The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Introduction: Becoming Ourselves
Jessica Flayser

Identity refers to much more than what you can see on the outside; what people can’t see about you is just as important. But that’s not always obvious to an adolescent. It took me until age 16 to figure out that I should also look inward for my identity.

Going into middle school, I didn’t know who I was, so I looked around to see who was having the most fun. Who was popular? It seemed to be the tomboys, so I wore jeans and sneakers, spoke roughly, and used slang. Being a tomboy didn’t express anything about me; it was just a popularity stunt because tomboys were trendy. It worked; my name was mentioned when other students spoke about the popular girls.

In high school, attention from boys became important, so I changed my look to a girly girl. I wore dresses, skirts, and ballerina flats. I still cared how everyone viewed me, and being popular was more important than ever. Who did boys want to date? Who did other girls admire or even envy? They were the girls who the teen movies call “the plastics,” the superficial, pretty, popular girls. The studious girls in corduroys didn’t seem to be having any fun and they got made fun of. I made my way into a popular group of girls who talked about boys, clothes, plans for the weekend, and magazines instead of books. Looking good was very important to this group.

I preferred my girly girl self over the tomboy because it felt more true to me—I am feminine and like to look pretty—but after two years I realized I wasn’t comfortable with this new me. Constant self-consciousness felt unnatural, and the narrow range of things we discussed was boring. I wanted to talk about the Sandy Hook shooting when it happened, for example, but my friends just said, “That’s sad,” and went back to talking about their Christmas plans.

image by YC-Art Dept

About two years ago, at 16, I realized that all the words I’d been using to identify myself were outer things: a tomboy, a plastic, and more generally black girl, teen, and student. I started to wonder about the me who others can’t see. How would I label myself based on the roles I play in life and my less visible qualities? So I added “giver,” “Christian,” and “optimist.” I didn’t list these qualities on social media; it was more of a face-to-face with myself.

I still like looking good, but having depth brings me freedom. I don’t have to join a clique to find people with common interests. Being up-to-date with what’s going on in the world allows me to be friends with a wider variety of people. My friendships feel more genuine now and, so far, longer-lasting.

Though identity keeps shifting throughout life, teens and young adults are especially busy figuring out the selves we want to build. In this issue of Represent we explore many forms of identity, some permanent, some less so. We write about how you can discover things about yourself through your daydreams, your art, and your writing.

Our writers also look at shifts in religious identities, sexual identities, and social groups. Those shifts can connect you to others but can also pull you away from family or friends: Evolution is painful sometimes. We have stories on how identities are imposed on sexually active girls and on nonwhite and gay people, and how to overcome being slurred for what you do or who you are. We hope this issue helps you reflect on your own process of becoming yourself.

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