We opened Bo Burnham’s amazing, beautiful, painful ode to puberty, EIGHTH GRADE, this month.
It was everything I’d hoped.
That “everything” was painful, unflinching, cringe-worthy reality. It was perfect.
Yes, the movie had the tiny kids with flat stomachs and clear skin, who were externally flawless but sometimes awful and bitchy. There were also the kids with muffin tops and acne and braces and flat hair, who were externally flawed, but also sometimes awful and bitchy. Because PUBERTY is awful and bitchy.
I was one of the kids in the latter group.
But I digress.
For this movie, we set out an eighth-grade “memory box” – a shoebox decorated with magazine cutouts and words, exactly the style you might be envisioning from your own childhood. And we put out paper and pens.
The papers read:
“Eighth grade is the worst.” – Yeah, it really was.
Have something you wish you could share with your younger self? Write it down and drop it in the memory box.
Dear 8th Grade Me,
I thought this would be the easiest thing ever to write. Added to this movie’s TOPIC perfection is its TIMELINESS perfection. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my own eighth grade year and oh, man. Talk about being ready to feel like you weren’t alone! I had never been more ready.
From the day of our sneak preview on July 18, I had these blank letters in my possession and initially, I assumed it was just a matter of sitting down and letting the words flow.
Except when I did, they didn’t.
And I remembered eighth grade, man. I was already 5’8″ and somewhere around 135 pounds in the fall of 1988, which, in hindsight, was totally fine. Except that everyone else was smaller/shorter then, so I felt like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. And then, to hide my “giant” body, I wore really, really oversized clothes, because THAT makes it better.
I was forever making lists (because some things never change). But these lists were ways to improve. And every method of improvement was physical.
- Lose 15 pounds
- Stop biting your nails!!
- The hair
- Get mom to let you wear makeup*
*Spoiler alert – mom didn’t let me wear makeup until high school, and then I had no idea how to put it on, so I didn’t, for a lot more years.
I hated my hair, my nose, my broad shoulders. I hated my height. I hated school dances, and frequently turned down dance partners because I didn’t want anyone looking at me. (Sorry, Patrick Sperry, and Dan Hawks, and everyone else I may be forgetting – it really wasn’t you.)
So I thought I was going to write down what many people wrote down – that I turned out okay, not to sweat the small stuff, not to oversleep on school picture day.
And then I went to an Ignition class (Springfield-area women, if you haven’t tried this, oh my god love yourself and do it). During one of the motivational sections, the speaker said something about the importance of being grateful. And I thought to myself, that’s something I’ve always been good at doing.
Then, boom. I started thinking of other things that have stayed with me through the years. I started scrolling through my likes, dislikes, and qualities in general. And every single one of them was present in me 30 years ago. I was good at seizing the moment. I was good at creating my own fun if there wasn’t any in the immediate vicinity. I was good at working to change something if I didn’t like it. I was passionate about reading, writing, and SNL. About live music, baseball and movies.
Hell, I even worked at a movie theater 30 years ago. But “you still work at a movie theater” really didn’t feel like the right message to write to past me, either. I feel like it wouldn’t have gone over well. Also, “Hey nbd but btw your hormones come back with a vengeance in 2018 and you almost kill people with your evil ways before you realize that early menopause is a thing for you” fell flat. If I thought then that I’d still be mopping sticky theater floors and dealing with insane mood swings when I was 43, I’m confident my life would have taken a far different path. One lined with locked doors and padded walls.
So then I looked at what has changed about me. I’m 30 years older, for one thing. I’m roughly the same height and weight (a little taller). I ditched the perm and braces. I finally learned to how to put on eye makeup (right around the time I hit 40). I got new scars, stretch marks, a tattoo, and a couple more piercings. Overall, though, not a lot of difference externally.
And not a lot of difference internally.
In fact, the only thing that’s really different about me is that I know my strength.
Instead of hating my body for its broad shoulders and stretch marks, I love it for being able to easily hoist a kayak, carry a canoe, let my stepsons use my arms for chin-up bars. I love it for being able to hold a five-minute plank, for keeping me loose and limber, and for its killer resting heart rate, steady pulse, and awesome blood pressure.
I’ve made my peace with my nose and wrinkly forehead.
In the end, there really was only one thing I could think of to say to 13-year-old me. And that was the reassurance that we’re still absolutely, beautifully…alive. The mistakes, the missteps, the self-doubt…all of it made us stronger. It made us appreciate the beauty.
And that is absolutely enough. Which is why my note ended up as this.
And just look at the beautiful skin on this 80s kid!