In high school, my day would begin a little something like this.
Lady Gaga blared from my alarm clock at 6 a.m., and all at once, insecurity wrapped around my ankles like serpents. Grabbing a bundled up uniform kilt in the corner of my room, I would begin to formulate a highly detailed plan regarding the ways I would break dress code that day.
After snaking patterned tights up my legs, bedazzling the corners of my collared shirt and slaving over the perfect winged eyeliner, I would grab the latest copy of Vogue for my commute.
As the bus rattled down to Akron, my breath would be taken by avante-garde photography on page 16, descriptions of suede shoes on page 30 and emaciated models draped in feathers on page 43. Underlining passages like scripture, I dreamt of writing about the the only thing that had ever made me feel anything: art.
As the words of Bowie, Madonna and Gaga feed me rebellion through my earbuds, I dreamt of making a mad dash from Ohio to NYC, becoming bilingual in French and befriending Diane Von Furstenberg. I wanted so badly to be part of their world; where creativity was boundless and morals questionable.
While some channeled their teenage angst in heavy metal and body piercings, I desperately tried to find myself through the artistic and outlandish, worshipping icons who encouraged their admirers to forcefully combat conformity through fashion, Lady Gaga at the top of the worship list. My friends and I would spend hours crafting costumes for her concerts, laboring in vain in the hope that she would spot us in the sea of glitter, disco balls and haphazard meat dresses.
My senior year, I finally woke up, longing to write about social justice and politics, and in a fit of panic, I abandoned my former identity. I ripped down posters of Gaga in my room feverishly and replaced them Cesar Chavez, Malala Yousafzai and Gloria Steinem. In my new found passions that stay with me to this day, I renounced my former self as petty and self-absorbed, and spent copious hours before entering college attempting to destroy any and all evidence of the girl I used to be.
Now that I have a bit more retrospect, I wish I could tell my freshman year Mary Frances to be a bit kinder to herself.
While my friends and I lived for the drama of the pop star that is Lady Gaga, her message also provided us with something we were incapable of giving ourselves at the time: acceptance. Many of my dear friends were struggling with understanding their sexuality, and I, my identity.
When a pop goddess told us that we could be anyone we wanted to be and that breaking the mold was cool, we latched on to the encouragement. When she wasn’t singing about emotionally unavailable men, she spoke out against bullying, gave voices to the LGBTQ community and professed love of all people.
This message of equality and bravery got me thinking about social justice for the first time, when in high school, I became passionate about actively advocating for marriage equality efforts. As some of my friends made their first acts of immense courage in coming out to their friends and family, I wanted to work for a world that supported their love as well as mine.
I never anticipated that this passion would open my heart to all social justice issues, but it did. Without my first findings of courage through fashion, I wouldn’t have built the courage I needed to pursue journalism.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, I am now a firm believer in honoring your past for what it did to shape your present. My former self was definitely a little naive, but also endearing, curious never short of passion. While I’m glad my efforts are no longer concentrated on pop-punk and high fashion, I can’t fault myself for trying. High school me, thanks for being you.