A few weeks ago, as I was avoiding getting out of bed, I found a Buzzfeed article about what it mean to be a “cool” girl. Specifically, it focused on Hollywood, and I just found the whole thing SO interesting. These few weeks later I keep thinking about this concept as my friends and I discussed sorority stereotypes. To be honest, I clicked on the link because it had Jennifer Lawrence in the title, and then I got hooked by the tagline: Be chill and don’t be a downer. Act like a dude but look like a supermodel.
It made some very interesting points about the way that girls/women behave using Jennifer Lawrence as a modern example and some old Hollywood stars as an example of the “relatable” girl who everyone loves and the dangers and downfalls that can come from being this girl. There’s a fine line between being “cool” and over the top. Girls who can hang with the guys are cool. Girls who behave like guys too much become too far past relatable to maintain an image. This got me thinking about what it actually means to be the cool girl.
There’s benefit in being the J-Law type of cool- especially if you’re also a multi-billion dollar celebrity who has to maintain a loyal following in an ever-changing market. Having that “it-girl but I’m too cool for that” personality can create a likable image, but there is a cost. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching football with my dad every Sunday, but even now I spend my Sundays watching football with the boys in one room and then dashing to make Downton Abbey in the other room. Maybe it’s because this is so normal to me, but I’ve never seen this as the “cool” thing to do.
I don’t consider myself much of a feminist (Phoebe said it best — “we can drive, we can vote, we can work, what more do these broads want?”) but I do think that women and girls should be able to be whatever they want. I don’t think that this means that women should be subjected to the control of men. I just think that we need to be able to present our best selves without caring that we may be challenged by others. Personally, I think that’s what makes a cool girl. Being yourself. Not being afraid to hang with the boys because you can hold your own with the boys. Or anyone else for that matter.
That’s why we look up to these types of girls when we see them on a larger scale. They’re the ones who seem out there and like they don’t care at all what people think, and that becomes a relatable and even enviable quality above all else. It’s also why they can so easily overstep that line — not caring what people think is great until you lose your connection to the rest of society. Relatable can spiral into out of control as fast as I can fall in love with dresses that don’t fit me. But honestly, don’t worry about that until you have to. Go crazy. You’re probably a lot less likely to get judged by all of America than Jennifer Lawrence so who gives a damn what people think? Definitely not me.
I struggle with weekends sometimes. I don’t get excited about them. This likely sounds strange and opposite of how I should feel about time away from work so let me explain.
When I first moved to California around five years ago, I started working a full time job and quickly learned the value of the two and a half day break at the week’s end. Prior to relocating to the west coast, I was a college kid living off cheerios, lunch meat, and frozen lasagna. And yams. Lots and lots of yams. (It was a phase. A four-year-long phase in which I literally ate one every day. It was only by the grace of God that my skin didn’t turn orange). Because of my class schedule, I worked weekends like most college kids. I had a lot of jobs but mostly did part-time restaurant gigs which meant Friday and Saturday nights were late nights. Most nights, I clocked out around 11 or 11:30. So outside of meeting up with my girlfriends for a post work cocktail and maybe squeezing in an hour of dancing or bar hopping, weekends weren’t totally thrilling.
Now I am an adult. (Or so I keep telling myself). And being an adult means I have to work if I want to have stuff like food, shelter, toilet bowl cleaner, and a place to sit and drink my morning joe. I am grateful to have a full time job to help take care of these provisions. I am also grateful to have a full time job because it has helped me appreciate the beauty and luxury of the weekend — a luxury that the young collegiate I once was never knew. But because I now see weekends as a luxury and novelty not to be wasted, there are subconsciously assigned expectations to them. Expectations of maximizing the time by doing trendy, domesticated, and cute sounding things like perusing the farmer’s market on Saturday morning with a cup of locally grown coffee and a bag full of exotic vegetables to pair with whatever creative dish I decide to cook up for dinner. Or taking a hot yoga class and savoring a picnic spread of crackers and fruit and nuts at the park with my nose in a book or painting a funky piece of art to hang up in my bedroom while sipping Pinot Grigio and humming along to Paul Simon on the iPod.
