Today may or may not be my birthday, and I may or may not be turning sixteen.
I know, I know — the big one-six, the sweet sixteen, the age that your favorite storybook heroine is, the age everyone wants to be or go back to being, right? That was certainly what I thought when I was nine and in elementary school, at the grocery store with my mom watching those girls with their moms. Those girls, the tall teenagers, the ones with UGG slippers and baggy sweatpants and black eyeliner that made it just seem like they rolled out of bed looking that flawless. They would be leaning on the cart staring down or across the aisle at the cake mix and white frosting, looking cool and bored and superior and mature as they thought of a million other things they’d rather be doing.
I watched those girls, wishing more than anything at that time that I could be just like them when I got to be sixteen myself. I would be just like them — cool and superior and effortlessly pretty with big hoops in my ears and mint gum in my mouth.
So here we are, seven years later, on my sixteenth birthday. And you know what? I woke up this morning with dark circles, the fan drying out my eyes, and the panging sensation that I had somehow missed doing some piece of homework or another. I stumbled out of bed (stepping over and around mismatched socks), tried to ignore the post-braces retainer that felt like it was gagging me, and forgot where I had put the clothes I had set out the night before. Then I glanced at my BB cream and powder, the most makeup I would wear on a day-to-day basis, and decided against it. Two bites of oatmeal for breakfast and I was out the door for the bus stop, which was threatening to welcome my long yellow limo and leave without me on it. Again.
What I’m trying to say here is that I think the age of sixteen is highly exaggerated and romanticized in the process of growing up. I’m not saying that there aren’t girls out there who seem to follow this sort of “timeline,” nor that there is anything at all wrong with that. I’m saying that it doesn’t happen as often as one would think it would from the movies and books and songs that we all see and hear. I was so sure that turning sixteen would be such a turning point in my life — that everything was going to change for me. I would suddenly be taller and prettier and have a whole different attitude. But nothing changed, not in the way I thought I would and not in the way people expected it to.
I’m not tall enough to lean on the handle of a grocery store cart, and to tell you the truth, I’d rather be buying cake mix and white frosting than staring at it. I don’t wear my slippers out in public, nor do I own baggy sweatpants. I can’t figure out how to put on eyeliner and am even the slightest bit hesitant about smearing foundation on my face. I have two sets of piercings in my ears but don’t wear hoops, and chewing mint gum makes me lightheaded. Truth is, in this sense, I don’t feel that different from when I was fifteen or even fourteen. I’m still the same shy, awkward girl I was a year ago. I’m still Emily.
I do walk a little taller knowing that I am the first of my friends to reach this milestone, to drive a car, to blow out a perfect square’s candles, to just have this little impressive something to hang over their heads. I won’t deny that I don’t feel that tiny, tiny, little bit of superiority. But, hey, who wouldn’t?
I’m not trying to tell you guys that turning sixteen is no big deal. I mean, it is; it’s a big step, and you should be pretty proud of it. Be proud of the achievements that you are going to accomplish and the goals that you are going to reach. The message I’m trying to spread here is that nothing is set in stone. Don’t feel like you have to fit a certain image by a certain age to fit in, and don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t. Don’t feel pressured or confused because, when you boil it down, it all comes down to choice. You just do you, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Emily Fong is officially known as that indecisive sixteen-year-old writer-marathoner-coder-daydreamer living in the big world. People always ask her why she writes, and the answer never changes — because if she didn’t, she’d probably be going around unloading her personal problems on people like that guy standing behind her in line at Starbucks. Yep, your caramel iced coffee now comes with a side of emotional teenager. But however strange she may come across, don’t be scared. She’s hardly as bad as she seems on paper. Be sure to check out her art blog on Tumblr.