If you’re a girl between the ages of 11 and 18, or if you have a daughter between the ages of 11 and 18, or if you’re not technically in the target teenage girl demographic but you’re still a fan of young-adult-novels-turned-movies, goddammit, then there’s a chance you’ve seen If I Stay. If you’ve watched any TV in the last six months, you’ve at least seen this trailer. (And then spent the afternoon humming say something, I’m giving up on you against your will.)
Although I’ve technically graduated from the YA demographic, if a movie description sounds anything like “seventeen-year-old (girl name) struggles with (emotional problem) while her family deals with (divorce/death/terminal illness/apocalypse),” I just can’t stay away. So naturally I paid $1.50 to rent If I Stay with my sister last weekend.
YA fiction is my jam. Movies, books, whatever. (I could do without the whole vampire thing, but dystopian wastelands never get old.) I’m all for the dramatic love story. But lately I’ve been noticing a pattern in my beloved YA stories.
Scene – Girl and Spunky Best Friend in High School Hallway:
Spunky Best Friend: “Oh my god, Girl! That guy you’ve been secretly crushing on for years is totally into you!”
Girl: “Me? No way. Not possible.”
Spunky Best Friend: “Why? You’re awesome.”
Girl: “No I’m not. I’m just… me.”
This is almost word-for-word a scene from the first five minutes of If I Stay. And as my sixteen year old sister and I watched, I realized that somewhere along the line, it became really cool for girls in movies not to know how cool they are. Girl is always incredibly talented/smart/funny/attractive—she’s the star of the movie, after all—but she just doesn’t see it. Until a guy comes along and works really hard to convince her how awesome she is. Then she starts to see it kind of.
Much like chocolate cheesecake and prolonged time spent with immediate family, this storyline would be great in moderation. Everyone can relate to not feeling awesome sometimes. And having someone to tell you how awesome you are? That sounds pretty ideal. But the girl-who-doesn’t-know-she’s-awesome storyline is everywhere. Bella from Twilight. What’s her face from Divergent. Even Katniss from The Hunger Games, an actual badass revolutionary, is thoroughly convinced of her own mediocrity for pretty much the entire series. Movies, especially ones that star seventeen-year-old girls, really have the power to shape the way their audience thinks. When I was younger, I would relate movies to my real life all the time. (I still make a lot of Harry Potter comparisons at the dinner table, but that’s probably never going away.) I get that insecurity beefs up the drama, but I have to wonder… where are all the girls who know they’re awesome?
If I ever have a daughter, I would want her to know that it’s okay to be insecure sometimes. Everyone is. And if someone comes along who makes her feel good about herself, then hell yeah, go skateboarding with him in the rain. But I’d also want her to know that it’s okay to embrace your own awesomeness.
Scene – Hannah and Julie in Dining Hall:
Hannah: Dude, he’s totally into you.
Julie: Of course he’s into me. I’m the best.
Hannah: I’m into you.
Jules: If I weren’t me I’d be into me.
Hannah: Want to split a cookie?
This is almost word-for-word a conversation that Julie and I have every few months. (The cookie part is more of a daily thing.) Sometimes I’m the one we’re both into, sometimes she is. I like to think we’re both kind of the Spunky Best Friend. I know we sometimes take self-love to borderline inappropriate levels, but I love us. I really do. I love our friends and our families and our blog and the things we do to make ourselves happy. And even if we’re not actually as awesome as we think we are, we have a pretty damn good time.
So to my future daughter: You are awesome. Acknowledging this doesn’t make you conceited, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. The movies are great, but real life is too. Don’t be afraid to play the shit out of your cello. (The girl in If I Stay is always shy about playing the shit out of her cello. Just sayin.)