Growing Pains

By Miranda Ljung / Edited by Yasmin Bahrami

You experience growing pains when your limbs grow faster than your body knows how to handle. You stay up at night trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in. You’re just a kid, and right now this ache in your legs is the bane of your existence. Being a thirteen year old girl can be the most wretched time of your life. You have no financial independence, no privacy, and it feels like no one in the world understands how you feel, not even your mom. Especially your mom. Growing pains extend to much more than your physical being. 

Sometimes, growing can feel a lot like breaking. You are changing far too rapidly and nothing surrounding you can keep up. Living in a tiny city, I know the feeling of being a big fish in a small pond all too well. Growing out of your hometown is claustrophobic. It’s courageous. It’s knowing that every opportunity is just waiting for you to turn eighteen and move away, and it’s feeling like if you wait that long, you’ll drown. I think on some level I always knew this fate would become me, because I spent my childhood terrified of change. I didn't want to go to high school, I didn’t want to look different or feel different. I knew that if I started growing, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I would grow and grow until I took up so much space, there was no room for me to breathe.

There are certain key moments I can recall where I became more woman than girl, spiritually speaking.  When I was young, I always had the unsettling suspicion that even when I was alone, I was watched. That there were invisible boys in my room, obsessively observing my every move. Because of this, everything I did was a performance. I wore my cutest pajamas and put on lipstick before bed. I made sure to cross my legs and sit pretty when I read my favorite book. I was always above my own body, looking down, surveying myself. I’ve never known what it feels like to truly live in the moment. Only when I learned of the male gaze did I understand what that feeling was, the feeling of being your own voyeur. Being plagued by male fantasies constantly, long before I knew it meant. When I understood the extent of how problematic that was, I knew I had lost the naivety of being a girl.

I remember times where I thought I had a safety net to fall back on and instead came crashing down. When a boy showed interest in me for the first time, when I knew my days of innocence were over. When I found myself at a party with no way of getting home. When I dreaded getting older instead of being excited. On my fifteenth birthday not even the glittering candles on the cake could distract me. I’ve cried on my birthday every year since. 

But I've learned becoming a woman doesn’t mean rescinding your girlhood. When I was little I used to be obsessed with designing clothes for my dolls, it was all I ever wanted to spend my precious time on. I would spend hours alone in my purple room, intricately layering lace and ribbon to create a tiered gown suitable for my barbie. But as I grew, and years passed, I picked up my ribbon less and less, and my dolls layed abandoned under my bed. I became consumed with reading vogue and styling my friends. A less childlike approach to the same overall interest, clothing. But even now, a decade later, I still find ways to include my childhood self in my fashion ventures. I wear ribbons in my hair and become giddy when I stumble upon the perfect tiered gown at the thrift store.

I grew up, but that doesn’t mean I left the girl in me behind. She peers out from behind my blue eyes, in awe of all my shoes and the way I stand up for myself. She is the nostalgic one, she tells me to save every birthday card and love note. She aches for validation, she is an acrobat who never stops performing, just holding out for the applause. She speaks only in whispers, afraid not that I’ll listen, but that I’ll understand. Growing up is terrifying, but if you hold on to the girl you were, you will always be her. Nurture her, love her, believe her.