Human Parts
Published in

Human Parts

Ode to Teenhood

I can’t help but mourn a life I’m yet to live

An illustration with a girl in the center surrounded by a heart, flowers, a mushroom, a cloud, a rainbow, and an admissions ticket
Illustration by author via Canva

There’s this Sylvia Plath poem called Mad Girl’s Love Song. It might just be the epitome of teen romance, but alas, discrediting one’s own desire to be loved is yet another byproduct of (say it with me) misogyny. I think that’s really what it is to be a teenage girl. To love. Not just boys, of course. Girls, too. And the wind. And the sea. And Sylvia Plath.

It can be difficult to love yourself when you are thrust into a world hell-bent on turning you into something you’re not. Capitalism, Eurocentrism, misogyny, you name it. These tremendous, intangible forces are to blame for deep trauma. Something as simple as growing out body hair becomes unduly politicized, almost Kafkaesque in nature. Because, having jurisdiction over our own appearances and behaviors would first require society to admit that we are autarkic to the core; able to depend on ourselves to learn and understand the world. It makes sense though. If we had full autonomy, we wouldn’t be exploited and targeted for consumerist purposes. So we’re stripped of cultural capital, rendered obsolete in intellectual circles.

Change is guaranteed from the start, that much is true. But it seems almost prefigured that we will grow into individuals accepting of our circumstances. It’s not the growing up that’s the problem, it’s losing the teenageness. The innate rebellion, the fervor for life. It’s when we don’t belong to anyone that we are at our most potent, for lack of a better word. Soon corporate America and the Western dating scene (insert distant church bells) auction off every ounce of individual sovereignty until we’re merely conduits for reproduction and labor. That’s not to say that working women and mothers don’t have strength or can’t create change, just that things get muddled. Responsibilities emerge, mortgages need to be paid, children fed. The aliveness is deadened. In that later stage of life, there’s more to live for than just yourself. The same can’t be said for the teenage girl, whose vehemence is fueled by the very thing it stands to incite.

I guess I’m pissed because I feel destined for a life unlike the one I love. I don’t love life, I love living. The sensation of being so conscious of your aliveness that you have no choice but to reckon with the consequence of your own existence. And there are times when that’s not true, just as there are times when I feel deeply aged myself.

I might look young, but there is a heaviness in my soul I can hardly forget. Like something old is living deep within me. It makes my bones lonely, for what I don’t know. In any case, I connect with teenagedom not simply for my age (human at best, otherworldly in some circumstances) but for the culture I so strongly see myself in. So the thought of growing up, and becoming a slave to late-stage capitalism (Uncle Karl lives on through those he hated) isn’t just depressing, it’s debilitatingly unnerving. I find solace in dreams of moving to the woods not for the seven-year-old witch still in me (love you) but because I might just be able to remain human. Utterly, uninterruptedly, human.

I’ve begun to notice that the artists and creators that interest me the most are women. Rebellious women. And no, not like white liberal Gen X feminist women. Women like Iris Murdoch and Petra Collins. Kim Gordon, Mitski, Greta Gerwig. And who could forget Francesca Woodman? I think viewing her work was the first time I ever felt a very strong relationship with femininity. She inspires in every way. I aspire to be her.

On that note, I don’t have a huge attachment to femininity. Not in a bad way, of course, I love it. It just doesn’t feel inherent to my being. I know I look very womanly (can’t decide if that description feels gross because of society or because of gender shit), but I don’t view myself as any particular gender. I feel that my gender is irrelevant in nearly every context, and the word girl can just as easily be replaced with ‘individual affected by misogyny’ when apposite. It’s just not something I think about that much.

I want to be so teenage that it shines out of my face and guides me to others of my kind. I want to paint my nails every color of the rainbow and cut my hair in the middle of the night and make out with my friends just for the hell of it. Life can feel so meaningless and yet at the same time, I desperately fear taking risks. I should probably just read some more Camus. In his words, “Man must live and create. Live to the point of tears.” I ache for life, but these days, feel more removed from it than ever. I don’t know if it’s mental health shit, the pandemic (can I get an ayup), or just unquenchable desperation, but I just can’t feel anything anymore. Not in the way of emotions, though that’s not a far-off description. More so that this feeling the great poets speak of seems like little more than a dream. How can I possibly live up to a purpose (or none at all) if I am unable to live in the first place? The entire affair is rather maddening. I can’t help but mourn a life I’m yet to live. People more comfortable in themselves might say something along the lines of “Get out there and start your life! You have to decide to be human!” Then they’d laugh and go back to their regularly scheduled perfectness. I guess I’m overthinking things, but even still, it can’t be just as simple as “start living,” because I’ve been trying to do that for so long.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that our world seeks to destroy teenageness. Unless it’s a product to sell, or a body to sexualize, there is nothing but redundancy in even remotely acknowledging the teenage girl. So live. Take back your power. We have so much strength entangled in our souls. It’s up to us to use it.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead. (I think I made you up inside my head.)

— Sylvia Plath

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Olivia Fendrich

Olivia Fendrich

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