Oh, what a year

It’s time for my annual not-quite-on-time year-end reflection!

Last night, I stayed up on my phone for hours, feeling that familiar nostalgic feeling for something that hasn’t even ended yet. (I begin my final semester of college in a couple weeks.) I went all the way up to the top of my camera roll, which begins sometime in 2015 — the year I graduated high school and started college — and surmises tens of thousands of photos: memories I never deleted and am now happy I didn’t, tons (an embarrassing amount, really) of selfies, filtered and unfiltered, because I worried that I would hate the filters I used at the time in a few years. I did.

What I felt surprised me. I looked at photos of someone I used to date, friends that have come and gone while we all attempted (past tense doesn’t seem right there) to figure ourselves out. I saw awkward photos of the beginning of my closest friendships, where we just stood next to each other and smiled nervously. I saw my hair transform, for better and worse.

It wasn’t bitterness that I felt about any of the failed relationships or friendships, but I did feel a bit sad for the slightly younger version of me. I could sense my feelings, partly from memory, partly from the looks on my faces and clothes I was wearing. I noticed that I dressed in ill-fitting, not-very-me clothing from 2015 to 2016, simultaneously while taking a couple years off from blogging and writing, which actually reflected how I felt at the time; old in my youth, trapped in my relationships, directionless but hopeful and not doing what I wanted to be doing, but not quite understanding any of that.

I started this blog before I even started high school to document my love of fashion, writing, and the feelings that both fashion and writing evoke that fill me with warmth and happiness, and have since my first Teen Vogue issue to this day. I have always referred to this as my outlet. And when I started, I was a young, adventurous dresser who wore a poofy, vomit-colored vintage dress to freshman homecoming (yeah, I was so popular with the boys, clearly!) who somehow, near the end of high school and start of college, became a girl who stopped indulging in fashion, opting for nondescript sweaters and cliche shoes. I don’t see that as a leap towards the non-frivolous (I also don’t see clothing as frivolous) but as a result of someone who conformed to pressure. Specifically, the pressure to stop being too much. She lost herself for a bit in other people’s interests, and time. And too much Ann Taylor Loft.

Then, like always, the photos changed.

Karaoke videos and youthful outfits creeped in. I started wearing silk neck scarves with all of my outfits and didn’t care what anybody had to say about it. My signature photos of coffee shop-hopping, articles in newspapers and collages filled my camera roll. The woman I always wanted to be — busy, interested, knowledgeable — started to show up. I lept out of my comfort zone and finally made friends (as well as weekend plans). And some people crept away. I experienmented with fashion more. I started reading again. I stopped watching much TV, which I’ll be honest, I just don’t enjoy.

I texted my friend Laura that I couldn’t believe how shy I looked in the older photos. I didn’t look like someone remotely confident. I looked nervous. Then I remembered the feelings I would get when people talked to me. My face would flush and I could barely speak. Articulating my thoughts and feelings, even to those close to me, wasn’t usually an option.

I still get like that sometimes — you should hear me try to talk on the phone! — but not nearly as often. And I think that of everything I’ve learned in college, this is what I value the most. I’ve learned that my thoughts deserve voicing just like anyone else’s; something that seems really obvious as I write it down, but wasn’t in application.

I can’t pinpoint when along the way I started to trust that I actually knew things. Also, I have recently learned many things, so it’s possible that before college, I knew significantly fewer things. I wasn’t confident in any of my political opinions, even though this was the same girl who took four pages of notes on Obama’s State of the Union address in eight grade… for no reason. (I proudly showed my history teacher at the time. He wasn’t impressed.)

Though I can definitely pinpoint one life-changing moment. My first sex and gender class, which for me might as well have been called “intro to feminism,” hit me like a ton of bricks. I had always been the girl who couldn’t stand that boys at school called my friends “basic” and acted like our interests were lesser, intellectually and culturally than theirs, only because theirs were masculine. I didn’t like how insecure all of my female friends, and myself, felt about our bodies because of societal pressure. I never liked any of this, but my small-town-sheltered self didn’t understand that there was a camp of people who didn’t like the same things, and who wrote a lot of excellent material about it! And who stood up for their beliefs! How in the world I had never learned what feminism was is beyond me (though I blame the public school system a lot!). But once I learned, there was no going back.

And in the years since, I’ve learned about myself through a feminist lens. I’ve used a honed and ever-evolving feminist lens to view workplaces, friends, boyfriends, tweets, articles, social norms. There hasn’t been one facet of my life that feminism hasn’t leaked into, and honestly, I’m grateful for that.

I’ve spent that last two years grappling with my identity now that I’m not the likable, nice, complacent girl I always was, in men’s eyes. (Though sometimes I am, it’s easier.) Perhaps I’ve overcompensated by being too aggressive about my views. Or, perhaps that’s the years of French girl books talking that I’ve read and worshipped, the ones that value a proper, polite woman who doesn’t discuss such taboos.

All I know is that I definitely like myself more now, though there’s more work to do. And I really, truly, hope I’m back in a few years writing about how much more I’ve learned compared to 2018 me.

Oh yeah, and I got my first real journalism job this year! But we can’t tackle everything in one blog post!

Love, Francesca

Always Wonder — Lil Sliva

Told you I love coffee photos.

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