens today. I’m sure the overwhelming bombardment with social media and access to the internet does confuse and can even lead some girls astray from their true self.

  3. I’m 23, so these days for me don’t seem that long ago but I can absolutely relate to all of the things listed here. I went from being studious and quiet to dressing more flamboyantly and basking in male attention somewhere around my senior year of high school. It felt good to be noticed after being invisible for so long. After a few years of shenanigans, I moved 800 miles away from the small town I grew up in and realized I missed the person I used to be. Things got a little brighter for me, I got married, and now I’ve noticed I have significantly less self esteem issues. Its not all perfect though, I still feel the need to compare myself to other girls, not out of desiring attention from guys, but for wanting praise from other girls too. Its a vicious cycle.

    Social media definitely makes things worse. Now it’s about needing attention on a viral scale and social media makes it that much easier to find people to compare yourself too. Although, I think it is slowly trying to take a more positive turn. More and more influential people are promoting “love yourself” and I hope that continues to catch on.

    As far as what young people think of social media today, I don’t think they will see it as the potentially destructive force it is until much later when they realize they’re better off with out all the drama, heartache, and insecurity it causes.

  4. I can totally relate to EVERYTHING you’ve said here.

    From the time I was a little girl, I developed a loathing about my appearance. I compared myself with the other girls who always seemed more feminine and petite than me. Next to them, I felt boyish and ugly.It stayed with me until I reached my 30s. As a result, I developed several eating disorders.This stayed with me until I reached my 30s. As a result, I developed several eating disorders (my coping skill of choice) because it made me feel somewhat in control of things.
    It took many years of self-reflection and a natural interest in personal development in order for me to take a good, hard look within and bring my inner-world to the surface. I had to start questioning my thoughts – but this only happened once I realized how programmed we’ve been by society and the media to look, act and feel a certain way. Awareness is our friend, but it takes a lot of work and a willingness to question our beliefs and keep an open mind.
    I don’t have kids, so speaking from the perspective of my inner-child, I would suggest that parents keep an open line of communication with their children and point out that just because we see images telling us who we should be, to use it as inspiration from a creative standpoint – but not to take it too literally.
    Lastly, I feel when kids (people in general) are immersed in something they’re passionate about, they live their lives from a different place altogether. They’re less involved in the opinions of others because they’re expressing their true nature.
    I’m glad you’ve written about this. We may have access to certain influences online (as you’ve pointed out), but we also have access to posts such as this one that offer insight while asking meaningful questions.

    • It also took me many years of self-reflection and building that self-awareness to bring my inner world to the surface. During my adolescence, “me” became a series of characters I portrayed based on the people with whom I interacted. I was “myself” (a growing, evolving and confused self), but being “too real” meant being vulnerable in a world of popularity contests, talent shows, tests of sport skills and fitness, and other measures of what it meant to be cool in adolescence. By hiding my “realness” and not knowing how to cope with the pressures of my young life, I had bursts of anger, crying fits, and thoughts of suicide. I was trying so hard to navigate the trends of beauty and popularity, while still holding on to some semblance of this “me,” that I was losing ME. At age 30, I am still discovering who I am. I do my best to not let the media influence my self-esteem. I struggle with the challenge of creating my own identity in the midst of our hyper-connected, appearance-driven, youth-obsessed society. It’s not easy, and I don’t think it ever will be for young women.

  5. I love what you wrote, I can relate so well. I was a late bloomer, and learned a lot of things about puberty, development, sex, and self image from friends before I knew from personal experience. Even without the technology and social media influence that girls today have, I still experienced pressure to look my best, be “sexy,” or dress a certain way in order to accentuate my features. I specifically remember choosing shorts in 8th grade that I felt looked good on my rear side, so that no one focused on how flat-chested I was. Self-esteem was a huge issue, and peer pressure to fit in and “look good” was always a priority. It wasn’t until after college that I settled into my true identity and being happy with who I was and how I looked. I couldn’t imagine how much more pressure having to post “selfies” and promote oneself on social media must be for teens today!

