By: Gabriela Yareliz
For those of us who grew up in the 90s-2000s, pop had such a big influence on us. There were the classic pop artists, like Britney Spears, Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson. These were the sweet, bubblegum, “wholesome” idols of the age. We loved them.
Then, there were the slightly edgier ones like Christina Aguilera (later called Xtina) and Jennifer Lopez (later called JLo).
Then, there was a separate class of artist– the one that was extra unique and dared. They were eclectic and unapologetic. I loved this type of artist. In Spanish, I was a fan of Paulina Rubio and Shakira (when she had that bright red hair. If you know, you know). I loved watching Paulina Rubio music videos where she would tell her crummy boyfriends that she would send them to the moon on a rocket, and she would stroll onto the red carpet in these exaggerated fur-like coats. And Shakira… well, believe it or not I was an avid and pretty good impersonator of her old music. I would perform for the family. My grandfather got me her cassette for my 9th birthday.
Then, in English-language music, there was Pink and the iconic Gwen Stefani. I was a huge fan.
These women’s music was always playing in the background of life, while growing up (whether it was radio, pep rallies at school and at the mall (the hangout place of every millennial in their youth)). What these women in this last category have in common (other than the fact that they all dyed their hair wild colors at some point) is they exhibited what was considered almost a masculine-feminine vibe as they were assertive, strong and seemed to not care what anyone thought about them. They didn’t encourage us to look like them, they encouraged us to look like ourselves.
Growing up in a school environment where your status was often marked by your look– you know, we had the goths, punks, people with Dooney & Burke handbags and the ones who wore Abercrombie & Fitch (no idea how people could afford this)– I made my own looks from practical, nonpreppy classics. My look was not really branded (unless Arizona Jeans Co. counts or that awesome Mary-Kate and Ashley line at Walmart– loved this), so I knew early on I was gonna be known for my personality and not my JCPenney corduroy pants (JCP always has a special place in my heart, as this was my mom’s go-to store). I loved the idea that I didn’t belong to a box or brand, and there was no specific look I always had to project. I could look however I wanted to look on any given day. I am grateful I grew up like that. I once made my own version of this top from ABC Family’s TV show So Little Time. I cut a t-shirt and made it sleeveless and used Sharpie to write on it.
I was the girl who wore fishnet tights to church. Yep. Scandalous.
Before we moved to Florida to start our lives again (fresh start), I cut off all my hair into a pixie, like Mandy Moore in How to Deal, and as we arrived in the sunshine state, I got some purple hairspray, which didn’t even show up on my dark, dark hair. If you don’t believe I had moxie, take a look at this haircut below– I got it at the age of 13. This book and movie defined a huge chunk of my adolescence. I am grateful to it in many ways. It was sort of a life raft in the middle of a crazy and early loss of childhood. I owe Sarah Dessen (the author) a lot. Stories can empower us, make us bold and change us.
More from my adolescence– I once had someone from church ask me if I was depressed due to the fact that I wore black nail polish on my toenails. I was so tired of the inquiries that I just shrugged it off and let people believe what they wanted. (See, now it’s cool and mainstream to have black nails, and many women go to it as an easy color choice– back then, black nail polish was not so widely accepted). Ironically, there was nothing profound in my choice of black nail polish. I just thought it looked cool. It was different. I have always loved different. It captured my attention, when I saw Ashlee Simpson in the Pieces of Me music video. It was something that brought me joy when a lot in life was uncertain and crumbling. It’s not that I wore glitter on my face and black nail polish for attention; it was for me.
Here we are, years later, and I am not wearing any nail polish at all (people sometimes focus on the dumbest minutiae). Time passes, and we all evolve. Why this trip down memory lane? I’ve noticed that the older I get, a little piece of my childhood weirdness keeps re-emerging. You know, I will wear a weird headband or bandana just for the hell of it. I still like glitter. Society tries to hammer us into labels and boxes, but I really never want to fit into that. I hope the childhood weirdness continues to give me my quirks.
Listen, maybe you weren’t into these artists that influenced me. We all have such different experiences. But someone did influence you. You are unique, and you have your own memories, I am sure. No matter who you are, together, we evolve, but we are still the same people with many of the same interests and peculiarities. I was reminded of how this shouldn’t change in Gwen Stefani’s new song “Let me reintroduce myself”. People are so focused on reinvention and trying to fit in, fit in, fit in. If you don’t believe me, open any social media. People look the same.
In the song, Gwen reminds us she is the original her. And you and I are also the original versions of ourselves. She says she’s not here for a comeback or reinvention. No. She is recycling herself.
Some lines from her new song:
“The simple recipe to get the best of me
homegrown ingredients, that’s what made you mess with me”
“Not a comeback, I’m recycling me
It’s not a comeback, you feel that new energy”
Be organic. Dig deep and find that bit of magical childhood fun (whatever that was for you). Be who you always wanted to be and use your qualities for good and to empower and help others. I wanted to be bold and in a way, fearless. I hope I channel that in my job, as I advocate for others. Hey, maybe you were the Abercrombie wearing kid or someone who was matchy-matchy or maybe you were a little emo– nothing wrong with that. Just make sure you are who you want to be, not who you are being told to be. The truth is none of us stays in one place, in one state, in one condition.
It’s 2021. There is all this pressure to do what we couldn’t in 2020, to look a certain way, to do that exercise, to cook a certain way maybe, to go to certain places, to pose a certain way, to get those photos, to make your space look Instagrammable. Whatever.
This new year, instead of letting something go to waste or trying to shape yourself to look like a replica, don’t forget to recycle.
I’ll be recycling me.