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Sophia Simon-Bashall

Ode to the teenage diary

Author:
dear diary

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

I feel as though when I say that I keep a diary, people look at me differently. There’s something judgemental in their response. That’s something that I’m used to, because I was a teenage girl for a pretty long time, and I’m a massive One Direction fan – most people tend to look down on people who meet this criteria. Actually, there’s a link there. People who like One Direction and people who write diaries can be anyone, but what demographic are they traditionally associated with? That’s right – teenage girls.

Obviously, I’m a cheerleader for teenage girls. I love teenage girls and I have experienced first-hand how smart they can be, how kind they can be, how strong and brave and creative they can be.

I am also a cheerleader for diaries and journaling. I believe that there is so much value in this practice, especially as something in the life of a teenage girl.

In a culture which teaches girls to hold back our emotions; to be good and sit pretty; where we are to be seen and not heard – writing a diary is an amazing release. Our diaries are private spaces, and nobody can criticise or judge us. Our diaries are places where we are allowed to let it out. All of it.

Anger is a particularly difficult emotion for a lot of girls to express, because we’ve been taught that it’s an ‘ugly’ emotion. I really struggle with it, and tend to only ever direct it onto myself. But if I take the time to sit down with my journal (or any old notebook, even a scrap piece of paper – and failing that, the notes app in my phone) I can get out some of that pent up rage. I can release my frustrations, and it doesn’t cause any harm to me or to anyone else. I also like that because nobody else is going to see what I write, it can be messy visually, too. I like things to be ‘perfect’, because I like to have people’s approval. In the comfort of my own pages, I don’t need anybody’s approval. I can, for once, relax, and scribble away.

It’s not just the emotions of girls that are undervalued, but our everyday experiences. We are taught to value what upper-middle class white men say, and to ignore the lessons we learn in our own lives. We learn early in life to question what we have to contribute to the world, we are told the story of our irrationality, our fickleness, our naivety. When we write in our diaries, we tell ourselves a new narrative. When we write about our lives, we are writing to remind ourselves that we have something to say and that it matters.

As a teenage girl, I was told often that my mood swings were normal, ‘just hormonal’, and that I was overdramatic. Now, I cannot say that I was not dramatic – I remain so to this day – but I can say that these comments were dismissive. They told me that other people knew best what was going on in my head, and that stopped me from talking about it. I even told myself, “you’re making this all up”, “this isn’t real”. I didn’t believe in my own version of events, I didn’t trust myself in the slightest. Finding that self-trust is something I’m still working on. But I am always learning, and my diary is instrumental in that discovery. At 15 years old, reading my own diary entry from the day before was what made me wake up, and realise that what was going on in my head was serious. At 19, it is what made me stop denying the truth and recognise the significance of what I was feeling – my diary helped me to end a relationship I was no longer happy in, and leave a space that was triggering my anxiety and depression to the extreme. My diary saved me from my own denial.

This record of memories and the validation of our personal experiences is also important to our identity. It is so easy for your sense of who you are to get tangled up with who you’re ‘supposed to be’. Teenage girls are thrown hundreds of mixed messages every single day, and we lose ourselves to it all. We allow ourselves to be defined by others and simply categorised. Not because we want to be, but because it’s overwhelming, and it can feel like the easiest option to play pretend. But in our diaries, we can take off the masks. We can be honest, and that is healing.

Nobody’s identity is static, but mine is particularly erratic. I have spent my life moulding myself into different forms, usually out of a sense of desperation, a need to be seen, a fear of being abandoned by the people I loved. For me, identity is something I don’t understand – none of the people I’ve been in the past really feel like me. When I read through old diaries, it’s painful. “I don’t know her”, I think, going through the journal I kept during my hospitalisation at 15 years old. But as uncomfortable as my past selves make me, it’s important that I connect with them, learn to accept them and, ultimately, forgive them. And when I read my old diaries, I learn about who they were, and by extension who I am. This was the only place that I was honest, and so it gives me an insight to thought patterns; shows me the consistencies in my likes and dislikes; proves to me that there is a thread which connects me to myself. I’m not just fragments.

In defence of fanfiction

Author:
fanfics

I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was 13 years old – I am almost 20 – and I am unashamed of that fact. I believe in the power of this medium. Middle-aged white men may not see the value inherent in fanfic, and the rest of the world may ridicule fangirls and our “creepy/obsessive/weird” hobby, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. After all, aren’t some of the best things about the modern world widely misunderstood and undervalued? Aren’t selfies seen as proof of the ‘fact’ that young women are shallow, vapid creatures? Isn’t YouTube culture deemed as evidence that entertainment is in decay? And yet, think of the brilliance and importance of these things, of how selfies can promote self-love, and of how YouTube allows anyone (with access to a computer – still a massive privilege, of course) to be a creator? Fanfiction has similar value. Trust me, it’s played a significant part in shaping my life and who I am.

