Inventing Steph Conroy

When I was seven or eight, one of my mum’s friends gave me a bag of clothes that had belonged to her daughter. There were pretty dresses and leggings with bright yellow flowers on them. And a denim jacket and other, sparkly things. These clothes were different to the trackies and skivvies I usually wore. I tried all the exotic bits and pieces on, parading around my bedroom, hands on hips, trying to squeeze my feet into those little plastic high heels they make for itty bitty females. During these parades I would look longingly into the mirror, placing my hands on the side of my face and pulling back the chubby skin towards my ears, making my face look slimmer and my eyes more like perfect blue-green almonds. I remember thinking how I would look so much better if this was what my face looked like all the time. This is the first time I can ever remember wishing I was someone else, which I realise now suggests I must have been aware that I already was someone.

Enter the idea of personality: is it something we unconsciously develop, or is it, as I suspect, something we are aware of, something we painstakingly craft based on the way we want to be perceived- and then scrutinise and modify based off the reactions we get? Mostly I wonder if it can ever be authentic.

So, who the bloody hell was I? Who am I now? It feels like I’ve been a bunch of different people throughout my life. I don’t remember being unique at all before about grade 3 when I got a haircut and felt embarrassed no one else’s hair was as short. So embarrassed I cried. At school. I suppose this was my ego emerging like a new tooth; inevitable, painful. In grade 4 I got fat and had to start “sucking it in”, according to mum. In grade 5, my teacher had called my parents into the school to have a meeting about how I was becoming a “class clown”. At the meeting, I stood in the corner of the room, barking like a dog to garner attention (what the actual fuck). I also got in big trouble for pilfering the year 6 class’ sex-ed questions box and announcing their awkward queries to the folks backstage in the school play, which, if I recall correctly, earned me a small amount of cred.

I wonder if this was my authentic self; this weird, loud, brash, attention seeking creature.

In grade 6, the show Daria was on TV every afternoon. My classmates talked about loving the disaffected, nihilistic teenager, and she indeed captured a generation of 90s teens; something I didn’t yet understand. I attempted to emulate her nonetheless. I decided that I would no longer smile. No longer laugh. And I would change the intonation of my voice to be entirely monotone so as not to betray my feelings and this, I decided, would make me infinitely more interesting. Enough of all this noise! This theatrical, grating, laughing… clown! But of course, I was such an overtly loud individual who loved laughing and making people laugh and talking incessantly that this lasted all of a day. I was pissed off no one noticed.

I was also aware from about this time that I wasn’t popular and never have been. I didn’t have trouble gathering a group of good girl mates around me, and we always had fun together, but I knew that I wasn’t cool. I have sometimes wondered what makes one cool; a very uncool thing to wonder. As a high school teacher I’ve gained some perspective, and in conjunction with my lifetime of relentless analysing I have deduced that teenagers who deliberately flout the rules are cool, some who are mean to others are cool, some who are nice to everyone are cool, and people who are good looking are cool. Folks who are eccentric can sometimes be cool- IF one of the above clauses is also true. People who are extroverted but don’t say too many odd things can also be cool. So basically, who fucken knows?

Fast-forward a few years. I’m 14 and I’m entering my ‘I guess I’ll try the emo thing’ phase. I dyed my hair black and got another two piercings: IN MY EAR LOBES. I started listening to Marilyn Manson. I also tried the Daria voice on again for about a week. Moving right along.

Ah yes, the “I’m peroxide blonde and 16 and I’ve just seen Mean Girls for the seventh time and I’m going to make a burn book because I’m not a nice person” phase. I never did this by the way, but it was certainly an age where I felt the most pitted against other women. I saw every other girl as a threat and behaved like a dickhead around boys, desperate for them to notice me. This era lasted longer than I’d like to admit.

Then came the club rat era. Smoking, drinking, experimenting with drugs, wearing outrageous, David Bowie inspired outfits (for some reason), staying out too late, doing it again the next night, neglecting my body. I had fun, but even in the thick of it I couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t me. And yet I kept it up…for way too long. When I look back I thank fuck I don’t have to do that again now. Oh, how I thank fuck.

I’ve also been, in no particular order: cinema buff girl, archaeology girl, one-of-the-boys girl, faux surfer girl, Samantha from Sex and the City wannabe girl, motorbike girl, stoner girl, “I attend book launches now” girl, potential boxing champion girl, wine girl, “teaching is lyf” girl, and gym girl.

Oh, and more recently, yoga girl, travel girl, and hiking girl.

Lately I’ve thought about it so much I’ve begun to wonder if I even have a personality. Ooh, existential crisis girl! As one melts off though, and the next fad personality takes its place, I wonder if others feel they exist this way? Is this just…the evolution of self? Is there more complexity to hiking girl than there was to emo-girl? Or are the above “versions of self” simply…interests? It feels like more, since there were times when these things defined me and informed decisions I made about my life and how I saw myself. Or wanted to see myself. Or wanted others to see me. Those layers of brash and extroverted behaviour that once penetrated the above have recently dulled too- of their own accord. Maybe this is just what happens when you grow up. Now, I wear jeans and nice t-shirts, I screen phone calls from random numbers, and I only spend time with people I want to. I do things that enrich me, and I don’t give as many fucks about what people think of me, or whether they like me, and I don’t “suck it in” anymore. Perhaps this signifies some progress toward authenticity after all.

Or maybe not. The other day I bought some crystals and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I started meditating to bird noises and drinking weird concoctions of naturally detoxifying teas. Long live ‘enlightenment girl’.