Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pleased to meet you...

An Introduction
Hello, my name is Jennifer Larino and I am a 21-year-old senior in my final semester at UCF. I hope to graduate in December with a degree in a journalism with a creative writing minor. In the meantime, however, I have the freedom to enroll in classes that truly interest me to fulfill my residency here. Girl's Studies will be my second women's studies course during my time at UCF and I am excited to begin breaking down and reliving the young female's experience. For a long time I have lamented the awkward and lonely girl that I was throughout middle and high school. I want to revisit her, understand her and, finally, learn to celebrate her.

"Your Life as a Girl" and Red Response
Sittenfeld's "Your Life as a Girl" was an interesting way to break into this course. It seemed in one fell swoop Sittenfeld captured much of the tensions, confusions and worries that shape, and sometimes plague, girlhood and female adolescence. While not all of the scenes in "Your Life as a Girl" were mirror images of what I personally experienced growing up, many of the same undertones existed. The nagging feeling that you aren't good looking enough, aren't smart enough, aren't fill-in-the-blank enough, is a universal for most during their youth. You're struggling to be yourself, whatever that is, but 'yourself' at the time is a strained amalgam of what you think everyone expects you to look and act like. And then mix in the opposite sex. It's almost as if someone is speaking another language ("You still don't know what he's said, and you have to ask Nell" [Sittenfield 4]). Still you want more than anything to be loved, to be in love. The confusion is unrivaled and it's not something for adults to look back on, roll their eyes and whisper "Teenagers..." to one another (I always HATED that growing up).

The darker side of Sittenfield's "Your Life as a Girl" is that the main character Anna seems to have very little in the way of a role model or a guiding light. There is a mother that plays in the background telling her what should and should not be done but otherwise Sittenfield's character is talking things over with equally-confused Nell or off at boarding school "reading romance novels" (Sittenfield 5) and keeping quiet about all the questions and offenses in her life. This is where my path in life veered drastically from Sittenfield's snapshot of girlhood. I think my mother is the main reason for that. Unlike the girl in Sittenfield's story, my mother was a constant presence in my life, more reliable than any of the friends I had at that time. She encouraged me to immerse myself in school. She set up a "spa day" in the home bathroom for me one week when I was particularly self-conscious about my facial acne even though she worked a full-time job. She rode her bike 30 miles round-trip with me into Boston to get the fifth Harry Potter book. Only when I was in college did my mother tell me she did all this to prevent me from walling myself inside my room, inside what magazines and T.V. was telling me, like Anna.

I had my mother but the girls' stories in Red show that a girl's pillar can vary from rock climbing, to a trip to another country to crazy family dinners during a summer in the Hamptons. I was especially drawn to Kirsten Oldroyd's story "Mini Mountain." Oldroyd's connection to mountain climbing became a forum where she could figure out who she was uninhibited, a personality nicknamed "Mini" by her rock climbing peers. "Mini always voiced her opinions, and friends, teachers, and anyone who worked at the gym forgot who quiet Kirsten - who gave no objections and no one really knew much about - was" Oldroyd writes (Goldwasser 179). For me, individual sports, including gymnastics and diving, helped feed a personal development similar to Oldroyd's.

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