When I was ten years old, I was desperate for a new L.L. Bean backpack. I loved the way it had two big pockets where you could put your textbooks and how keychains looked when they bounced off its silver zippers. I loved how the high visibility stripe across the back ran diagonally. I loved how all the really cool girls who rode my bus had one.
I wanted to be one of those girls. They had names like Heather and Caitlyn and Amanda and Rachel — such girly sounding names, you’d know they were girls just by looking at their names. They had dirty blond hair and got freckles in the sun and weren’t very good at sports. Their moms made their school lunches with white bread and at school they had butterfly print binders. They wore braces with coloured rubber bands on each tooth and had crushes on boys who they’d hold hands with on field trips.
Even as a ten-year-old, I remember battling with a contradiction: I wanted to be different — I strove to be different — but I also wanted so badly to fit in.
I can’t say that I ever outgrew this.
In college, I wore homemade t-shirts and never cut my hair and hated sushi, but some part of me wanted so badly to be part of a sorority like Alpha Phi. I wanted to wear flirty tops and leggings and drink coffee at the campus cafe with a group of friends named Allie and Meghan and Ariel.
I spent most of my time making acoustic Eminem cover songs with my “band” and watching old people movies stoned and getting vegan cake at One World Cafe, but part of me longed for a best guy-friend who was part of Sig Ep.
We’d be beer pong buddies and we’d take cool pictures at frat parties where both of our pointer fingers are pointing upwards and it looks like someone just called our names out in the distance.
Yo, Sarah! Josh! You’re up!
I can look back and objectively say that I did the cooler thing, but in college, the cooler thing felt like it was far from me, sitting in an apartment with her sorority sisters, making candy baskets for her little.
In London, the cool girl’s name is Alexa — she has a couple of tattoos on her forearms and back which are doodles she drew on a plane travelling back from India. She rides a vintage bike to work and her wardrobe looks at once completely bought from a designer shop and completely stolen from her mom’s closet. She’s a freelance designer and she models sometimes.
I haven’t changed. I’m still the slightly embarrassed girl who doesn’t know how to be appropriate in social situations and looks like her whole wardrobe was picked out by an eleven year old baseball player. I’m not Alexa and I don’t try to be, but I still haven’t grown out of wishing I could be an Alexa.
I call this The Alexa Effect — the effect that some people have on us that makes us believe that that they are at once completely normal and incredibly cool.
No one ever admits to wanting to keep up with the Alexas of the world because it’s completely uncool. I certainly don’t want anyone knowing that I sometimes wish I rushed and sometimes regret skipping senior prom.
I don’t want anyone to think that I wanted to be normal, because if people knew that, they’d no longer see me as their Alexa.
See, when I decide that someone is Alexa cool, it’s because they seem uninfluenced; they do whatever they fancy at any given time. They buy clothes because they randomly walked by this shop and saw something they liked. They love Thai food because oh my gosh, it’s fucking delicious. I decide someone’s cool when I trick myself into believing that they’re not like me — they aren’t trying to be a balance of normal and themselves. They have no Alexa to look up to. They simply are who they are.
And even though no one in the world is like this — not us, not our Alexas — we strive to keep our desire to be anything but ourselves a secret. We present to the world our version of Alexa — our perfect balance of normal and cool and ourselves.
Experiencing The Alexa Effect all these years later makes me realise that we’re never going to grow out of it. Until we’re dead, there’s always going to be someone more normal than us and, despite living the lives we want to live and ignoring society’s rules about who we should be, we’ll still be drawn to that person. Drawn to Alexa.
Alexa that throws the best dinner parties. Alexa that seems like an awesome parent. Alexa who lost fifteen pounds on Weight Watchers. Alexa who still runs marathons at sixty. Alexa who always wins bridge.