As a young teenager, I felt incredibly isolated. I had friends at school, but for several years I was unable to be honest with them – about my emotions, my sexuality, about anything substantial. Thankfully, there was the internet. More specifically, there was the One Direction fandom. It was whilst the band were on The X-Factor UK in 2010 that I found a community for myself, and I am immensely grateful for that. I remember very clearly the evening I went on Twitter, as usual, and one of my mutual followers posted about wanting to write a fic featuring female characters based on herself and a bunch of her fandom friends. I ended up being one of them – the fic concept being of us, as a girl band rivalling One Direction on the X-Factor (but being super close friends with them all, of course!). Each of us in that group ended up writing our own fics, and we all included each other in them. I remember feeling like I belonged, like I finally had a place. That circle of friends – and the stories we created together – was integral to my survival at that point. I was more than a bit miserable at school, but I knew that at the end of every day, my computer was waiting for me. I had something to escape into – the latest chapters of my friends’ fics, and the chatter that followed reading. And I had a purpose – I had my own fic to write, and people who wanted to read it, people who wanted to know my thoughts. Although it was fiction, my group all inserted real life issues into our stories – I remember vividly how one of my friends wrote my character’s body image issues, and finding so much comfort in reading it. The comfort that ‘I’ was given in this fictional world translated into real life. I eventually lost touch with those girls, but I never lost what they gave me. I will always value their friendship, and I will always value the way that fanfiction brought us together.

Fanfiction has not only helped to connect me to others, it’s helped me to connect to myself, too. I have never been comfortable in my sexuality, never really sure of ‘where I fit’ in regards to labels. Bisexual is the word I used to define myself for many years, but it was never quite right, and that always inhibited me considerably. This discomfort only intensified as I began to surround myself with queer friends, people who were out and proud and sure of their sexuality – as I became more and more immersed in queer culture, the more of a fraud I felt. Fanfiction was the thing that began to change that, because it was through fanfiction that I first came across the labels that I felt a true connection to. It was in fanfiction that I came across the concept of asexuality, and suddenly there was a possibility in the back of my mind that I wasn’t ‘failing’, that my general disinterest in sex did not necessarily mean that I was inherently lacking. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I ‘fit’ asexuality, because I did not 100% ‘meet the criteria’. For a few months, I was more confused than ever before, and it was immensely distressing. I began to strongly believe that I was defective – sexuality being one of many things that I felt I did not have ‘a fixed place’ in, one of the many things that left me in a grey area. And then came the fic that changed my life. I’m not even exaggerating. This was a high school AU, and in this fic, the two main characters – Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – defined as grey-ace and demisexual, respectively. I had heard of the latter, but not fully understood what it meant, and – having a friend who defined this way – I wanted to. The former, on the other hand, was a term I had never come across before – intrigued, I looked it up. The results of my Google search were like a slap in the face. Except, pleasant. It was the first time I had sighed with relief at a simple word, the first time that I did not feel like I had to reach for a label and clutch desperately at it. It was the first time I’d latched onto something – not only in regards to my sexuality – that felt natural, easy. It was the first time I realised something important, that I am not defective, and what I feel (and don’t feel) is completely valid. It continues to amaze me that something so monumental in my life was a result of reading fanfiction, and serves as a reminder that doing what you love can have some huge results, beyond anything you could possibly imagine.

Fanfiction has been many things for me over the years – a place of community, of creativity, and of self-discovery. But perhaps the simplest and most important thing that fanfiction has done for me is given me a place to call home. Of course, that’s fandom in general – in the worst of times, One Direction have always been my retreat, my safe place – but fanfiction is perhaps a particularly special extension of that. As a life-long book nerd/story obsessive, it is the part of fanfiction that matters to me most because it encompasses all of myself, and it provides me with an escape of multiple dimensions. I will never understand why the rest of the world can’t see the beauty in that, but I’m not too bothered about that anymore. I know that I am never on my own in what I believe in and care about, and the proof is in this fandom.

Louise O’Neill Discusses “Asking For It”

Author:
louise

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

CN: Discussion of r*pe culture and victim blaming

In the summer, I was lucky enough to hear the Irish author Louise O’Neill talk about her ground-breaking novel, Asking For It, at my local bookshop. It was an incredible evening, and Louise made some very poignant points. I feel it would be selfish of me not to share some of them…

Louise on DARKNESS IN YA:

“There’s always a big debate on whether or not my books are YA. I’ve been told that they’re too dark and bleak for YA. I mean, have these people ever been teenagers? When I was 16, I genuinely thought that Sylvia Plath was the only person who understood me.”

