I write this four days from my birthday. I’ll be turning 21 on that day, finally legal in every part of the world and for the most part, expected to be a real adult. The day I turn 21, April 30, is just another day and is the same as always.
Jokingly, when I told one of my friends that my birthday was coming up, he asked if I was finally turning 15. To that I replied, “I’m so glad I’m not turning 15 right now.”
With each passing year comes a lot of introspection and reflection on where I am, where I have been, and where I intend on going. In the past year alone I had made a radical shift in my life, and lately I had been reflecting on that as well as what I was like 5, 7, even 10 years prior. As you can tell, I think a lot about these things.
These thoughts were exponentially heightened this past weekend when I was at a youth ministry retreat. I was sitting with a group of girls that were in grade 6, which meant that they are 11 years old. At first glance, I would have easily mistaken them for 7th graders, if not older, seeing as many of them were dressed very stylishly already, some even have traces of mascara on there already very long eyelashes.
As I shared my meal with them, the girls talked about a range of topics from the fact that 7th grade was going to have way more homework, to the trouble of playing sports at a competitive level, to boys. All of these are very normal discussions to have for girls, and I was flattered when they asked my opinion on things.
When the topic of what they wanted to be when they grew up died down, I had my own question that I wanted to ask: What do you think is the hardest thing about being a young woman now?
They all looked at me with serious eyes before launching into very serious answers, which I totally wasn’t ready for.
Body image. Media. Peer pressure. Keeping up with their friends. Not being accepted or loved. Not feeling like they can achieve their dreams. Not knowing what they wanted to do with their lives. These were the themes that kept popping up as we talked. And admittedly, I had assumed that they would talk about superficial things, but I was most definitely wrong in assuming that.
When I was 11, I had already begun to experience the wrath of a bully and the feelings of loneliness and not feeling accepted. But things like peer pressure to sneak out, media exposure, not knowing what I want to do with my life – these were things that came much later. And here these girls are, at 11 years old, trying to grapple with the magnitude of these things.
They proceeded to ask me if I felt the same when I was growing up, and along with that asked if I was 15. I laughed and they kept guessing, until one of them finally said 21 and I laughed even harder. But once the laughter subsided, one of the girls spoke up and asked if it gets any easier as one gets older.
With six pairs of innocent and beautiful eyes looking back at me, I knew that the answer they wanted to hear was yes, it does get easier as you get older. But in reality, we know that it doesn’t. We get smarter and develop a lot more rationality, but sometimes that conflicts in disastrous ways with the current situations at hand and our emotions. Sometimes I wished that I still had some childhood innocence so that I could approach different situations with simplicity as opposed to constantly over thinking.
It’s tough to be a young person, especially a young woman, during this time for sure. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like if I had my formative years right now. And I look at girls like this, bursting with so many dreams but not having a conducive society to allow them to follow their dreams and I feel bad for them. They deserve all the opportunities in the world, but sometimes are denied them.
I’m so grateful that the tail end of my emotional growth came when all of these forces were just starting to take hold. But for the young women of this generation, so much can be done to show them that they matter and that they can achieve anything they want to achieve. We just need to be open to it and support them!
If someone were to ask me what made being a girl tough when I was these girls’ age, I probably would have said that there was nothing that made it tough, and that being a girl is awesome. It should always be that way! We are all special, and I hope no one ever takes that from you!