By the time this article publishes, I will have already turned twenty — well, for all of two days, anyways.
I expected to be more excited than I actually am, but I’ve also seen that the older that I’ve gotten, the more birthdays have turned into more of an obligatory social commitment and a biological timekeeping mechanism, rather than a real celebration of sorts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Commitments shift, and if I can use one calendar date to justify buying myself some shiny, frivolous new things, what’s wrong with that?
Still, while the tradition doesn’t exactly excite me, the idea that I have inhabited this earth for two decades does. It’s quite a marvel how my identity as a girl and yes, as a feminist, has evolved.
My earliest girlhood experiences are no longer memories I can just tap into — rather, they’ve been immortalized through recordings on VCR tapes. If I’m totally honest, when I watch old home videos, I don’t recognize the girl I see on the screen. Or at very least, I have a hard time placing that the girl on screen is actually ME. She seems so different than I — so young, so innocent, and so unabashedly herself, in a way that was equal parts endearing and no doubt frustrating for anyone who was her caretaker. (A home video clip where I’m eagerly climbing up a menacing metal fence with a sign that very clearly states DO NOT CLIMB comes to mind).
The girl I see in those clips was a hyperactive tomboy, someone who loved Power Rangers and Legos, and dreamed of being an astronaut. She also wore fluffy frocks, played with Barbies, and rocked a boyish haircut that was just ambiguous enough to confuse strangers (which, in a way, was probably the best of both worlds for my parents). My young childhood through elementary school were just three words — happy, happy, happy. All heart and no self-preservation, perpetually thrilled with my seemingly oxymoron of an existence. That girl lives on in tapes. And she’s very happy there.
The years after that are much more easily remembered. I’ve jokingly referred to my middle school years as The Dark Ages of my life story , but it honestly doesn’t stray too far from the truth. I dealt with body issues, low self-esteem, bad work ethic, and little academic motivation — and that was along with the hormonal changes and mood swings. I also lived at two polar extremes. On one hand, I was actively rejecting my femininity by refusing girly clothing and dismissing other girls as “too much drama” (#yikes). And yet, somehow, I was also secretly, desperately trying to express it through covert, at-home-only experiments with hair and makeup. I remember once trying to curl my stick-straight hair in secret despite that fact that it refused to stay curled and nearly burning myself in the process (Hairspray would have helped). I remember putting on a facade of not giving a damn but also wanting so badly to feel beautiful, to feel intelligent, to feel special. No matter that I was aiming for was a manufactured, photoshopped, idealized impossibility. I desperately looked outward for some signs, some validation, and of course, I came up short.
Luckily, if middle school was my Dark Ages, high school appeared to be my Renaissance period. I realized, slowly but surely, that it was time to look inward instead. Contrary to every ad aimed at girls that I’d ever seen, confidence and contentment, I realized, had to come from within me, not from outside of me. Not that high school wasn’t without its own moments of darkness — more battles with insecurity, a sudden and dangerous weight loss that messed with my physical and mental health, and casual, hidden sexism challenged me throughout. And yet, something had changed. I was more willing to get up and fight for myself, and for other girls. Because the way I saw it: if I didn’t, who would? I raced through high school with a vengeance of sorts. I was determined to shatter every glass ceiling that I had ever put up for myself or had been placed there for me, even if it left me raw and bleeding in the process. After years of believing I wasn’t good enough, I was determined to prove myself and everyone around me wrong.
But after graduation and once college started, the cuts reopened and I felt empty again. Lost, if you will. I was moody, anxious, angry, depressed. With college came a distinct loss of identity, one that, if I’m truly honest, I’m still working to rebuild. I didn’t know what to fight for, what I stood for anymore. I still got puzzled looks of concern, even worry, when I mentioned that I was an engineer and not a more “feminine” major. I worried secretly that my instincts about my major had been totally wrong, that I was an impostor of sorts, and that I’d be found out and thrown out. And it sucked. Writing this column became, in a way, a catharsis of sorts. It opened me up to all the possibilities of what I could be, what I strove to be, as a student, as an engineer, and as a young woman.
One year later, I finally have nothing left to prove, nothing to show off to anyone. I have finally become unabashedly, wholeheartedly selfish. Everything I do, from the way I dress to what I eat to what I study, is for myself and myself alone. And it feels great.
At twenty, I’m done with not following my gut, living with impostor syndrome, and striving for perfection I cannot achieve.
I am done with making myself less of anything that I am, because I know that my power comes from my authenticity.
I am done with treating myself like machinery — over stressed, overworked, stretched beyond my limit.
I am done with wondering whether I’m seen as a bitch.
Finally, I am done with depending on anyone or anything for validation of myself. Because I’m just fine, just as I am.
With twenty comes peace. Simple, peace.