Louise on TELLING THE TRUTH IN FICTION:

“I set out to write the truth, to be authentic, and if that makes people uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing. I can understand discomfort when reading about rape, you SHOULD be uncomfortable with it. It was especially important to me in writing Asking For It because there is such a culture of shame that silences victims. It’s ‘what were you doing?’, ‘what were you wearing?’, ‘how much did you have to drink?’, ‘why did you go back to his house?’. You just hear ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’, ‘your fault’. Victims are being made to feel ashamed, but that’s wrong. It’s the rapists, they’re the ones who should feel ashamed.”

Louise on THE RECEPTION OF CHARACTERS:

“It’s interesting to me that Emma (Asking For It protagonist) is described as ‘unlikable’, because who says she has to be likable? That was never my goal. Male characters are never treated in the same way – the male antihero is well established in literature, but with women it’s shocking. People are shocked by women who are not ‘nice’. But female characters need to be compelling, not necessarily ‘likable’.”

Louise on ENDINGS (*spoiler alert!*):

“I definitely resist neat endings, I don’t like them and I don’t write them because they don’t feel real, they are not true to life.

Of course I wanted Emma to take the case further, but it doesn’t matter what I wanted her to do. It’s about what she would do. Also, my research showed that conviction rates with these cases are very low, especially in Ireland. I wanted the book to reflect the reality in which she lived. That’s why it ends the way it does.”

(you can pick up Asking For It here)

Boybands are the best

Author:
Zeyn

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

(DISCLAIMER: I use the term ‘boyband’ loosely. I do not think of 5 Seconds of Summer as a boyband in the same way that I see One Direction as one. However, I believe that many of the objections to this labelling of them stem from a problematic place. I do not use it derogatorily – to me, there is nothing derogatory about the term ‘boyband’.)

I used to think of myself as too cool for school – or rather, too punk rock for ‘meaningless, mind-numbing’ chart music. I had special disdain for fangirls, for people who loved particular pop artists with any degree of intensity. I believed that my devotion to my favourite bands was different – superior even – because the bands that I loved wrote their own songs, and their songs MEANT something. I laugh at the irony of that now, considering my favourite band has written songs with the titles Poppin’ Champagne and Stella – the latter of which is indeed a song about beer. OH THE DEPTH. Alas, when I saw groups of girls wearing their JLS hoodies, I scoffed and rolled my eyes. I told anyone who would listen that those girls were zombies with no opinions of their own, that they were completely brainwashed. I said that these artists were not in fact artists, that their music was not ‘real’ music. Oh yes, I was one of those people.

Fast forward a few years, and you’d have a hard time believing that was ever me.

I am someone who sobbed for hours on the day that Zayn left One Direction, someone who was highly sensitive to the terrible ‘Two Directions’ joke that seemingly everyone came out with in the weeks following. I am someone who has read a considerable amount of Larry Stylinson fan fiction. I have even written a little. I am someone who goes to see 5 Seconds of Summer concerts and takes 100 blurry pictures, and later captions every single one with HEARTACHE ON THE BIG SCREEN. I am someone who’s lock screen is of Michael Clifford, someone who stares lovingly at said image periodically throughout the day. I am someone who thinks about Michael Clifford constantly, someone who frets over his sleeping patterns and stress levels, as if I am his mother. Oh yes, I am one of THOSE people.

Once upon a time, I despised boyband fangirls. Now, not only am I one myself, but I love the others immensely. I actually think one of my favourite things about being a fan of these artists is the other fans. I recently went to see 5SOS on the UK leg of their Sounds Live, Feels Live tour, and it was amazing. The boys themselves were, of course, fantastic, but it was the way that they connected me to the thousands of people – predominantly teenage girls – in the room that made the night so special. The New Broken Scene is no empty sentiment; it’s real – in our screams and joy and boundless passion, we were united. I had never met the girls next to me before, but we danced to Hey Everybody together, and delightedly screamed “OH MY GOD” in each other’s faces whenever our faves did something OMG worthy. (FYI, OMG worthy actions include breathing. Have you even lived if you haven’t witnessed Michael Clifford breathing IRL though???)

Band

 

It’s funny to me that having a fanbase of predominantly young girls is deemed a kind of condemnation – surely, by now, the history of pop music has taught us that teenage girls are the most powerful people on the planet. It is teenage girls who launch musicians into success, even into icon status. If you’re a middle-aged man dismissing 5SOS because they attract excitable and emotional teenage girls, you might want to remember who made the Beatles’ career.

