Rayanne Graff is a spastic blur of barrettes and braids in my childhood memory. What got me interested in her again, though, was Tavi Gevinson’s wonderfully comprehensive post on Rayanne’s clothing throughout the MSCL series. Fifteen-year old Tavi considered Rayanne not a peer, but a historical object. It was somehow profoundly mindblowing to me that the stuff I did growing up, the stuff I lived through is now “history.” The enthusiastic response to the Rayanne Project suggests a lot of other people are feeling this too. And, of course, our late-twentieth century girlhoods will only seriously be considered a part of history if we insist upon it and articulate its contours. According to Kelly Schrum in Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls’ Culture, 1920-1945, “the enormous amount of attention paid to female youth by the fashion, beauty, and media industries” in the 1990s was an amount only rivaled by “the girl-centered commercial frenzy of the 1940s” (40). We grew up in a moment intensely interested in the production of girlhood and didn’t really know it. But we can sense, instinctively, looking back, that lots of weird stuff went on in the 90s that inevitably shaped who we are today: Clarissa, the Spice Girls, American Girl dolls, the Baby-Sitters Club, Winona Ryder, The Little Mermaid, Tia and Tamara… It is up for us to decide what all this meant – or it gets shoved away only to return during Quiz Night, and we continue thinking that the teenage girl’s experience has basically been “universal” and “timeless” since 1950 (or that we’re all promiscuous bulimic wrist cutters à la Reviving Ophelia or Go Ask Alice).
This is especially important as a feminist project because so many women of our generation still consider themselves “girls” (in an empowered way, not in a Mad Men way). At 26, I count myself among them. Why was this experience so formative — so positive? — that we don’t feel the need to graduate to the status of “woman”? How should we justify and embrace our self-definition as twentysomething-year old “girls”? How can we understand ourselves as legitimate subjects and agents of history? These are important questions, and I look forward to exploring them.
Melissa Phruksachart lives in New York City, where she is studying for her PhD in American Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center.