mixtape - volume 8
"Seventh grade is the worst year ever." - Annie Fox, author of "Teaching kids to be good people."
(yours truly, in my seventh grade class photo, 2002. you hardly recognize me, right?)
In the seventh grade, I wore this “a.k.a princess,” t-shirt every.single.Friday. I got it from Limited too (le duh) and I felt like a motherf**kin rock star every time I put it on. I’ve been reminiscing/cringing about seventh grade so much recently. I think it’s because I’m going through so many transitions right now, and seventh grade feels like the epitome of growing pains.
Seventh grade was the first time I felt fully awkward in my own body — floppy, prickly, bumpy and so so so sweaty.
Seventh grade was the first time it dawned on me that “big boobs” were social currency/liability, making me: dead broke.
Seventh grade was the first time I was teased by boys — about my fluffy hair, my “boy body", my height, my limbs.
Seventh grade was the first time that I learned that being cruel was a socially acceptable form of flirtation.
Seventh grade was the first time I got my period. I was sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car when I felt the sensation — wet, heavy sand piled in my underwear. I ran to the bathroom as soon as we got home to inspect. It looked just like soil. I was eerily calm about the whole thing — like, oh yeah, this checks out. I waited a few minutes before calling for my mom to double check. Okaaaaay she said, tilting her glasses down like a jeweler inspecting a diamond. It’s here! The next day at school my friend Celia made me a card with big red polka dots to congratulate me on the big news.
Seventh grade was the first time I hated being different. I dreaded the way other kids would ask in a joking voice, “wait what, you’re Jewish?” I would always pretend like it wasn’t really part of my identity, “I mean, I’m only half Jewish. My Dad’s Jewish, not my mom.” I pretended a lot that year. I pretended my sisters weren’t adopted. I pretended I couldn’t hear my Dad calling “love you!” on the rare occasions he dropped me off at school. I pretended I was a cushion for white girls to sit on, so no one could see my face in group photos. I was really skilled at putting others’ comfort before my own in the seventh grade.
Seventh grade was the first time someone had a crush on me. Larry Drew II thought I was “real cute.” True story. Crushes made me feel so weird. Hearing that someone “liked” me made my stomach burn. It felt exposing. Foreign. Way too adult.
Seventh grade was the first time I started writing in a daily journal. I would start every entry with, “Okay wow, where do I even begin????”
From a developmental psychology perspective, in the United States, seventh grade is widely characterized as “the worst year ever” (Fox, 2016). Seventh grade is typically a time for understanding concepts like power and influence. Seventh graders will start to take more risks - questioning things and not taking everything at face value. In the seventh grade, close friendships from early childhood often fall apart. Friendship drama is common and a way of “trying on what it’s like to be older and more sophisticated and cooler” (Crawford, 2016). There’s a level of intentional cruelty, gossip, and a whole lot of backstabbing. But underneath all of the pettiness, seventh graders are super sensitive to other people’s opinions and reactions. They tend to feel like the whole world is watching them. They have a strong need to belong to a group — with peer approval feeling way more important than adult approval. They aren’t little anymore, but they aren’t big either.
I’ve come to think of the year 2020 as seventh grade all over again. Anyone else feeling super moody, left out, awkward, confused, sad, gross, petty, and finding yourself questioning EVERYTHING? Yep, that’s right. We’re back in the seventh grade.
This week’s mixtape is an ode to the seventh grade, inspired by season 2 of the Hulu show Pen15. If you haven’t watched this show yet, do yourself a favor and use your ex’s hulu log-in, it is SO worth it. Set in the year 2000, the ten-episode series begins with the two best friends (who are in actuality 31 year old actresses, playing 12 year old version of themselves) preparing for their first day of middle school. “Seventh grade is gonna be amazing,” the bffs scream over their see-through landline phones. Spoiler: seventh grade sucks. The show hits me so hard, and I find myself going from hysterically crying to covering my eyes in absolute mortification for 28 minutes every episode.
I love this Vulture description of Season 2 of the show, which began last week:
When you’re 12 or 13, every cell in your body screams out for validation almost every second of every day. PEN15 makes that feeling visceral in constant awkward glances and the stunned expressions of girls being told they are ugly. Erskine and Konkle deliver performances that are so naturally believable that it’s easy to forget how astonishing it is that they are naturally believable. These are women in their early 30s, playing middle schoolers opposite other middle-school-age kids and actually pulling that off. Never once, in any episode, is the viewer even temporarily reminded that they are adults. Both of them were great in season one, but in this season they have seeped even more deeply into these characters. Though it’s never spoken, it’s obvious in the way that they carry themselves that any optimism about seventh grade is slowly starting to leak out of their bodies.
So let your inner seventh grader ooze out of your body as you grind with your mirror to this week’s playlist. And please remember: just like the seventh grade, 2020 too shall pass… I pinky promise.
Jesse, a.k.a princess ;)