Discuss and debate the issues that mean the most to you.
I've already used this picture of me being an awkward teen once, but I think it deserves a second outing...
When Britney Spears pranced into our lives, all implied virginity, bare midriff and sexy school uniforms, she was hot. Not 'hot if you squint a bit', or 'might be hot in a few years', just hot.
Now, on her best day, when she’s been working out for a show, she’s taken off the sweatpants and no-one can see her thong hanging out, she looks ok. That’s because Britney Spears peaked when she was 16, and has never been the same since.
This isn’t intended to be an exercise in Britney-bashing – I love the woman, she’s inspired at least half of all my current dance moves, and she’s clearly had a rough old time of it over the years. But the point is – we all know a Britney or two.
She was that hot, preternaturally pretty girl in school who all the boys were after. She was probably the first to have a long-term relationship with an equally pretty boy called Scott, Sam or Brad (I’ve done a straw poll with Phoebe and these are the names that came up, if you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about).
For all we knew she was baffled and horrified in equal measure by all the male attention she was getting, but she certainly never had to fight for it.
The male version of Britney (Scott, Sam, Brad, etc) probably had ‘curtains’, if your teenage years, like mine, were spent in the ‘90s. He was nice enough, good at football, and competent enough at school that he never got into trouble. He certainly never had to try either.
I want to tell you what happened to my 'Britney', but I can’t find a way to do it without sounding like the bitchiest snob in the world, which isn’t the intention. Suffice to say, she married her second boyfriend, and has just had child number two. She still lives in the London suburb we grew up in. She’ll occasionally venture into town for a special occasion, but for the most part, her world doesn’t seem to extend beyond the small boundaries she’s created around it. And also (this is the really bitchy bit, in case you wanted some notice) her pretty, girly teen face doesn’t really work as an adult – she’s not that hot anymore.
She might be really happy – much happier than I am – I don’t know. I’m basing all my current judgments on a quick peruse on her Facebook page, and that’s what I’ve come up with.
You can probably guess from this that I wasn’t a Britney at school. I was the Ugly Ducking. Most of my friends were also a bit… awkward-looking as teens, as was our very own fashion and beauty editor Phoebe.
Phoebe interrupts: “When I was at school I too had ‘curtains’ hair just like all the boys, except I was aspiring to look like Justine Frischmann and instead appeared to be wearing a toupee on top of a potato. I also had really over-plucked eyebrows. And my ‘ugly duckling’ phase was prolonged into my university years when I was chubby with an Ann Widdecombe-esque bowl cut. Fit. Needless to say, I became the ‘funny one’ in the group, and as Rebecca will explain, I like myself a whole lot more now because of it.”
And it’s not that I resented ‘Britney’. She was always perfectly nice to me, and, believe it or not, I tend not to get particularly chippy about things, I’m just so bloody glad that I wasn’t her.
It took me a few more years to find my feet, I had more than my fair share of awkward phases before that. Not that I’m even saying that I’ve peaked yet - some times I think the best is yet to come, which is nice. Other times I note how increasingly haggard my face is at the end of a night out, or how many grey hairs I’m getting now, and realise that I probably peaked when I was about 25, and didn’t even notice…
Phoebe has a theory that everyone peaks once in each decade – she peaked when she was 22, but she’s going to peak again now she’s in her thirties, and that’s ok because you look completely different from one decade to another. So that’s the theory I’m going on, as I stare at myself bleary-eyed in the mirror and wonder who the hell put those crow’s feet there.
Either way, my teen years were ok, and certainly not traumatic, but they were underwhelming enough that I couldn’t wait to leave and reinvent myself at the first opportunity. And without the armour of good looks, my personality had to do a lot of the work. I have an opinion on things, I’m interested in other people, and hopefully, I’m interesting back.
And it’s all about perception, isn’t it? If people are comparing me to my 15-year-old self, they’ll think ‘thank god she got those teeth sorted out’ or ‘wow, her skin looks better now’ or ‘thank God GHDs were invented’ rather than ‘wow she’s aged badly.’
And that’s the problem with Britney. She’s not hideous by anyone’s standards. But I defy anyone who catches sight of her struggling out of WalMart, with a child under each arm and her car keys falling out of her tracksuit pocket, to not compare her to the 16-year-old in the school uniform.
Were you a Britney at school, or were things a bit more awkward for you? And also, am I world's worst bitch for writing this?