Are we living in the age of the LadyTeen?

tung magazine caroline o'donoghue on reclaiming youth ladyteen women

As I write this, my hair is pink. My nails are sky blue. I have too many rings on, and a strip of Rimmel Exaggerate liquid liner in violet across my eyes. In short, I look about 19. Or rather: I look like the kind of 19 year old I wanted to look like when I was 19, but couldn’t, because I didn’t know how to use home hair dye properly (plopping the whole thing on top of my head, neglecting gloves, a brush and the all-important ring of Vaseline around your hairline). I didn’t know how to do nail varnish properly, and when I attempted, I always ended up with some arseways French manicure that never failed to look like Tipp-Ex layered on top of a nail that was hearing-aid beige. All of my make-up came free with magazines or was stolen from my mum’s dressing table. In short, I was too broke, too dumb and too provincial to look like what I wanted to look like. I lived in a city, but it was a small one, and all the alternative and unusual clothing came from one shop that sold Emily the Strange t-shirts at a 60% mark-up.

My best friend will be along in a moment: but first, she must clean and disinfect the stud in her nose. She got her first facial piercing two weeks ago, and couldn’t be more delighted with herself.

We haven’t always looked this way. A couple of years ago, we were buying white shirts and skinny jeans in an attempt to assemble an anonymous “woman who knows what she’s doing” uniform. We are now in our late twenties, and we are assembling ourselves to look like the moodboards we cut out from magazines when we were very young teenagers. It’s a funny sort of instinct, but the more I look around, the more convinced I am that every woman I know is doing the same thing. Some of the most successful women I know have a blue streak in their hair, or are assembling their image to resemble Angelina Jolie in Hackers. The spells we used to cut out from Mizz magazine have morphed into £15 crystals, bought for one another as gifts from the witchy shops we used to anxiously, excitedly visit and then quickly leave when we were 16. There is a suspicious lack of blouses going on. There are a lot of colourful trainers, oversized hoodies, multiple ear piercings and, on special occasions, transfer tattoos. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, but I know I like it.

I used to wonder why the 1990s were full of 70s fashion and why the early 00s full of 1980s prep-wear (those polo shirts! Those popped collars!). Everything comes back around eventually, and now, 90s fashion rules the high street. People tend to blame this on a lack of originality from the fashion world, but I disagree. Designers look at street-wear in order to assess what women will like, so we’re influencing them. And what we’re influenced by, more and more, is the desire to re-do our teens again, but right. A second chance at being fabulous, in the era where having Gwen Stefani circa-No Doubt’s Return of Saturn was the definition of fabulous. It’s an almost science fiction urge to live your past again, only this time, with money, satisfying sex and rubber gloves for your hair dye. When Rihanna debuted her sperm-shaped eyebrows on the cover of Vogue, people gasped at why on earth she would want to bring back the gross early noughties beauty trend. To me, it seems obvious: Rihanna was 15 in 2003, and there’s a certain part of the female mind that crystallises around whatever was considered beautiful when you were very young. It’s why my grandmother had a Doris Day perm until the day she died.

More than that though, I think there comes a point in your adulthood where you stop caring quite so much about being employable and/or fuckable. You’ve earned your stripes as a professional person. You’ve dated around enough to know that it doesn’t matter if you buy all your knickers in Ann Summers and wax your vulva twice a month – if the guy is a dog, he’s a dog. You begin curating a look that is only for yourself and for the admiration of your closest woman friends. You text them things like “should we get matching tattoos?” and “Look!!! At!! This!! Lobster!! Backpack!!”

For years, the media has charted (mostly with cock-eyed condescension) the rise of “kidulting”, which is largely comprised of grown adults leaping around in ball pits, eating Coco Pops for dinner and playing video games instead of getting mortgages. For the most part, the trend seemed very male, and everyone was wringing their hand at the notion of the “man-child” who drinks Monster energy drinks and lives in his mother’s basement (this fact is generally reported alongside a piece about how mortgages are at a 300% increase since 1981). Little was said, however, about how women were reclaiming their youth. I’m calling it now: we are living in the age of the LadyTeen.


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