Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

G is for Girlhood


Being a girl was about aching for something that was always just out of reach. I existed in a state of longing for something indefinable, of permanent languid dissatisfaction. I was always stretching out, grabbing, then discarding what I had touched. I wanted the next best thing, not the thing I had.

Girlhood was about never being happy in my skin. My body was all wrong. I longed for longer legs, better skin, a smaller bum. I longed for slow, rapturous kisses that would make me forget myself. I longed to melt.

Girlhood was about waiting for the right boy to come along. I ached for a soul-mate and found him in all the wrong places. When boys did turn up, I longed for someone cooler, older, more mature. I longed for a man.

Girlhood was about never finding the right food to eat. I longed for ice-cream, then tuna, then bread and butter, then chocolate, then roast chicken, then milk with Milo. Food came and went, but never in satisfying combinations.

Girlhood was about always dreaming about being somewhere else. If I was at school, I longed to be at home. At home, I ached for my friends. With my friends, I wanted to be with a certain boy. With that boy, I wished I were at home with a book. While reading, I thought of my father.

It was a time of extremes, of being too hot, too cold, too lazy, too over-excited, too silly, too irritable, too focused, too pent-up.

I thought a lot about clothes, but they were always wrong. Whatever I wore was never as good as what that girl wore. I flipped through magazines, ached for Farah hair, Christy legs, Jodie eyes. The clothes I finally bought were dissatisfying: too tight, too loose, too short, too long, too preppy, too Gothic, too old, too new. I longed for one perfect dress.

I felt as if I couldn’t talk very well. I never seemed to say what I meant, hard though I tried. Words blocked in my throat so I stayed silent. There was so much to say. I longed to say it well. I felt as if I couldn’t. I inhibited myself.

When I was a girl, I wanted to please. So badly. I wanted to please so badly that I did things I regretted. I put others before myself, their needs before mine. I pushed my own needs down until I exploded.

To girls, I say:

Find your voice and be proud to use it.

Put your needs first.

Please yourself, not boys.

Love your body.

Live in the moment.

Find and do the thing that makes you forget yourself, that makes your heart sing.

Never stop looking for one perfect dress.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

37 thoughts on “G is for Girlhood

  1. It is a wonderful evocation of adolescence, and I love your advice, except for the perfect dress. Some girls aren’t into dresses. I was one of those. I’m still not. And of my two daughters, there is one of each. Though they both climb trees.

    • Lilian, I know not all girls are into dresses. I thought of adding “… or the perfect pair of jeans” at the end, but it didn’t scan. Let’s consider jeans implicit in that search for the perfect dress.

      • That is the only piece of advice that rang wrong for me. There is no perfect dress and your hair won’t ever be perfect either. And neither one is as important as your loving heart, engaged intellect and integrity.

  2. Giving this to Holly straigh away …

  3. Giving this to H straight away …

  4. This made me cry. Sums up my adolescence perfectly.

  5. All my clothes felt too tight and I had way too much pent up energy but all in all, I was very happy. I definitely had a voice! More than I do now. For me girlhood was about being fearless. Insecurity was just some white noise that was there but didn’t bother me tooooo much. By rights it should have because I wasn’t cool or thin but it didn’t.

  6. Brilliantly written! Being girl for me was all about hating my boarding school and reading books…

  7. Charlotte, brilliant post. Can I please publish it on short short stories? Think it would be good for all of us gals young and old on the blog to read it.

  8. Oh so true! So true! I think you climbed inside my mind for this one…. Brilliant, Charlotte.

  9. You’ve captured that sense of always yearning. I think that I was always either looking out of the window, hoping for someone exciting to drive up and change my life, preferably on a white charger, or else escaping into books. And never saying a word at parties.. I think my knight was supposed to recognise me instantly by the mysterious expression and light in my eyes. Too much Jilly Cooper at an impressionable age!

