I feel, as I imagine almost everyone does, that my thirteen year old self was a complete embarrassment. She completely indulged in being pretentious: read esteemed poetry and classics she did not understand, attempted to rid her language of modern slang, and was utterly scornful of tracksuit bottoms or hoodies, or even jeans. The only sort of clothing that I deemed acceptable were the 40s-esque tea-dresses from H&M that I thought made me look cool and old-fashioned. Insufferable, right? Thank God I’ve left that phase behind.
I mean, I’m sure I hardly have to spell out the reasons why having gone through such a period in my life is undesirable. For one thing, I cannot believe I actually spoke to people when I was like that. People knew me when I was the sort of person who hated the word ‘awesome’, and tried my hardest to exclaim, “Gosh, that’s awe-inspiring” instead. It’s a cripplingly embarrassing part of my life that I have to live with, and the horror is only lessened by the fact that all my friends were also insufferable thirteen year olds at the time. And yet, with hindsight I can’t help but feel that this mortifying part of my life was a phase that I really had to go through.
To start, I feel I have to offer a modicum of defence for pretentious people. When you come down to it, what’s so bad about being pretentious? For me, at least, it was the sort of character trait that lead to wanting more, a curiosity about improving yourself and seeking higher esteems that could be pretty useful in an otherwise timid preteen, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. People are often so quick to judge and laugh at those who try to reach above their existing status, but can you really pinpoint anything wrong with that? Was it really so awful that Dogberry wanted more for himself in Much Ado About Nothing?
Personally, I ended up reading a lot of books that were way above my level, and pretended to understand them and have deep thoughts about them. This escalated into reading other people’s genuine criticisms and discussions of the books in order to provide myself with intellectual fodder and points to make, and in doing so I sort of accidentally taught myself the foundations of accessing the subtext and subtleties of classic literature. Once you’ve pinpointed the things to look for in a book, it’s suddenly a lot easier to produce your own thoughts and notice your own details, and from then on it’s easier to start the whole process naturally with the next book. These are the skills I needed as I got higher up in my education — as I studied a majority, and then only, humanities subjects — and they’re skills I unlocked by being an irritatingly pretentious thing at age thirteen. (I’m sure people who were terribly pretentious little teens but instead obsessed with science, or maths, found similar effects.)
Of course, I’m aware that this is not the phase that everyone went through at that age, but that doesn’t mean that other awkward preteen phases aren’t just as important. Say you spent your middle school days in love with a certain celebrity, or obsessed with a terrible TV show, and were horrifically outspoken about it? Well, that’s just as important a step. I like to imagine the two options as marking either end of a scale, with the desired outcome being the rough middle-ground between the two. Therefore, no matter which end of the scale you started at, the process of learning to take only the good aspects of your extreme and reaching a more desirable medium is a valuable one.
For example, the danger of my pretentiousness was being so caught up in how people viewed me. I consciously altered my speech and clothing in the desperate hope that people would see me as intelligent and classy, but in doing so I was too afraid to embrace other parts of myself. I was at too extreme an end of the scale, and although I felt proud to show off some of my interests, those I deemed smart, I was suddenly deathly ashamed of my interest in things other thirteen year old girls were interested in. See: my love of The Vampire Diaries. Admittedly if you were to ask me now I’d still readily agree that my love for The Vampire Diaries was a fair thing to be embarrassed about, but the fact remains that it was something I cared about with all the powerful vigour of a preteen girl. This combined with my crippling sense of shame at liking it therefore had the potential to lead to a crisis of self-hate. Although I was embracing the idea of bettering oneself and allowing my fancies of greatness to be indulged, I went too far and ended up guiltily fixating on, and attempting to suppress, the parts of myself that were interested in the mundane, the gratuitous. This was not a good habit to get into.
Therefore, it was completely necessary for me to learn to take aspects from the other end of the scale: learning to respect and accept who you are in your current status, even if it’s not necessarily very high. I think people who are deathly afraid of being seen as pretentious are only holding themselves back, restricting their own potential for fear of being viewed as attempting to reach above their worth, and need to chill out a little and stop caring about what other people think. Likewise, I think people who are deathly afraid of being seen as shallow or stupid are only denying perfectly natural parts of themselves, and need to chill out a little and stop caring about what other people think.
In the end, I’m glad I went through my pretentious phase, but I’m far, far more glad that I managed to come out of it, and managed to relax. Even if, honestly, reaching the middle of the scale is still a process I am working on, it’s a lot better as I am now — towards the middle of the scale and therefore able to laugh about my interest in One Direction without having an aneurysm — than it was before.
Published by Izzy Palmer