Growing up, there were so many movies, TV shows, and even books feeding me ideals of what teenage girlhood was meant to be. Everything I read or watched included the stereotypes of the girly mean girl, the smart nerdy girl, the sporty girl, the opinionated girl that hated boys—as if teenage girls were one-dimensional beings who couldn't have multiple attributes simultaneously, as if we could only be one thing and not multiple things. This notion that you couldn't be girly and smart and a nice person at the same time haunted me for years, until I discovered feminism and female liberation and what that meant: that women are complex individuals who can possess a plethora of contradicting characteristics. In brief: women are human, and like all humans, women, too, are complex.
The fact that none of the people I looked up to at the time were portrayed as complex and multifaceted individuals probably didn't help my misconceptions about teenage girlhood. I repressed my desire to be feminine, because to me, being smart was more important—and in my mind, at least when I was a teenager, there was no room for someone to be smart and feminine at the same time. I was also opinionated and vocal about the things I believed in, and once again I didn't believe I could be those things and enjoy the regular things girls my age were supposed to be enjoying. I didn't believe I could have it all, and it took me many years to realise that I could. The versions of girlhood that are presented to us—even nowadays—are so different from the reality of what being a girl actually is that when you find people who are willing to bear the torch of what real girlhood means, you treasure them and admire them and give them credit where credit is due.
That's why I love Rowan Blanchard and Amandla Stenberg so much.
The two young actresses are keeping it real when it comes to girlhood, and I feel their presence is so important for young girls nowadays. They don't fit into any ideals hammered into our heads by the media: they are complex young women, living out their lives and being honest about the struggles that young women everywhere face. They are focused on showcasing what it truly means to be a girl in this day and age—living proof that we are multifaceted and diverse and so much more than any stereotype could describe. Their role as activists is so important because they are leading by example: they are showing other girls that you can and should speak up for what you believe in.
You can be feminine, non-feminine, nerdy, not nerdy, shy, outgoing, fierce, quiet, or whatever else you want to be and still be valid. They don't sugar-coat things on social media, either. They use their voices and their influence to speak up for what they believe in, too—to let the world see a real version of them, to let young girls see a real version of them, and that is so needed and so healthy, especially for members of a generation that lives so much of their lives glued to their phones, hanging onto every like and to every tweet. What’s more, Rowan Blanchard and Amandla Stenberg are also showing a younger generation how social media can be used for more than likes and retweets—it can be used for the greater good. To spread a message. To get people involved in causes that matter.
This is why I wish I had girls like Rowan and Amandla to look up to growing up. 15-year-old me would have had a much easier time navigating adolescence if she knew that you don't have to box yourself in—that you can be whatever you want to be—and if she could see other girls live their lives that same way: being unapologetically themselves, not answering to anyone, minding their own business. I'm grateful even now, as an adult, that I have these young girls to look up to. They are living their lives leading by example and being the best version of themselves they can be, and that is the most important lesson they can teach any of the girls that look up to them. After all, trying to be the best version of yourself is all any of us can do to navigate this crazy thing called life.