You look like a goose

During a conversation about Atoosa Rubenstein (the best kind of conversation tbh), a fellow teen mag obsessive said to me, “Remember the time someone told her she looked like a goose?”

I’m ashamed to admit that I did not remember the time. So I looked through all of my remaining CosmoGirl!s (exclamation theirs) in hopes of finding this particular editor’s letter. It was nowhere! I was bereft.

But the internet is magic; I found it, and it was so much better than I imagined.

This isn't it, I just liked this pic of her, sorry. Below, the letter in full, because abbreviating Atoosa’s words would be a crime...and Cosmogirl! no longer exists, so hopefully reprinting this isn’t a crime?!

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So, the other day, I was going through my e-mails from you when I came across this one: "Hello, Atoosa. You look like a goose, so why do you insist on having your picture in CosmoGIRL! every month? No one cares about your stories. Also, learn how to cross your is on your signature!" I was like, Huh??? A goose? It had never really occurred to me before. But then I thought, Wait a second...She meant that to be mean! (I know—I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed sometimes.) I genuinely thought it was hilarious (and I'm not just saying that). But I'm not sure I would always have seen the humor in a dig.

When I first started junior high school, there were these older boys who decided I was going to be their target. I have no idea why—I was in seventh grade. They were in eleventh (which, P.S., as far as I was concerned, they may as well have been 30! They were huge!). Anyway...Every time I'd walk by them in the hall, these guys would start yelling stuff at me—stuff that I didn't even understand (it must have been some inside joke). The one thing I could tell was that it had to do with my looks. And every time I'd see them coming, my heart would, like, clench up—how were they going to humiliate me now? When I think about that girl, my heart breaks for her. She was sort of defenseless, and those guys were bullies. Meatheads, really. Why else would they poke fun at a little kid?

Remembering those days is what makes me realize how much I've changed. No one can make me cower in a corner anymore. (That reminds me of that line in the movie Dirty Dancing—"Nobody puts Baby in a corner!" Ha ha. I know, I'm a dork.) Not because I think I'm so great or anything but because I have my own set of values that I judge myself against that have nothing to do with what I look like: I want to have integrity. Make the people around me feel good about themselves. And impact my community. As long as I'm doing those things? There isn't a picture the face of the earth—no matter how ridiculous—that would mind printing in a national magazine. There isn't insult thrown at me (ahem, Goose Lady!) that I'm too ashamed to tell you about. 

Why? Because no matter what I look like—goose-ish or otherwise—my looks aren't in anyway representative of who I am. Who I am is what kind of girl I am. And remember that for you too. CosmoGIRL!s have no problem with themselves. That's the power of us. And that's my legacy to you. So will you send me your pictures? (You too, Goose Lady!) Your most hilarious ones. Among girlfriends, we don't need to put on airs. We need to put on laughs. You know where I am, 24/7, as always:atoosa@cosmogirl.com.

I hate—HATE!—the rah-rah girl-powered brand of self-help (see: Rachel Hollis), but I loved this then and I love it now. We don't need to put on airs. We need to put on laughs. Reading it feels like self-care, without splurging on anything at all.

Sadly, atoosa@cosmogirl.com is no longer around—I tried it, obviously—but Atoosa is. I had the (extreme!!!!) honor of meeting her IRL last week, and she is still overflowing with wisdom and coolness and enviable hair.

She’s also now on Instagram, so you don’t have to just take my word for it. Follow her! But please don’t tell her she looks like a goose. She doesn't.

Sings like an angel, dresses like the coolest girl on Earth

I wish I could remember exactly how I convinced my parents that I needed a subscription to Vogue when I was 13. The lone grocery store in my town didn't even carry it, so I'm not sure how I got the idea that I should have a subscription. Had I even read it before? I don't even know. 

I was a very new subscriber when I opened the shrink wrap on an issue in 2000 only to find a second special magazine inside. It was called Teen Vogue.

At this point, I was beginning to outgrow Seventeen, which I'd started reading when I was 11, after having outgrown Girl's Life magazine. Reading Vogue was hilariously ambitious for me at 13; I tried to read the articles, but most were way too high brow for junior high me. I mostly just memorized the faces of models and the names of socialites. Teen Vogue turned out to be much more relevant to my life (though it was still deeply aspirational).

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That first issue is permanently etched into my brain. Jessica Simpson was on the cover, looking truly beautiful draped in a cream sweater (and draped on a boy bander, Nick Lachey). This was pre-Newlyweds. It was also pre-wedding, which means it was also pre-marital sex, or any sex at all, though the interview by EIC Amy Astley doesn't get remotely close to addressing that. Instead, the two mostly talked fashion. 

