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April 18, 2024

Manicured Nails, My Right to Abortion and a Damn Good Iced Coffee

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Girlhood. It’s a terrain as complex as it is universal marked by its commodification, demonization and idolization. In its essence lies a social and biological experience more fraught than any other. Recently, my reflections explored the politics of girlhood — essays laden with dense jargon, lamenting the systems that uphold its persistent scrutiny and sexualization. And while not dismissing the relevance of this discourse, in the midst of it, I found myself losing sight of its fundamentals.

Having recently turned 20, I’ve taken a moment to indulge in nostalgia, reflecting on the past decade. From the whimsical charm of Claire’s colorful stud earrings to the understated elegance of minimalist gold hoops; from the infectious melodies of Hannah Montana CDs to the soulful resonance of Stevie Nicks vinyl; and from clandestine confessions about crushes in well-worn diaries to the difficulties of navigating genuine relationships.

Amidst the ebb and flow of change, certain elements persist — a mini hairbrush tucked within the folds of a purse, the scent of hand lotion, the burst of mint from a stick of gum — now accompanied by newly deemed necessities like tampons and lighters. These mundane items, imbued with personal significance, symbolize the evolving landscape of girlhood — the crossing of the threshold between innocence and experience, wherein transformation is the only constant.

Yet, beneath its materiality lies a disquieting reality. Girlhood, veiled in a media-curated guise of allure and romance finds itself overshadowed by societal expectations and media-driven narratives. From the relentless pursuit of a fabricated ideal of femininity — where it appears intelligence and desire cannot coexist — to the pressure to embody the archetype of a “#girlboss,” the essence of girlhood is obscured by the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Do not get me wrong, there’s little that brings me more joy than my frequent hot-girl walks, savoring an iced coffee with a splash of vanilla syrup — its taste somehow heightened by its label as a “girl drink.” And, of course, there are the weekly “girl dinners” with my fellow girlfriends, each of us reveling in the glory that is girlhood.

Nevertheless, as we attach the label “girl” to an ever-expanding array of endeavors and objects, one cannot help but wonder how much more can be burdened by this designation before the narrative collapses under its own weight. In the prevailing discourse, the connotations of “girl” imply fragility and dependence, perpetuating a notion of inherent weakness that undermines the true ethos of girlhood. It is not about fragility in the infantilized sense but rather the fruitlessness of arbitrary laughter, the meticulousness of freshly manicured nails and the whimsy of trinket-filled purses.

Even so, such an outlook is not to imply that innocence resides at the crux of girlhood for one to remain oblivious to its regulation and policing is to uphold the very systems perpetuating it. I remain unsure as to what shattered my “innocence” — perhaps it was the first application of mascara, the loss of my virginity or the sobering realization that my reproductive rights aren’t always within my control.

Indeed, girlhood is an experience of self-discovery and evolution marked by awkwardness, bliss, heartbreak, scrutiny and everything in between. It is plagued by teenage cattiness and insecurities, where mirrors reflect cellulite and noses are scrutinized against societal standards. A dialogue of lament over the fact that we just weren’t that guy’s “type” or how you cannot afford the latest Aritzia sweatsuit.

Nonetheless, as innocence yields to experience and consciousness, my advocacy isn’t about reverting to our ten-year-old selves, swapping Stevie Nicks vinyl for Hannah Montana CDs, or abandoning our pro-life and other political convictions to sidestep emotional fatigue nor must we sacrifice the red wine for grape juice. Instead, it’s a reminder that our girlhood — the very essence of who we are — is often simpler than the dominating narrative suggests. 

It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of womanhood, a celebration of the complexities that define us, and a reaffirmation of the power found in embracing all that has brought joy to our 10, 12, and 20 year old selves. For, as it stands, at least all I really need are manicured nails, my right to abortion and a damn good iced coffee.

Eve Iulo is a second-year in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].