  10. Hello there
    I’m a South African from Cape Town living in Germany as well…Another South African living in Germany sent me the link to your blog…Have not had the chance to read your blog – I wanted to make contact and let you know there are many of us SA’s here…

  11. Pingback: G is for Girlhood (Lia) « Short Short Stories

  12. oh i loved this. loved. thank you.

  13. You DO write so fabulously, Charlotte! A great post that brings back heartaching memories so familiar to so many of us “girls” who have thankfully grown up and find ourselves in a more contented space!

  14. Oh, Charlotte. All that yearning and restlessness and hopefulness and anxiety and insecurity… I think most women safely on the other side of those sometimes hideous years will read this with a shock of recognition and not a little sadness for those nasty misguided moments, of which I personally had more than a few.

  15. I’ll have to save this for later. There are a lot of things that, as a man, I’ll never be able to feel that I can easily say to my daughter, but there will be things to read I leave for her to find. Or not. It’ll be her choice.

  16. This is most interesting/ poignant. Sometime in the distant future – your daughter’s will probably read this and think of their own versions in relation to their mum’s – maybe write them too.

  17. I so relate to that sense of restlessness, of searching, of wanting to be “right” but never being able to. For me it was Twiggy hair and bell bottom hip huggers, but the feelings were the same. At the same time as all that emotional upheaval was going on, I was so fully involved in what made my heart sing — playing music —

    I am so loving your alphabet! I have been contemplating an alphabet the last few days, but it goes Adult idiocy, Boy idiocy, child idiocy, descendent idiocy, every day idiocy, filial idiocy, gee you are such an idiot, handsome idiot, idiotic idiot, joking aren’t you, kidiot, Oh. did my son do something particularly distressing and idiotic, do you suppose?

  18. Oh Charl, I can remember all that yearning too.. And I thought I was the only one yearning! My biggest yearns were, a) to be older (this stopped abruptly at 18, obviously, and b) to have more pocket money, which thankfully has stopped (but don’t tell my boss!)
    But is this yearning good for us, mewonders? It’s not really living in the moment, is it? But maybe we have to do it, to then know how good it is when we stop.. or? On a practical note, I think your fashion yearning has had excellent results, because you are my fashion guru.. 🙂

  19. This is a beautiful post, but then shouldn’t you have waited until T for “teenager”? I don’t mean to criticize unfairly, but for me girlhood was some years before and many years after being a teenager, until I could start to say I was a woman and no longer a girl (when is that exactly, I can’t tell for sure, but decidedly after starting to work…) “Girl” started when I no longer played with the boys as if I was one of them, and started to find Barbie dolls cute. And many things you mentioned also ring true for male teenager, not only girls. Mmh… maybe you gave me some inspiration for an alternative “girl” post ! 😉

  20. Girlhood was about always dreaming about being somewhere else. If I was at school, I longed to be at home. At home, I ached for my friends. With my friends, I wanted to be with a certain boy. With that boy, I wished I were at home with a book.

    This part especially resounded with me. That was the biggest conflict of my childhood, always dreaming of somewhere else and not being able to fully live in the moment.

    Wonderful post.

  21. This is a great post. Girlhood for was about desperately wanting to fit in, and failing miserably!

  22. Greetings Charlotte – great to see you are still blogging so abundantly and exuberantly. The white elephant is back… stay tuned! Sonia

  23. Oh Charlotte, I love you and I still think we are probably related 🙂 I remember so well that yearning to be somewhere else, or someone else. I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car driving home from movies and reliving every scene in my head and imagining I was one of the characters, in a place far cooler than PE. I also yearned for different clothes and a cool way with words. Because I never managed to say anything coherent to a boy, I took to writing looooooong letters to boys. I hope many of them have had the good sense to destroy them!! If I could say something to myself as a teenage girl it woudl be: You are not nearly as fat as you think you are. And stop taking yourself so seriously! 🙂

  24. Loved that – excellent piece of writing! 🙂

  25. Lovely post and some excellent advice.

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