Smart Girls Who Do Stupid Things


Blame It On The 20-Somethings

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The feature article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine has, as usual, been released early, with the hopes that it will get enough buzz that people will actually care about a publication that hasn’t been good since Adam Moss was in charge of it (for those who don’t stalk him, he is now running NYMag, which has clearly benefited hugely from his presence). This week, it’s What Is It About 20-Somethings?, as if we’re some kind of amusing trend, to be mentioned along with jeggings and dayglow accessories (which, especially when put together, are actually not that amusing if you ask me).
Flavorwire has a good rundown of all the things problematic with this article that’s worth looking at, especially the points about demographics. But from a historical angle, this period in time at which our generation is coming of age is worth exploring. I suppose it’s not Robin Marantz Henig’s fault that the article was accompanied with some of the most uninteresting pictures ever taken, which merely further the idea that 20-somethings do nothing but hang around and take pictures of themselves with weird lighting (and that the NYTimes is obsessed with hipsters). Except for this one:

Image by Santiago Mostyn

This mural is right across from my house and I’ve loved it since I was a little girl. But no 20-somethings live in my neighborhood, so shockingly enough, this in no way represents the tone of the article.

Anyway, back to history:
“An understanding of the developmental profile of adolescence led, for instance, to the creation of junior high schools in the early 1900s, separating seventh and eighth graders from the younger children in what used to be called primary school. And it led to the recognition that teenagers between 14 and 18, even though they were legally minors, were mature enough to make their own choice of legal guardian in the event of their parents’ deaths. If emerging adulthood is an analogous stage, analogous changes are in the wings.”
It’s unfortunate that Henig’s rundown of the development of adolescence restricts it to the 1900s — in fact, as early as the late 1800s, the entire family structure in American society was shifting so children got more attention from their parents and were no longer treated as mini-adults, expected to work and support the family. The Teenager may not have become a marketable concept until the 1950s, and the Tween not until the 1990s, but both creations were brewing far before then.
The only other thing that really struck home was her section on how current economics may have contributed to the development of this 20-something “Emerging Adult,” because really what else is worth writing about than the recession? Not much, I’m sure. I’m also not sure if it’s as much the recession, but perhaps an overall difference in the quality of life that is attainable for our generation, as compared to the baby-boomer’s. Sometimes I wonder if we just won’t be as prosperous as they were. Henig doesn’t seem to account for the possibility that we’ll have our own 20-something children and not be able to support them. This “Emerging Adult” could merely be a fad, and not part of a changing family structure that’s here to stay for awhile. Everyone says that this recession is the worst since the Great Depression, and perhaps that’s true. But sometimes I think we don’t forget history completely, only the parts that are convenient to forget. We forget the recession in the 1970s that many of our own parents grappled with when they graduated. We also forget that when our parents were 20-somethings, a lot of them probably weren’t doing much of anything either.

It’s Not Easy Being Shallow

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More and more am I digging The Stone, NYT’s pop-philosophy section of its online blog, The Opinionator. Andy Martin’s piece, The Phenomenology of Ugly, may center around the trivial topic of a bad haircut, but more importantly, he expounds on what I have always said: It’s okay to care about being beautiful. Well, more eloquently:

“I always laugh when somebody says, “don’t be so judgmental.” Being judgmental is just what we do. Not being judgmental really would be like death. Normative behavior is normal. That original self-conscious, slightly despairing glance in the mirror (together with, “Is this it?” or “Is that all there is?”) is a great enabler because it compels us to seek improvement. The transcendent is right here right now. What we transcend is our selves. And we can (I am quoting Sartre here) transascend or transdescend. The inevitable dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance is the engine not only of philosophy but of civil society at large. Always providing you don’t end up pulling your hair out by the roots.”

The tension between our American impulse to “be the best that you can be,” but to “not judge a book by it’s cover,” while also remembering that “beauty is only skin deep,” has always fascinated me because it seems like it’s an impossible balance to achieve. The contradiction between these statements is probably remedied by something like “everything in moderation,” another truism that is mildly sickening.

I’m often criticized for having high standards, and for being judgmental. But I’ve always felt that if I’m going to be the best I can be, everyone else out there should be the same. Likewise, why only apply that to the kind of person you are inside? If this is our world, and it’s the only one we have (for right now), I want it to be the best it can be too. And that means I (and as many people around me as possible) should look the part. It’s not shallow — as Martin says, it’s just society. As much as I write, think about and comment on the appearance of people, it doesn’t come from a judgey place; I simply expect a lot from the images presented to me. And to me, that’s more noble than simply not caring.

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