When I was 12, I thought the key to being liked by my peers, success in junior high and life thereafter, and happiness in general was a pair of Guess jeans (the kind with the triangular logo on the back pocket, probably a light blue wash) and a horizontally-striped Guess logo shirt. It seems silly now, but that was what the popular girls were wearing, and what was displayed on the spreads in Seventeen magazine (which, yes, I was reading at 12). Oh, and the popular girls were also wearing bras (which they actually needed), but “actually needing a bra” wasn’t really a reasonable Christmas list item. Santa doesn’t deal in such things until you’re old enough for surgery.
I also avidly read the advice columns in the teen magazines. I had visions of categorizing them so that I could look up the correct issue at a moment’s notice and get the advice I needed. It would go like this: I would have a notebook (never realized — yet!), and a problem. Example: “My best friend’s boyfriend is always extra nice to me, and I think he might like me more than her. She is in love with him, but I kind of like him, too. What should I do?” I would go to the “Boys” section, then specifically to the “Boys as part of love triangle with best friend” section, find all of the relevant columns, go to the appropriate issues and pages, read, and act accordingly. If only I could do this, I would never make mistakes. Not ever.
These are some of the early signs of a librarian at heart, by the way.
Anyway, I look back on myself as a twelve-year-old and feel silly. The Guess jeans I got for Christmas in 1993 didn’t make me happier or more popular, and I grew out of them within a year, probably less (ahh, puberty), and anyway, they went out of style and something else became the key to happiness and success. But I see this little thread running through my whole adolescent life, into my adult life. I still have bits of these master plans — if only ______, then I’d be happy/successful/desirable/content/whatever. I think we all have these ideas, whether we think we the key to a good life is the perfect job, more time, a family, a significant other, more motivation, a child, twenty less pounds, a house, a bigger house, or an iPhone. These are our adult Guess jeans, and we have them even though we know deep down (or at least hope) that it’s more about who we are and what (intangible) stuff we have inside us than any of these external things.
Luckily I came to my senses (and the end of my luxurious magazine budget) when I was about 18, and haven’t really looked back (this is part of the reason I’m hopelessly fashion-less). I still kind of want an advice database, but of course there is never one right answer for everyone in every situation, so an advice database doesn’t exist. Well, it probably does, but we’re probably better off consulting friends, mentors, and professionals than generic advice columns. A budding actress friend once asked herself the question, and then answered it: “Where does one go to get famous? That’s the thing — it’s different for everyone!” We can replace that first question with pretty much anything — How can I be a better/happier person? What should I do to make my life more meaningful? Etc. It’s different for everyone. And Guess jeans probably aren’t the answer for anyone, not even Anna Nicole Smith.