  6. Looking back, the first memorable instance of worrying about my appearance or how others looked, I was 13 and growing up smack dab in the middle of America. I’m 25 now, I had been gifted a digital camera for my birthday and it was when MySpace just started becoming popular, but I had online journals and other sites to connect with friends. I remember struggling taking “THE BEST PICTURE” or selfie, as they’re called now. I remember taking so many pictures to find whichever one my middle-school-self thought was perfect. Then I uploaded it and waiting for friends to like or comment on it, and I distinctly remember waiting and refreshing to see what others had to say about the way I looked. I remember struggling all through high school to take the best pictures, because my body wasn’t great or fit. Somehow I thought “You look great in *this* picture!” or “wow, you’re so photogenic” was the best compliment I could earn, because my physical appearance wasn’t accepted. I was short, heavy, and not at all popular.

    I have two younger sisters, one just turned 16, and I cannot imagine swapping spots with her for a day. Luckily she’s very body-positive, ignores haters, and embraces herself. Between different social media sites and chat/sharing apps, these children are constantly trying to appeal to others. I don’t think kids respect parent’s advice on web sharing, because parents barely do it themselves. They aren’t an authority on the topic, so girls reach out to each other. The average teenage girl is the expert on Snapchat or Instagram. I think they need more protection, but I do not think parents know how to deliver it.

  7. First of all, just about everything in this article really hit home for me. I was the (very) underdeveloped, scrawny, glasses wearing, smart girl in school. Not exactly a recipe for prom queen.

    Second of all, I LOVE reading these comments and agree with what everyone else is saying. I dealt with very similar issues when I was a teenager (I am 32 now so that was approximately 20 years ago- sheesh)! I can’t imagine dealing with the electronic and social platforms that are available today. I remember sitting at my parents’ P.C. just WAITING for someone from my school (hopefully a boy) to send me a message through the old AOL chat messenger. I had pretty low self-esteem, cared way too much what people thought of me, and had about a million “crushes” each school year. There were many nights crying over how ugly I felt I was and too many hours spent on finalizing the perfect school outfit. Teenagers today who live in this “selfie” world have it even worse. Sometimes when I see an extremely flattering photo of a young woman on Facebook or Instagram, I wish I could tell her that she’s beautiful without going through all of that work. I know this is a huge generalization and this isn’t true for each girl- but I think of everything that sometimes goes into such a photo– spending hours on your outfit, hair, and makeup. Finding the perfect angle, lighting, and filter. Tilting your head just right, smiling just the right way (did that pose make my cheeks look fat? Do my teeth look yellow? Can you see that zit?). Dozens of pics are taken, then more time is spent finding the one where they look the most physically attractive, editing the crap out of it, then posting it online. Then it’s a waiting game. How many likes will I get? Positive comments?

    I now have a daughter of my own. She is almost 4 years old. When I found out I was pregnant with a daughter I was so worried about everything she would someday face- the issues of being a teenage girl, the stereotypes, expectations, stigmas, and sexism. However, I have found that being a parent to a girl has really opened my eyes and I have learned to embrace the strong, beautiful, confident woman that I am both inside and out. I now strive to relay this positive self image to her. To teach her that having the boyfriends won’t make her happy, that being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. She can do anything she wants to do and be anything she wants to be. She is going to deal with SO many more media outlets than I ever did and that’s something we will all have to adjust to together. However, I think we can all learn together and grow as women, well beyond our teenage years!!!

  8. I remember being bullied by classmates who were more developed than me, I feel like I was somewhere in the middle- I didn’t develop too early, but I also wasn’t one of the last of my friends to develop. I remember looking at these girls who were saying negative things and thinking that it was likely out of jealousy- they could never go back, their carefree childhood days were basically over.
    Even as an adult I can feel the pressure of social media in my life. There is the pressure to always have photos look good on facebook. I recently had the experience of a male coworker seeking my attention through social media channels and it made me want to disconnect from social media all together.
    I have a teenage stepsister and she is actually cancelled her facebook account. She is still involved in other forms of social media- Instagram, Snapchat, Kik and I rarely see her without a device in her hand.