My favorite part, other than when Jessica says she likes Frankie B. and Earl jeans because "they ride low on the hips, which looks good," is when she talks about mall fashion. "Bebe. They definitely have some cute stuff," she says.

I'd never heard of Bebe at the time, but shortly after this issue was published, I went to Dallas to visit family and found myself inside a Bebe store with my cousin. I didn't get anything, since I didn't have anywhere to wear glittery one-shouldered going-out tops as a teen in rural Missouri. But my very cosmopolitan cousin had loads of it in her closet, and I was so jealous I could have died. She also memorably pronounced it like "beh beh," which is still something I think about way too often.

In addition to Jess, the cover also touts Enrique Inglesias (who seems very old???), 98*, Mandy Moore, Britney Spears, and Paul Walker (may he rest in peace). There's also party pages—a big thing for grown-up Vogue at the time, less so now—from Kidada Jones' birthday at Guy's in Beverly Hills. Josh Hartnett was there with Gisele and Carmen (remember Carmen?), Samantha Ronson DJed (some things never change!), and Nicky and Paris Hilton looked bored as hell on their phones. That spread is followed by something called "Boy Watch," essentially a bunch of random red carpet pictures of grown men: Jason Biggs, Josh Jackson, even Kid Rock, who was apparently dating James King at the time.

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Iconic is an overused word, but that's exactly what this copy of Teen Vogue is. To me, at least; everyone's "iconic" is different. If you haven't had enough of Jessica Simpson, or this special issue, or me ranting about magazines that were published 19 years ago, you just might enjoy this video I recorded. (No promises, though!)

You are the captain of your ship

When I was young, I decided I was going to wear dresses exclusively. I was in third grade, and obsessed with American Girl dolls* and Little House on the Prairie. I need to fact check this with my mom, but I'm pretty sure I told her at the time that I'd like to be Amish because they only wear dresses? The point is, I loved dresses.

*Molly forever.

My brother was a year older (still is), and the boys in his grade started making fun of me by calling me "dress girl." While that is an offensively uninventive taunt, it's also pretty harmless as far as insults go. Still, I was mortified. That was the first time I made the connection that standing out and/or drawing attention to myself = humiliating.

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I've been spending my whole life working to reverse this mindset (a social anxiety diagnosis and corresponding medication sure helped!), but it's still there. And sometimes my desire to ~*be myself*~ is at odds with my pathological need to blend in. It's either: Listen to the voice cheering "just do the thing!" or the one screaming "whatever you do, don't draw attention!!!!"

I was planning to post pictures of my favorite issue of Teen People—Dec/Jan 2000, the second annual style issue—on Instagram this week. But my photos didn't really capture the magnificence of the magazine, so I decided to film a short video instead.

This was a somewhat rash decision that was heavily influenced by the fact that I was home sick, hyped up on DayQuil, and hadn't spoken to anyone except my dog all day.

I'm deeply uncomfortable in front of the camera, which makes me feel like a very bad millennial. I don't know my angles; I only know I'm supposed to know them because of that Drake song.

Putting yourself out there on the internet in the world is simultaneously feeling totally naked, and then feeling like an idiot that anyone would even care that you're naked. You know? Being a woman dealing with social media and vanity and ego and ALSO camera angles is hard.

I came across this old editor's letter of Atoosa's at a time when I needed it most...both in 2004, and now. She may have written it in a pre-selfie era, but it's still incredibly relevant today.

A shout out to potential honeys

I have a friend who insists that the best way to meet guys in the wild (which is a thing some people apparently still do, though I've personally seen no proof of it) is to make eye contact, look away, then look back and hold for a certain number of seconds. I can't remember the exact number of seconds, but I know it was uncomfortably long. This isn't my friend's trick; I think she learned it from a reality show. Housewives of somewhere, probably, because those women are clearly adept at getting men to talk to them. They're literally housewives.

I find prolonged eye contact with strangers to be unbearable, and my preferred method of flirting—looking away as quickly as possible and never looking back—hasn't done me any favors. So when I came across this old Seventeen in which five editors offered their best flirting advice, I couldn't not read it.

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Like Liz, I'm pretty short, and I ask tall people—who often happen to be men—to help me reach things all the time, but it's never turned into a love connection. Usually they're Whole Foods dads wearing Allbirds, which isn't really my thing. (Neither are wedding rings, but especially not Allbirds.)

