By Reagan Kaelle, TIWP Student

Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in the story of Goldilocks. All teenage girls are. We are “too hard” or “too soft.” “Too hot” or “too cold.” Never just right. Our walk through life is a winding one. Girls balance on the blade of a knife or the column of a stiletto, afraid to step a toe out of line. It starts in kindergarten, shiny Sketchers skipping along the pavement and Hello Kitty backpacks watching precious pigtails flounce. Skirts must be to the knees, “fingertip length” they say. In the years that follow, hem lengths will creep up thighs as dress codes fall into the background of school girl existence, but as rules fade, the opinions of others increase. If it is too long, heads turn and inquisitive brows raise. Too short and cameras are trained on bare legs, comments and winks follow. A skirt is not an invitation. If we cover our shoulders we are prudes. If we show skin, we are distracting the boys. We are always receiving feedback without request. 

Those Barbies we clung to and played with are reflected in the media. Tan. Blonde. Skinny. But too tan is bad and too pale is sickly. If you are a brunette, you might consider highlights or bleach is always an option. Work out, but not too much because you don’t want to be bulky. Keto, low carb, gluten-free, plant-based, so many options. Watch what you eat but don’t starve yourself. So many teenage girls look into the mirror and see nothing but flaws, too curvy or not enough “to grab onto.” There should be a disclaimer on mirrors: ”Warning: Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.”

So many buts, so many catches in the tumultuous existence of a teenage girl, and yet teen means nothing anymore. We go from girls to women, there is no in-between or intermediary. Grow up, they say. Okay, we respond. If we are loud, we are aggressive. If we are assertive, we are bossy. (No man has ever been called bossy before.) If we are too quiet, we disappear into the background of society, and yet we are frowned upon in the attempts and hunger to break that elusive glass ceiling. We speak fondly of passions and talents, and then stop short and apologize for speaking at all.

Keys are clawed in-between knuckles and heads are on a swivel in parking lots. The boys yell out “Hey mamas,” “show me a smile,” “Yo,” “You’re hot.” The catcalls echo through the street like the sirens of police cars. My name is “baby” when I’m 11, still under 100 pounds but shocked and naive. My name is “sweetheart” when I’m 13 and have enough fear to start walking faster. I’m “nice ass” when I start high school and I wave my middle finger in the air at you. I’m waving it at the world because—while I don’t want to feel insecure or threatened—I do. As girls, we cover our drinks so nothing foreign enters, and learn to go to the bathroom in packs, herds, gaggles, and murders. Murders. “Boys will be boys” remains society’s favorite excuse. 

They say this is a man’s world but I disagree. For despite that glass ceiling, that gaping pay gap, or the resounding lack of estrogen at the so-called “table,” we fight. The damsel in distress title lies dusty in the corner because we don’t need saving anymore. Silence and submission didn’t keep us safe so we donned the shining armor.  

My opportunities are a culmination of the efforts of those who came before me, so I say thank you to all the girls who have been “too hot” or “too cold,” “too firm” or “too soft.” Lost to history but never forgotten, in the wings of time cheering all 900 million of us girls on. Perhaps one day everyone can be “just right.” 

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