Bay Village High School
Instructor: Kristen Srsen Kenney
Joining the New Girl Order
Joining the New Girl Order
After reaching the highest score in the class, 42 pushups on the push-up test, I strutted out of gym class beaming with confidence. Decked out in either Nike or Under Armour, little fifth grade me was always up for a good competition, a chance to show my athleticism. I took pride in feeling and acting strong, especially when that meant beating all the boys on the pushup test.
Fast forward to eighth grade, and I found myself halting at 20 pushups; I knew I could have forged ahead, but it was something else that was holding me back. My pride and strutt had fizzled over the years. Instead of beaming over my abilities, I felt embarrassment and shame towards my strength. My dynamic persona had shifted with my peers; I felt more comfortable shining as a "nice" girl and letting the boys handle "being strong".
Every morning, the bus would scoop me up along with my doctored, filtered personality. From the window, I would give a melancholy wave goodbye to my true-self waiting for me to return home. Perhaps I could have avoided this somber goodbye if it weren't for the constant feeling that I needed to morph myself into the idea of a "perfect girl." I experimented with clothes, makeup, and my personality to find my new ensemble. I tried on every model, friend, and celebrity hoping that one of them would give me the acceptance that I thirsted for.
Once athletic clothes weren't flattering anymore, I tried jeans.
Once the natural look wasn't attractive anymore, I tried mascara.
Once being yourself wasn't acceptable anymore, I tried masks.
Lots of this pressure stemmed from my concern about what boys would think of me. I yearned for them to see me as desirable and charming. Because of this, I began to act timid, giggly, and even weak. I thought that acting this way would get me approval from both boys and girls. However, even when I got their attention for a split second, it was shifted to a different girl before I could get the chance to feel good about myself. Earlier in middle school, I would have beamed if someone told me I looked strong, by eighth grade, I shuddered at that same thought and only wanted my physique to be described as skinny. In my mind, I tried to run as far away from my true self as possible.
Watering down my personality to please others started to feel natural. I truly began to believe
that I was a weak,
and shallow girl.
I believed strong girls were undesirable.
I believed my worth was determined by others.
I believed my skin was the only way to get a guy's attention.
After chasing after this unattainable image of myself for years, one day I took a deep look at myself. I couldn't recognize my reflection; I had strayed so far from the bubbly, confident little girl that I once was. Now, I had morphed myself into looking and acting like bits and pieces of friends, family and models. Realizing this made me feel lonely, in my own body.
Maybe, instead of burying the qualities that make me unique, I should embrace them, I thought. Maybe fitting in is overrated, and standing out is true beauty.
I was finally able to see that the only version of myself that would make me feel most comfortable, is the version where I don't hold back any of my characteristics. If I kept hiding my strengths, my light would be forever diminished.
And, with that, I threw off my repressive coat and embarked on a change.
I threw my heart into education. I had always loved to learn, and I wanted to build my intelligence. I deserved to be recognized as a smart girl. And, then, this journey became more than about me. I stood for all girls. I realized that not all girls get to go to school and have a chance to get an education. I needed to be a game-changer for them, too. I started to work hard, not only for myself, but also for the other females who don't get the same opportunity.
I pushed my body into a healthy routine. Instead of striving to look skinny, like the models depicted on social media and magazines, I now focused on exercises to make my body stronger and healthier. I spoke with words of kindness that my body had been so deprived of hearing. I was no longer ashamed to have visible muscles; in fact, I now wanted people to know that I was a strong, determined girl. These new ideals made it clear that there was something compelling about being found as a hardworking, strong, and intelligent female.
This new version of myself helped me realize that the world doesn't need well-behaved, submissive girls,
but rather wild,
and individual ones.
And now that I know I don't have to be "her" anymore,
I can be me.