How many Saturdays of my adulthood experience have looked like this? Zero.
How many Saturdays of my adulthood have I planned to or had intentions of making look like this? Countless.
Here’s the truth about how I spend most of my Saturdays:
Alarm goes off to ensure I don’t sleep away the day and I still hit snooze and insist on fifteen more minutes of being dead to the world. I finally peel away the blanket and drag myself into the kitchen for coffee. I spend the morning in bed or on the couch wrapped in blankets and coffee-stained pajamas with the appearance of someone who has been infected with West Nile virus while writing or reading the news or laughing at a YouTube video of a raccoon trying to steal cat food from someone’s backyard. I snuggle with my pug. Around lunchtime, I move to the living room and sit by the chair by the window and listen to the sound of the fountains outside of our apartment while scribbling a ‘to-do’ list that I know I will not complete and forcing myself to read just five more pages of the book I swore I would finish last weekend and the weekend before that. Groceries are usually next. Chores and freelance writing projects fill the afternoon. Before dinner, I roller-blade with my dog at the trail up the street. I get a lot of funny looks from people. (Especially young adults around my age who don’t know that roller-blading is the epitome of cool and cutting edge). The fiery sunsets we have been having lately made it worthwhile. Saturday nights at home are spent listening to hip-hop or Motown while folding laundry or dusting the book case or taking a long, hot bubble bath before Saturday Night Live.
I don’t spend every Saturday like this. But I did over this past weekend. And last weekend, too.
There is nothing wrong with this except that I struggle with feeling like my weekend was “exciting” or “trendy” enough in the way that I imagine everyone else’s weekend was. It’s a classic game in comparing. And then I skim through my Instagram feed and am suffocated by the manufactured fabulousness of all of my friend’s perfect-looking weekend escapades that have been meticulously edited and polished and splashed over with a “Nashville” filter to heighten my envy of their fancy night out at an art gallery wine tasting or hip tapas restaurant or an outdoor concert under the stars. This typically results in self-pity, insecurity, and the worst beast of them all — anxiety. Anxiety about whatever it is about my current circumstances that prevents me from spending my weekends “like everyone else does” in the fantasy world I compare my life to far too often. And anxiety about having wasted a Saturday dawdling around and doing nothing when I could have been brunching and exploring a museum or hosting a poker night or splurging on a lavish sushi dinner by the beach.
The expectations and hopes to live “like everyone else” that I feel as an adult is rooted in more than just a desire to measure up. It is also rooted in the need that I have felt since I was a child to live a normal and happy and controlled life. This makes sense considering my childhood was anything but normal and happy. As a kid, I had no say in how I spent my weekends. I wanted so badly to have a mom and dad to take me and my brothers to the zoo or to Disneyworld or the movies. Instead, most of my weekends were spent dodging a drunken step dad and doing all that I could to not set him off or give him a reason to break my television set for the seventeenth time. I knew this wasn’t normal. I knew most of the kids I went to school with didn’t have to go home to a home like mine.
And I wished every single day that for once, I might know what that felt like.
Fast forward to my life now as a young professional 20-something and I still struggle with this kind of comparing. The context is much different of course. Instead of comparing my home-life to all of the other kids at school, I compare something as petty as how I spend my Saturdays with other people my age. There is an undercurrent that connects the two, however. And that is this: control. It all goes back to control — having control over circumstances — the one thing that I did not have as a kid and now attempt to compensate for as an adult by living like the “normal and happy people” live.
It’s completely exhausting and stupid, really.
When I started working full time a few years ago, I assumed I struggled with weekends and my expectations surrounding them because of my perfectionist-type tendencies and desire to not squander away my free time. But as time has passed and I have been acquainted with the many faces that mental illness can take on, I have realized that something as simple as how we choose to spend our Saturdays is not immune to the disordered thinking and anxiety that are symptomatic of mental illnesses like depression and PTSD.