With the rest of the world’s disdain for teenage girls, the boys of boybands are a relief – they understand how incredible we are, they appreciate us, and they remind us constantly of how awesome we are. Their affirmation of our existence and worth is significant to us – it’s nice to have someone who doesn’t treat you with scorn. It’s also nice to have somebody with power advocating for you – another rarity. The action/1D campaign was arguably the best thing of all time, because the values and opinions of teenage girls were respected and listened to on a big scale, rather than undermined or dismissed.

More recently, Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer proved that he was, quite frankly, better than everybody else. The band were asked in an interview about fan fiction. People in the spotlight are always either uncomfortable with this topic, or ridiculing of it. 5SOS, refreshingly, made jokes entirely at their own expense, complaining only that the romantic standards typically present in these fan creations made them look bad. They didn’t mock the creators, they mocked themselves. This in itself was astonishing to me, but when Ashton continued to discuss it, I was seriously amazed. He said that he thinks it’s cool that young people are creating things, and he loves that fan fiction is a window into our minds – it is a way of understanding what we think about, and the way we think. This was the first time that I’ve ever heard a famous person acknowledge the value of this form, the first time it has been understood. As someone deeply invested in fan fiction, this mattered a lot to me – so much that I may have even shed a tear or two. It was through fan fiction that I finally discovered last year that there is a name for the way I experience sexuality; that I am not defective; that there are other people like me; that I am whole. It was in fan fiction that I found my voice again after losing it, that I was able to let loose creatively, and it is fan fiction that I turn to again and again when I am struggling to write fiction but feel a desperate need to. Fan fiction is a huge part of fandom for me, a huge part of life in general. I am deeply touched that Ashton appreciates this thing that matters to me so immensely.

In summary: boybands are the best thing in the whole world. Other than teenage girls. But boybands definitely come in a very close second. There is no shame in loving them – in fact, I believe that it is something to be proud of. Your passion is beautiful, and it is a part of something big, something extremely powerful. Embrace it.

Tonight Alive are Limitless

Author:
Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 4.16.47 PM

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

It’s no secret that I love Tonight Alive. If asked to name just one woman who inspires me, Jenna McDougall would be the name on my lips, without a doubt. I could write endless essays on her – and the band’s – significance to me; I have found so much empowerment in listening to them talk, listening to their songs, watching them perform, watching them interact. There’s a special energy about this band, there’s something about them that makes them so much more than a band. Tonight Alive are a movement.

I saw them at the Birmingham Institute recently, introducing their new album Limitless. The moment that they walked on stage, and the first verse of To Be Free – my current ‘power boost’ song – began, I felt a shift in my body. My smile widened, and with it, my entire being expanded. Throughout that show, I grew and grew. This band take me to spiritual places that I struggle to access otherwise.

That is the undeniable power of Tonight Alive. They don’t just encourage growth, they demand it. You don’t go to a Tonight Alive show without leaving with questions, with new ideas, with hope. They expose uncomfortable truths, they make you want to be better. They show you that it is possible to be free, and they remind you that “you always have a say”. They ask you what you are so scared of, and convince you that there is no need to be – after all, you have oceans inside of you, you can take on anything.

Their last album, The Other Side, is everything to me – I feel every second of every song 100%. When it came out, it felt like Jenna understood me, which was incredibly important at the time. And I am certain that nothing will ever matter more than hearing the song Hell & Back live – that song is my happiest place. TOS allowed me to grow and heal and I am endlessly grateful that it exists.

I did not believe that TOS could be matched, let alone surpassed.

But Limitless has come at me with force and screams I AM THE GREATEST. Literally.

I’ve always thought of Tonight Alive as a pop-punk band. But this isn’t a pop-punk album. And I’m not sorry about that at all. The band has grown, and I respect that. I love that, in fact. Pop-punk is a genre of a strange mixture – parties and complaining – and it is not one that fits the ethos of this band. This is a band with a vision, a purpose, and the epic proportions of this album correlates to that.

Jenna’s voice soars above everything, and is the strongest I have ever heard of. It’s stunning. It’s powerful and confident. On The Other Side, she pleads for respect, she begs to be heard, as with Say Please. Here, the respect and validation comes from within. This is a young woman who knows herself, is comfortable, and doesn’t need external forces to solidify that. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Limitless is bursting with affirmations, and I have already cried screaming them into my pillow approximately 50 times. They are things that I have needed to hear, and am desperately trying to believe. The stand out track, for me, is Power of One, which opens with “I exist with a fierce intention”, and closes with “The one thing I’ve learned, it all made me who I am”. It’s this album’s Hell & Back, it’s the song that I need more than anything right now. Tonight Alive always seem to do that – be exactly what I need at any given moment. I am so grateful to have had them over the past five years of my life. I am so excited to grow and heal even more with them, as I know I will. That’s what Limitless is all about, what Tonight Alive are all about.

This album will wake you up, if only you let it.

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