Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jezebel Ruined My Childhood

Today while scrolling through my Facebook I came across an article about back to school items that 90s kids loved and spent a happy 10 minutes reveling in memories of Trapper Keepers, gel pens, erasable pens and Lisa Frank. One of my biggest memories from childhood was hunting the aisles with my mom for the erasable pens to send to family overseas. We had an elderly relative who loved crossword puzzles and was losing her eyesight, erasable pens made it possible for her to see her puzzle and still fix her mistakes. They weren't available outside of the U.S. so we had to ship them to her.

For me the best part of back to school was the school supplies! My mom was very frugal and didn't believe in anything unnecessary, but her one weakness was office supplies (still is). It was the one time of the year I was guaranteed to leave the store with something awesome. Now as a teacher I'm still a school supply junkie-no boring pens for me! I stock up on fun colored pens, pencil pouches with cool quotes and ridiculous folders. My husband says my design aesthetic is that of a 12 year old girl (I highly favor cartoon prints, pink and green, and animals). As a teacher I'm famous for wearing stupid socks (think socks with jellyfish or unicorns on them) almost daily and I proudly own a dress printed with rubber ducks (one of many novelty print dresses). I like color and I like quirkiness and I finally have the self confidence to wear all the things I couldn't in middle school (and I've moved on from an unfortunate phase of only wearing black and vintage band t-shirts. It looked wonderful with my blonde hair and pasty skin). 

Even as a kid I loved Lisa Frank and I usually had one of her folders at the very minimum, but usually I had more. I had tons of her stickers and I can assure you none of them were ever used. I hated using my stickers so I kept them all pristine and stored them in a box. I would just take them out and look at them. Why yes I was a strange kid. I still remember my gifted teacher in 3rd grade bought me a little Lisa Frank notebook with unicorns on it to keep my book ideas in. I still have it and I still use it. Every year I look for Lisa Frank folders in the school supply aisle and I never find them. 

After I reveled in my 90s memories for awhile I saw the recommended article and my heart sank. A piece by Jezebel called "Inside the Rainbow Gulag: The Technicolor Rise and Fall of Lisa Frank" with a cute picture of a unicorn being smashed under a rainbow. I clicked the article with trepidation and read through stories of drug abuse by the founders, abuse of employees and financial woes. With each line of the story my mood darkened just a little bit more-to me Lisa Frank meant hope, cheer and optimism. Hope that this was the year I was going to finally fit in (spoiler alert: I never did), a cheerful reminder on the worst days of middle school drama and optimism that the adult world would treat me much more kindly than the kid world ever did (and it does for the most part). Lisa Frank meant that heady time of the beginning of a new school year-part of a time in my life where you felt so different after 3 months off and where you could be anyone at the start of a new year. As a kid you measure your life around the school year and shopping for school supplies meant I was a year older, a year closer to being who I wanted to be, a year closer to the adulthood I so desperately craved. In my misguided youthfulness I thought the right Lisa Frank folder or sticker would let me fit in and finally be the ticket to my acceptance. I loved the start of school so much I became a teacher so I could hang onto that feeling of optimism and change. 

I would make up stories about the character on my folders-each of them had a name and a backstory. These were my first attempts at writing and shaped me as the writer I am today. I still remember some of the stories I made up about the unicorns and dolphins that danced across my math folder. 

Reading the article I was appalled by the allegations and saddened by the downturn for the company. It seems I had finally found the reason why I couldn't find any Lisa Frank products stocking the back to school shelves. The article was beautifully written and well researched, but it hurt. It hurt because in my mind I was still that kid who thought the adult world was my ticket out. In my 12 year old mind the adult world was a Lisa Frank world-she was an adult who lived her life being creative and surrounded by cheerfulness. I thought when I grew up my life would still involve rainbows and unicorns and I would be free to be who I wanted to be and people would love me for it. The article exposed the truth-a truth I know but I desperately tried to avoid. The adult world isn't pretty, it's sometimes hard and people are still just as mean as they were in high school if not meaner. Life gets more complex every single year and money and material things still don't make people happy. 

I still haven't found acceptance and I'm still an outsider in most social situations, but I have found an amazing husband who loves me for every single part of my craziness and I have found a small group of friends who love the same things I do. I no longer feel the need to have everyone like me or feel hurt when people don't accept me. 
I have the self confidence to laugh off the mean actions of others. When a co-worker accidentally sent me an email making fun of my outfit instead of sending it to her friend I laughed. I was hurt for sure, but I was able to laugh it off and still love myself.
I have the self confidence to be who I want to be. I'm no longer trying to fit it, but rather I'm trying to stand out. 
I have a life that makes me happy and let's me be creative on my own terms.

I no longer believe the adult world is all rainbows and sunshine because I've seen both the good and the bad. Now I can see that Lisa Frank's life wasn't ever easy and that the hard times were always there. However, she kept looking for the unicorns and the joy in life even as her world was falling apart. Am I sad that my childhood was tarnished? No, because I know now that no one is perfect. I still admire her for influencing an entire generation and for providing me with hope during a dark time in my life. I still love her designs and I still hope for the best for her company and for her personally. I've also discovered that Amazon stocks her products so I'll be shopping up a storm and relishing in my adulthood freedom to like what I like! 

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