  9. No point here is a waste! Everything seems like it was written for me… Sex was my priority after my first menarche after mixing with some wayward girls in my school.
    All the illicit act was like a norm to me, smoking cigarette, coming home lately was my hobby because I was living with my uncle who usually comes home late.
    Hostility is like a stimulant for girls under age! I ran away from my parent to stay with my uncle due to their unfriendly attitude which made me look unimportant to myself. There I became free.
    I gave my book no priority, I was overwhelmed with the worldly affairs and the materials in it. I spent nothing less than 1 hour each time I tried to make up.
    I feel more comfortable in the midst of guys who had no good plans for me. Their target was to have sex with me.
    My height and busty chest kept on deceiving me as if I was on the right track. I feel happy almost everyday with my actions.
    Susan was my best friend who always made everything very easy for me, she had no parent and grew up in the ghetto. She goes weird every minute of the day whenever I was with her.
    I got to realized all these mistakes after an horrible incidence that happened to Susan that got my eyes open and made the truth known to me.
    It was a long and sad story about her and some of her boyfriends which made her to loose her life.
    Thanks to God, I now have a son of my own. He is almost 2 years old.
    Advice 1: for parent; Never leave them free to play their “identity’s games” online and never hold them too tight. Always make them your best friend. Get yourself acquainted to your children in order to always know each step they take.
    Advice 2: for Boys-Obsessed teenager; Always remember that you can make good use of your life and know that what should really matter to you most is your future. A time wasted may never be regained!
    I also love how after each Drawback there was a way that the author coped.

  10. Your story sounds so familiar to mine, even though I went through this in the mid 90s. I was the smallest in my school as well and had to fight through wanting to still play like a little girl, but wanting to appear to be more mature around my school friends. The thing that made it easier for me, I believe, was going to an all girls school. As a result, appearance wasn’t an issue for me since we wore uniforms and were allowed no makeup or anything of the sort. I went through my own (mild) rebellion, but quickly came out of it when I decided it wasn’t for me and befriended like-minded girls instead of the ones who were on a fast track to being ‘adult’.
    I mentor teenage girls (in the inner city of a third world country) now and face an uphill battle in trying to persuade them to preserve their innocence and not allow social media to focus on the images they portray. It’s difficult but an important battle!

  11. Your mention of “real women” in quotations makes me think of all the times I’ve heard “real women have curves,” or “real women are/have X.” We are infiltrated with so many images and ideas of what a “real woman” is, that often we feel we fall short of this ever-changing label. We are all real women. Those who identify as “woman,” are real- unique and equal, real women.
    Many of my friends in grade school advanced into puberty before me as well. I remember not wanting to comment during a discussion between two friends regarding one’s apprehension over using tampons and the other’s bewilderment as to why. I didn’t want to be exposed as a pre-pubescent 13-year-old who didn’t even know how a tampon worked. I also remember stuffing my bra with tissues before I came to school one day in the 6th grade. I went to the bathroom no more than an hour into class, looked in the mirror, and realized how ridiculous I was being. I decided that it was better to be part of the “itty bitty titty committee” than have tissue fall out of my training bra during gym class.
    How do young women (and men) know what is real for them when they are bombarded with pressures, including the enormous pressure of maintaining one’s image on social media? I’m glad I didn’t grow up in that world, but at age 30, I’m certainly not immune to these pressures either. We are all faced with decisions every day that help us choose our identity. These days, those decisions just feel a lot less private.

  12. I don’t think teenagers nowadays are given proper advice by their parents. Like you said, they’d rather search everything on the internet so the things they learned have never been discussed to them whether they’re right or wrong about it. Still, I love the connectivity that we are experiencing to day because of the good effects that we have. We can always get support with our friends and families even when we’re away.

  13. I was born in 1999 which means that I grew up with all of the digital devices and social media. And the society has changed dramatically over the years.
    I remember when I was in about 5th and 6th grade, all the girls where starting to “bloom out” and all the boys were so fixated about how the girls looked and with help of all the social media it felt like all the girls where forced to look in a certain way.
    In fact all the girls started to wear a lot of make up and dressed in a different way. I think though that most of the girls didn’t actually want to feel forced to try to look like all the girls on the social media and follow the so called “beauty ideal”. I dont believe that the girls wanted to identify themselves like that. They just try to cope with the pressure around them.

