by Dalreen Ramos
Not all teenagehoods are created equal. In some teenagehoods, your dream to become a singer or well, form a girl band in school inspired by watching your favorite Disney shows (read: Hannah Montana or Dhoom Machao Dhoom) could be shot down in a second; the bullet being an adult saying, “focus on your studies.” That’s what my teenagehood looked like. However, little did I know that in conservative families like mine, the undermining of any non-STEM endeavor was only the tip of the iceberg, especially for women. And maybe the next month, you’d be told to quit playing in public because your body had “changed.'' Maybe for you, like many women around the world, that meant leaving behind that game of langdi/hopscotch, let alone an Olympic dream, you cherished.
So, I accepted that teenage dreams were a fallacy and that adulting (and complaining about teenagers) was the new normal. That changed when, on May 21, 2021, Olivia Rodrigo proved me wrong with “SOUR.” The 18-year-old’s debut album replete with love, loss and lowercase letters took me back to a time when I believed dreaming was valid.
I didn’t consciously think of “SOUR” as some sort of time capsule; however, the album’s throwback to a time of silent screaming was a much-needed pill to swallow. My lowercase writing adventure wasn’t meant to be edgy or aesthetic as it is often labeled. And I hadn’t the slightest clue that it would lead me to question convention and in turn, grieve about the teenagehood I never had.
Much has been written about how nostalgia became a source of comfort during the pandemic, and the benefits of latching on to it. But why should we leave nostalgia frozen in the past and let it haunt the present? So, somewhere between “brutal" and “hope ur ok” (the first and the last track in SOUR) I found the courage to live as though I was 17 again. (Like Taylor Swift emerging like a wave, regaining control of her old albums while walking us down memory lane by the shore.)
Here’s what I started doing again. After over a decade, I started running in public. As the sun rose, I found joy in watching the reflection of my running self and my ponytail oscillate. As an adult,I can not only afford to invest time and money in things I’ve always wanted — from taking up a hobby class to making fan art — but also put my foot down when needed. However, trying to do supposedly “teenage things” as an adult can get a little tricky when everyone around you is, well, an adult. Reclaiming your teenagehood does come with its fair share of guilt and there’s no shortage of people inducing it.
Everyone around you won’t feel the need to take a step back and change the narrative for a part of their past. You may feel alien, and ashamed. But like my therapist, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay — it’s okay to live your teenage years in your 20s, 30s or whenever you want to.
Teenagers, especially teenage girls, have been discredited for being the way they are or loving the things they do, while businesses continue to capitalize on their interests. Revisiting and reclaiming that part of your life can be a starting point to engage in larger conversations and causes. Reclaiming my teenagehood, as music critic Lindsay Zoladz befittingly termed Swift’s work, was a “weaponization of memory.” The Why Loiter? movement, which calls for women to reclaim public spaces, nudged me to take those first few, tiny, timid steps on a 5-km walk well before dawn. So, for the disapproving nods and cringing, I’d say a “good 4 u” will suffice.
an abundance of “xoxo”s,
(Dalreen Ramos crunches words for a living and draws when she runs out of them. She can be found at @dreaminthegardn on Twitter. You can also reply to her by hitting Reply to this email.)