Let’s be honest. I’ve never been cool. I suppose my early childhood was an exception, as at least I fit the stereotype for the age—I permitted my mother to dress me adorably, cuddled a toy Barney wherever I went, and dressed in nothing but purple from head to toe. However, things went downhill rapidly from there. As soon as puberty loomed, the eccentric but rather cute and acceptable purple outfits morphed horrifically into cargo pants and baggy Gap hoodies made of fleece. I don’t think I wore much else for the better part of 4 years. Let’s just say I tend not to revisit those family photo albums.
But, wardrobe choices aside, it is my activities that will forever resign me to the deepest realms of nerdism. I played and collected Yu-Gi-Oh cards. I watched cartoons intended for Japanese teenage boys. I played Neopets far beyond the time when it was socially permissible. And I can honestly say that the day I received my first Game Boy was one of the happiest moments of my life. If I had to conjure up a Patronus right now to ward off a few stray Dementors, I think that would be the memory I’d choose for inspiration. That little purple console was a window into endless hours of video game enjoyment, which endowed me with a variety of important life skills—for example, the ability to name at least 200 Pokémon (ok I lie, more like 400), the ability to pilot a banshee with great skill and to stay the course on Rainbow Road even with the speed boost of a triple mushroom.
And when I wasn’t tapping buttons and staring at screens, I was gobbling up fantasy books—the more unicorns, dragons and magic, the better. I’ve lost count of the number of worlds my imagination travelled to, and the number of fantastical creatures of my own that I created, drew pictures of, and wrote stories about. Some of my most contented moments as a socially awkward early teen were spent in the company of these magicians and fire-breathing beasts in an escape from the judging eyes of schoolwork and classmates to worlds so unlike my own that there was never any hint of comparison.
But there was a definite point when I started to become acutely embarrassed by the books I was reading and the nerdy websites I frequented. I was at an urban school surrounded by hordes of trendy girls who could talk of nothing but booze and boys as soon as they hit age 13. I felt so far from them, I might as well have been on another planet. I was still thinking about unicorns, and as you can imagine, the concepts of unicorns and late night partying do not really blend so well. As soon as I started to become more aware of how ‘abnormal’ I was, I became a much less happy person, trying to conform myself to what I thought I should be.
I’ve since managed to muddle my way through adolescence to find my own sense of style, friends, and social life, and thus have less need for my old imaginative excursions. But it has always bothered me that girls simply aren’t, socially speaking, expected to play videogames or read fantasy, at least in the uptight world I’ve been raised in. Why is it acceptable for boys to escape the stresses of life to imaginary worlds on their Xboxes, while girls can only gossip and spend time looking pretty? Obviously this is somewhat an exaggeration, but it’s safe to say I’d get more than a few strange stares if I whipped out my Game Boy nowadays—from males and females alike.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t take back those awkward days as a 14-year-old who read about unicorns and still thought about grand adventures of wizards in far-off lands. Because honestly, I think I just stayed a kid for longer than other ‘normal’ people. And what’s wrong with that? Once you grow up, there’s no going back. And there’s something to be said for retaining a childlike imagination throughout life—it’s what frees us from the monotony of work and externally defined rules of living.
And regarding my indignation about society’s lack of space for acceptance of a female nerd, I think the issue comes down to a personal choice—whether you define yourself or allow others to define you. For as soon as you let all the outside noise fade, you stop judging yourself and the little escapes that make you happy. Of course, I love spending time with my girlfriends and picking out dresses for a social event. But I’m also just as happy curled up with a Game of Thrones book, imagining epic sword battles in another world.