The cool thing about all of this though is that with awareness and acceptance we can take back some of that power. We can learn to love life just the way that it is no matter how it looks when contrasted with somebody else’s. We can learn to not only be okay with, but celebrate how we choose to spend our weekends, even if they are spent watching Redbox rentals in stained pajamas while eating Captain Crunch on the couch. For me, I can savor the sunsets at the trail on my roller blades and the ritual of bundling up on the couch after a bath for Saturday Night Live. I can dawdle around and do nothing if I feel like it. The struggle for control is over. I no longer have to live in fear. I am free from that life. And in an effort to not take for granted any more Saturday morning snuggles with my dog or sunsets at the trail or bubble baths before SNL, it is time that I give myself permission to let go of the struggle and start living that way. Because I deserve it. For both the scared little girl that I once was and the adult that I am trying to be now.
It’s been a year since I’ve smoked a cigarette. In that year of abstinence, not a single day has gone by where I did not briefly consider the alluring possibility of smoking a cigarette.
I am not impressed by this feat. I am shocked.
I smoked for four years and proudly took up the cause of smoking with the type of fundamentalist militancy usually associated with members of the Hezbollah. I didn’t give up smoking because of its harmful effects on the human body. I gave it up because I wanted to grow up.
This action has had lasting consequences on my social manners. Nowadays whenever I introduce myself to someone I share this information with an alarming eagerness. I have no way of not mentioning it. The fact that I quit smoking seems to me more important than my name, date of birth, occupation, or birthplace. In fact, I’m still surprised that there has not been a daily parade thrown in my honor by the city of Lisbon. Whenever I see some record-breaking, 120 year-old grandmother, who claims to have smoked all her life, I lower my gaze and curse the gods.
Smoking had ceased to be a spontaneous act and had turned into a carefully orchestrated crutch of procrastination. I became wary of its stabilizing effect. A cigarette felt like a natural extension of my hand. It helped me function socially by synthesizing the natural presence of mind that I saw in others. Whenever I had a problem, smoking a cigarette allowed me to contemplate possible solutions while keeping the imaginary tigers at bay. For a brief collection of minutes, the world didn’t have you by your throat. Even though cigarettes are minute harbingers of death, I felt safer when I smoked.
In this life, it seems so easy to pompously announce all the great things we aim to do while never actually doing them. We lie to ourselves constantly in order to carry on living. We make plans we never intend to keep. We have dreams we’re not prepared to sacrifice for. We live under the assumption that there’s plenty of time and that tomorrow’s always a better day to start. Cigarettes helped craft a lie that made me forget briefly that life is unfair, death is certain, and judgment is an unavoidable tragedy. While I might have trouble functioning without cigarettes, the fact of the matter is that I can’t grow up without having the constant acknowledgment of the omnipresent, indisputable truth of those three very unsettling facts.
Maybe I’m the just the type of person whose casual habits can easily turn into restrictive addictions, but I’ve reached a point where I can no longer consciously manufacture white lies that prevent me from asking myself the real, tough questions that relate to where I want to go. The questions whose answers I’m so terrified of because they might contain the implication that maybe I won’t get the things I want. And I could no longer stand the Freudian irony of killing myself by tiny increments because of a numbing fear of death.
I still feel that naïve invincibility of youth that precludes from analyzing the long-term effect of anything at all, but I strive to rationally counteract it. It is not easy to live with the maddening limitations that come from recognizing the transient nature of the human condition. The illusion of immortality can give us the courage to ignore grave risks and daunting odds. To others, this might seem like a small, uneventful thing, but in my case, cigarettes helped turned that illusory bubble that allows you to dare into a cage that makes you afraid of fear. Without cigarettes, I am troubled by the prospect of failure, but at least I no longer kept awake by the doubts of future regret.