August 14, 2021
As of this year, I am officially 10 years out of high school. Only a few years ago, I would’ve called myself the world’s oldest teenager. Then came a pandemic year of infinite doomscrolling through hours upon hours of TikToks of 13-year-olds telling me that my entire generation of Harry Potter-quoting, BuzzFeed listicle-writing, unpaid internship-having mouth breathers are, shocker, kind of embarrassing.
The problem is, as much as it strikes a nerve, the kids are not completely off base. For a solid chunk of the early aughts, we were told that unless you had dead hair and an Abercrombie cropped tee, you were probably (brace for impact) categorically uncool. The goal was to not stick out; avoiding embarrassment was our tweenage modus operandi. I can duck out of any party without leaving as much as a cup out of place, and that kind of skill does not come without years of trying not to be seen.
If you were a Brown kid with an accent attending middle school in suburban Wisconsin, well, that just added some extra stuff to make you really stick out. Everything I lived and everything I saw — from Bend It Like Beckham to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham — made me believe that my Indian identity was always going to be at odds with my American one. Everything felt like an awkward culture clash. My bootleg Converse hightops I picked up from Fashion Street one summer in Mumbai were embarrassing. The days I went to school with hair smelling like Dabur amla oil were embarrassing. The pieced together “lehenga” I wore for sixth grade school picture day, complete with a 10-pound gold tulle skirt from Ross Dress for Less, was embarrassing. Or rather, none of these things were actually embarrassing, I was embarrassing.