I just finished reading Caitlin Moran’s novel How To Build A Girl, which I loved! Johanna, her lead protagonist felt so familiar to me despite being of a slightly different generation and locale. The novel chronicled Johanna’s creation of her alter ego, Dolly Wilde, teenage music critic, who exploded on the scene in a grand way, allowing Johanna to experience her first kiss, drink, smoke, concert, and many other firsts. Dolly brought out the best and worst of Johanna, but all informing the young woman she will eventually become.

Teenage girls often find themselves categorized and shelved depending upon their appearance, smarts, interests, athleticism, and finally, their willingness to experiment with boys, drink and drugs. Subcategories exist within the groupings but overall, there are the usual sterotypes, the popular girls, the nice girls, the drill team, the drama girls, the girls who play.

As I’ve aged, the sad thing I’ve come to realize is that it’s not just others (parents, teachers, adults, boys) who determine the status of girls, it’s other girls. We allow ourselves to be defined by outside influences rather than us defining ourselves, and others accepting our designations. For better or worse, more often than not, it’s the pressures other girls put on us that become pivotal reflections of who we are and who we become.

Like Johanna, I felt the pressures of being kind of middle of the pack. I was kind of cute, not model thin, smart enough, nice enough, and above all, super insecure as a teenager. I never saw myself as the chosen girl or the girl who gets chosen. I learned that kissing boys opened doors, many that I wish I hadn’t walked through, but that did ultimately help shape the adult I became.

I learned that pursuing some of my interests, like punk rock music, both gave me refuge and cast me as a bit of an outcast at the same time. I wasn’t extreme enough in any one pursuit. I learned that a couple of drinks (yes, I admit to underage drinking) eased the discomfort at parties and made me an uninhibited dancer at clubs. I often found myself in the role of wing girl, which gave me great insight into the games we play. All of this informed the woman I became.

I’m still not the prettiest, smartest, nicest, most interesting of all of the people I know but I am comfortably me. A “me” I accept and generally approve of. I’m kind, compassionate, curious, caring and loving. I’m a good mother, wife, employee, and friend. I strive to be the best me I can be without sacrificing the things that make me special. The scars, visible and not, that I carry from my evolution are there and I wouldn’t be me without them. I treasure the experiences that created me.

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