Column: Eighteen candles


Photo credit: Azel Al-Kadiri

As I blow out the candles of seventeen, I bite into the cupcake of adulthood. This new chapter of life is challenging for many women, but I know the journey will be very sweet in the end.

By Azel Al-Kadiri, Columnist

October. A time of unraveled high school seniors, Halloween costumes being frantically ordered and the summer breeze changing to a crisp chill. It’s also the month I turn 18 years old, and well, October has never been so frightening. 

I have been dreaming of this moment for many years now, tossing and turning at who I would be and what I could become. My younger self could think of nothing cooler than being 18, rocking those double digits like some Disney Channel pop star (clearly that fantasy didn’t work out.)

At 18 I would be a perfect, beautiful, independent and unstoppable force who had it all figured out. 

Yeah right, Azel. 

There have been a lot more tears than high school parties, a lot more struggles than boyfriend drama and more self-discovery than selfies. What has been referred to as the “best years of our life” is, in fact, a very strange and difficult time for women. The myth of the teenage lifestyle is as false as her expectations of it, and her denial when she realizes it doesn’t exist. 

I have been thinking a lot about what it means for a woman to turn 18.

This week, the only words I heard more than “happy birthday” were the words “you’re legal now.” At first, I chuckled, laughing at its raunchy insinuation that made me feel older and wiser. Yet each time I heard it, the meaning of “legal” became increasingly strange.  

There is a special time in a girl’s life when she becomes a woman. It’s not the first time she gets her period, or when she starts to wear makeup. A girl becomes a woman the second the world starts treating her like one. 

The first time she is catcalled walking home from school, the first time she is followed in a public place and the first time she dresses for a gaze that isn’t her own. The day a girl becomes a woman is when she has to think like her mother and her mother before her. It’s the day when a girl realizes she can’t be a child anymore because there is a world of men who won’t care what her age is. 

I say all of this because, although I’m 18 now, I have been an adult for many years. 

The concept of adulthood is scary to many people, myself included. As we become legal voters and gain a sense of maturity, there is a loss of innocence glooming over the birthday candles, blowing out the little girl you once were. I found myself looking at photo albums and reminiscing about a simpler time — a time when my biggest worry was what nail polish color I would choose. I miss that. I miss her. 

There was always this safety net in being a minor; that because I was a kid, bad things shouldn’t happen to me, that people should be nice to me and that I was allowed to make as many mistakes as I want. I sit here now, a fresh 18, wondering if those rules still apply. I feel like I have signed some kind of contract that states that men are entitled to harass me and the ugly tattoo I may choose to get on my arm is completely my fault. 

I feel like the meaning of 18 is different for men and women. From a young age, we are told that men mature slower and are “behind” mentally. As a result, women are told to date older men and have patience towards their undeveloped prefrontal cortex.

What was once a scientific fact has become an excuse for men and their bad behavior. It has created a social expectation for women to be psychologically advanced in their teenage years. At 18, we can become mothers to children and mothers to our partners.

It freaks me out. What if I’m not ready?

It’s only been a week, but I have learned from my taste of adulthood so far that no one really knows what they are doing. We learn and we grow, making as many mistakes as we have to. I’m prepared to make a fool out of myself in the process.

Aging is a privilege, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I spent my birthday with my beautiful friends and family who treated me like the princess I dreamed of being at 18. When I blew out my candles, I wasn’t thinking about the struggles or problems that would come with adulthood. Instead, I closed my eyes and saw all of the possibilities and joy coming my way. 

Someone get me a Disney show.