Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Here's to pining for the American teenage dream

By AASHI MENDPARA | April 10, 2024

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COURTESY OF AASHI MENDPARA

Mendpara reflects on her former obsession with teen magazines.

I remember being 10 or 11 years old, sitting in front of my family’s desktop computer, staring at a picture of a girl. She was maybe 17, wearing a red varsity jacket with matching red Converse shoes and big gold hoops. Her hair was long, straight and blonde. She was sitting cross-legged on a baseball diamond, a bat casually resting on her shoulder. 

Sitting on our peeling black swivel chair, I was probably wearing Bermuda plaid shorts with a shirt slightly too big for my frame. My hair was most definitely in a slicked-back braid (it was hair oil), and my glasses were slipping down my nose. My eyes were probably in the shape of giant hearts glued onto the screen in front of me. The girl on my computer wasn’t anyone I knew but, to me, she represented everything I wanted to be. 

Side note: This intro felt like a 2013 movie. 

With no shame, I will tell you that, growing up, I was obsessed with nearly every teen magazine around: Bop, J-14, Seventeen, Teen Beat, Twist. Even though my mom shopped for my clothes until I was probably 15 years old, nothing beat coming home from school and spending hours flipping (or scrolling) through magazines, admiring the ways I’d see people style their baggy jeans and shaggy hair. I would cling to personal essays about teenagers sneaking out, going to their first house party and having their first kiss. I would cut out images of prom dresses, senior trips and college outfits to stick on my door. 

Magazines fueled my American teenage dreams. 

I dreamt of the parties, acts of rebellion and school dances that I would experience during the years to come. It was an experience I thought I could only access before the age of 20. 

Spoiler alert! That simply was not my reality. My high school experience can be characterized by two things: studying and blasting Avril Lavigne on repeat (forever sad that she’ll never outlive the replacement conspiracy theory). Instead, I used writing to recreate all the things that never happened to me: drunken kisses and hookups, cigarettes on rooftops after high school dances, a secret love with the boy next door (cheesy, but it’s true). 

My teachers in high school used to warn me to not use high school as just a passing phase, but it was hard to do otherwise. To me, four years in high school meant that every decision and every step I made was an investment in my future. I was so motivated to move away from the place that raised me, so much so that the formative American teenage dream wasn’t even in the realm of my realities. I remember the state I call home as the 18 years I spent defending my identity, hearing racially-coded insults with empty eyes and a smile, walking past subtle white supremacist rallies. I really just wanted to leave. 

And so, I never got my “Hermione at Yule Ball” prom dress moment. At the time, it felt right not to, but I can’t help but have pangs of regret now. I try to imagine myself in the prom dress of my dreams, standing on top of a staircase with cascading fairy lights.   

I still watch the classic 2000s rom-coms with a little resentment. I still wonder how my life would’ve played out differently had I done the things I wanted to do so badly: maybe not the house parties and cigarettes, but homecoming and a senior trip. I’d like to think much wouldn’t have changed, that I still would’ve gotten the chance to leave my hometown and explore a new city and meet new people. 

Perhaps I’m a little relieved that I don’t have a way to confirm or deny this. I try to think back on my teenage years objectively: They happened, and there's no changing that. At the same time, I can't help but wonder what the next decade of my life has in store for me. Despite not living out the quintessential American teenage dream, I forged my own path. I found solace in books and writing, shaping stories that mirrored the adventures I longed for. 

Even though my obsession with teenage magazines ended years ago, I still sometimes find myself scrolling through magazine archives. The sight of girls in cheer skirts and scrunchies brings back nostalgic memories of high school hallways, yet those memories belong to someone else, not me.

Aashi Mendpara is a junior from Orlando, Fla. studying Neuroscience and Anthropology.


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