  14. Well well well, after reading this article I thought to myself…this is just the same scenario that occurred in my life when I was little, though I used to be pretty, I still felt inferior to the girls that were in my view more beautiful. The transition to my early teens was very hard. I went out with different set of clothes in my backpack just to compete with my peers and to fit in.
    Aside that, my parent were very helpful, I had no access to magazines but I watched TV on a regular basis. I learnt a lot of things from my friends. I can vaguely remember when I would cry home to my mom after been called names and laughed at school. Now when I pass by schools and see all this teenagers taping on their iphones I thought “wow, how do they adjust to the pressure and criticism of been a teenager?”

  15. I feel like I must have skipped this phase in my life. I mean the teenage years were not fun by no means, but I don’t feel like I was ever boy or make up obsessed. I grew up being a tomboy and where I was from it was almost normal to be “one of the boys”
    I started high school right when Facebook had just begun so I missed out on a lot of the garbage that goes on nowadays. I actually feel that my grandmother is more tech savvy than I am which is a bit odd.

  16. Having lost many of my friends at about the time the attention seeking phase began, I fought most of anything that seemed to feed being “boy crazy” at 13 and 14. I was not the norm, but I was very sensitive to the fact that others were throwing away a lot of themselves to be just like everybody else – I think of the recent piano commercial by Android 🙂

    At 15, I started actively critiquing the different messages I saw those around me dealing with – which became my own coping method – helping others deal with “Hard Q’s” and “Boys, Beauty, and Body” issues. Those are just two of the pages on the site I have that’s still up today, which I hope will always be a safe place for girls to write articles and explore current issues (alongside their faith).

    Speaking of research… one of the biggest “secrets” girls write in to the site is something this blog touched on… access to sexual content online… pornography. The statistics gathered always seem so low compared to the number of emails we get asking for help in breaking addictions, feeling guilty, and feeling like they are the only one who’s ever been curious/ran terms online/found videos and didn’t look away, or even just accidentally saw something and it’s bugging them. Anonymity of writing in helps some… but it isn’t until most confide in someone that they can overcome a lot of the shame and the pull to look at more, so that they can start to see sex as beautiful in a healthy light, and not be obsessed with seeking just a rush anymore…

    I really appreciate everything discussed in this blog post, as it is so relevant to what I’m still hearing from girls today!

  17. These points really hit the nail on the head for insecurities of every teenage girl. I struggled to fit in during middle school, and my talent for listening and watching allowed me to mimic the popular girls so I could fit in. Now, kids can mimic everything they see on social media instead, and that may be more deadly to their self image.

  18. I was a child of the late nineties and even then which I remember was the bloom of technology, my household was pretty late to the game. We did however have access to a lot of television and as a child I remember mocking many of the characters I would see in movies or TV shows. Think Jan from the Brady Bunch, yes I wanted to be Jan! So for a while these different TV characters in a way manifested my identity and how I felt I should act and how things should be.
    Today children have much easier access to these things than we did only 10 years ago, and yes I think in a way it can affect personal identities a lot when used as a social reference group.

  19. I remember when I was younger. I was a very shy girl. The first time I became aware of my appearance fully was when I sat down next to this boy in 5th grade and he looked at me and said “eww”. I still to this day remember his name and that is because it was the first time I had ever felt bad about the way I looked. That same year a girl in my class called everyone beautiful but me and two other girls, in front of the whole class. By the end of the year I found myself obsessing with what I wore, how I did my hair, and what I looked like in general before I ever left the house. I started wearing shirts over my bathing suites to hide my body, and I even wore hoodies in the summer. I did have an escape though. I was able to go home and not deal with it.

    These days girls don’t have that option thanks to Social Media. When they go home, they have to be worried about pictures online, who said what, and how they looked. Not only that, but anyone can learn basic photoshop skills and use of filters so we are always being lied to about beauty, even by our close friends. I feel sorry for girls growing up in this because it is a lot harder.

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