Gayle [Forman, now a prolific (and married!) YA author] offers a somewhat involved flirting method that's actually perfect for me, since I fall frequently without even trying. The only problem is that no one's ever come to my rescue.

One time, I slipped going down the stairs at the Graham Avenue L train stop and the rush hour crowd just stepped over me. Another time, I hit ice while wearing heels in Hells Kitchen and tourists starred at me, mouths agape. I should have known better than to go to Hells Kitchen.

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As for the flirting advice that's probably the least applicable to me (though it's also my favorite from this entire deeply reported article): "Upon entering a roomful of potential honeys, toss out your deep-voiced hello. Watch with glee as all whip around to see who the sexy, Lauren Bacall-like voice came from—then take your pick of the bunch."

Honestly, "potential honeys" is a phrase I haven't used nearly enough.

Another highlight: "You've made eye contact at least twice and your stop is next or you've just got to go. Act like one of Alex Trebek's contestants and write WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO? on a matchbook, followed by your first name and pager number." This one I'm tempted to try since I ride the subway every day, twice a day, and it would liven up the monotony.

But beyond the obvious issues, like that I don't have a pager number, I also find the idea of approaching someone in an enclosed space with an audience to be mortifying. We've all cringed along as people have attempted to make moves on crowded subways. I don't want to be that person. (If you want to be that person, more power to you and please please report back.

Smooth moves and hot dates

I've never technically been ghosted (to my knowledge) but I've been on the receiving end of the slow fade and I'm veryyyy familiar with the dreaded orbit. While none of these dating terms existed before Tinder, early-aughts magazines prove that these problems pre-date technology.

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"Dear Answer Boy" was a longrunning column in Seventeen in which a guy, who was actually probably a female staffer, advised girls on love. Or, more often than not, lack of love. The most common theme was, "I thought this guy totally liked me and then he disappeared!" The advice is pretty obvious: Move on! You're too good for him! He sucks anyway! 

One of my favorite articles on this topic was called "Hot Date, Take Two" from the May 2000 issue of Seventeen. (I was 12.) As you can tell from the subhed—"Want to know what smooth moves make guys beg for a second date with you? We asked. They told."—it's amazing.

He took you out to the movies, and afterward you spent an hour discussing everything from Tobey Maguire's latest film to your pet ferret to his favorite X-Men comic book. You thought the intense attraction you felt was mutual, but it's been a week and the only phone time you've been getting is with the delivery boy from Domino's. What gives?

(Uh, maybe the pet ferret scared him away? Or he's into Tobey Maguire??)

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Anyway, the writer—a man, supposedly!—then details how to entice a dude into a second date. The pointers include everything from showing off your "inner beauty" to getting him "on your wavelength" by "touching him on the arm" to just being friendly ("for most guys, a date is the SAT, prom night, and the big game rolled into one—major stress," what a sentence!).

My favorite thing about this article is how earnest it all is, right down to those folded-over white Chucks. If only the secret to getting a second date really was as easy as offering to split the check and avoiding kissing on the first date, and then you two could set off into the sunset together in matching ugly shoes. It's kind of like when you haven't heard from a guy in awhile, and maybe your last text went unanswered, but then—then!—you come up with what seems like the perfect follow-up. You convince yourself that he only didn't answer because he was busy. Or maybe, actually, his push notifications are messed up and he never saw it. Or come to think of it, he probably never even got the text because his Birkenstock came loose and flew right off, causing him to drop his phone into a puddle.

This entire article is that scenario. (So is my life.)

Miss President if you're nasty

It's hard to find the energy to care about Presidents' Day when our current president is on the brink of declaring a national emergency over nothing more than—in the words of the great Kamala Harris—a vanity project. Add to that the fact that both Washington and Lincoln were not exactly upstanding men (and definitely weren't feminists). But hey, at least we some of us get the day off?

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Without getting too political on you, when things are particularly bleak, like RIGHT NOW, it's hard to imagine a future where we might have a female president (not to mention a president we actually respect).

In 2003, nearly two decades ago at this point, Seventeen asked readers how they felt about having a woman in office. The results were :(


Only 54% thought they wouldeversee a female president. If this poll was conducted at a retirement community or a nursing home, I'd get it. But we're talking about teen girls, with looooong lives ahead of them, here. And the 3% who don't understand why we would even *want* a woman president? I'm speechless!

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I found a quote from an ancient (OK, circa 1980) Seventeen that asked influential people for their predictions of year 2000. Eleanor Smeal, who was at the time the president of the National Organization for Women (and is now, at age 79, president and cofounder of the Feminist Majority Foundation), said, "Women will be in every industry. What we are working for now—the passage of the ERA—will decide if they get equal pay. It's possible we'll have a female president. By year 2000, we will no longer be the silent majority."

Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed since the 80s (or the 70s, or the 60s), but women now work in every industry (except for the President of the United States industry) and it’s totally crazy to imagine anyone being opposed to the Equal Rights Act. Many people were! And they weren't all men! Looking at you, Phyllis Schlafly (who is, yes, dead now. I'd say RIP but).

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Fast forward to 2004, just before Obama was elected (a very different time, sigh). Seventeen asked girls what they would do as president.

The answers are smart and thoughtful and ultimately faith-restoring. (They *also* prove that as great as Gen Z is—really great!—they aren’t the first generation of young people to care about issues. Just because the hashtag #woke didn’t exist in the 2000s doesn’t mean we weren’t.)

So instead of spending your Presidents' Day buying stuff you don't need from the endless stream of sales (or in addition to! I'm not your financial planner!), celebrate by giving some of your hard-earned cash to your favorite sane presidential candidate or other politician, or activist, or even nonprofit.

Until next time!

What's your freak-quency?

I've never felt so completely seen by a book title as How To Date Men When You Hate Men. I took Blythe Roberson's debut to a bachelorette party, which felt either completely perfect or wildly inappropriate, depending on how you look at it. On my flight, I was stuck in the middle seat between two 50-something men, and I felt completely radical with that book sitting in eyeshot of them. (I felt less empowered when the man to my left started clipping his nails mid-flight; I also have maybe never hated men more than that moment.)

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Roberson talks a lot about "performative chillness," which is a brilliant yet self-explanatory concept—one so simple I wish I had thought of it first. She writes, "My version of performative chillness is to act very amenable and nonplussed in person and then when I am alone I furiously subtweet the situation." Relatable.

Why do we try to act laidback and relaxed and chill when we feel anything but? This brings to mind the cool girl rant in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (who, like many now-prolific authors, was a onetime writer for Seventeen in the '90s).

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl."

In 2002, Seventeen published a quiz called, "Are you a cool girlfriend?" It was (somehow???) not satire, and it was not, to my knowledge, ghost-written by Flynn. 

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I took the quiz when I got this issue in the mail as a 15-year-old with no boyfriend. And I just took it again, now twice that age, still no boyfriend. My score was the exact same.
The cool girlfriend, which is not what my score says that I am, "appreciate[s] a lot of the same stuff guys do, from a good brawl on TV to a great miniskirt on Kirsten Dunst."

I got a 14, making me a smothering girlfriend. Although this label feels shameful, it really just means I'm going to call a guy out on his shit—which, as far as this quiz is concerned, includes shit like bailing on Friday night plans to play video games with the boys, checking out the head cheerleader over his shoulder while you're talking *to him*, and insisting on watching WWE instead of Dawson's Creek (even though Dawson's Creek is a new ep! And DVR doesn't yet exist!).

If being a cool girlfriend means watching WWE four nights in a row, no thanks! (One time I went on a date with a guy who worked for the WWE, and it was one of the worst dates of my life that required a lot of performative chillness.)

Anyway: Take the quiz. Tell me what you get. Tell me how you feel. Then get Roberson's book, because it'll make everything better...even if you're a smothering girlfriend like me.

It's just hair

My junior year of high school, a guy kissed me in the backseat of a car. If that sounds at all romantic, it wasn’t. My best friend at the time was in the passenger seat, and a guy whose identity I can’t recall (probably for the best!) was driving. The guy was cool, and I couldn't quite believe it was happening. When he pulled away, he touched my head sweetly, looked into my eyes, and said...

“You know, you’d be a lot hotter if you straightened your hair.”

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When I went through puberty, I didn’t just wake up with a new bra size; I also woke up with curly hair. With my glasses and braces and adult-size nose, the unfortunate frizz made me look like an SNL parody of a teenage girl. I thought cutting it into a bob would help me manage it. I thought wrong.

Eventually, I got rid of the braces and glasses. (The nose: still there.) And I got used to the hair. I started to like the curls, even. They made me different! They gave me character! They allowed me to stop spending two hours every morning with my flatiron.

But when a guy told me I would be hotter with straight hair right after kissing me, I didn't *not* want to die right then and there. I wish I could tell you I never think about it anymore, but I do! Probably too much! Except now I think it's hilarious, and also very telling. If you don't love me at my worst frizziest, you can't love me at my best Keri Russell-est.

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This dude didn't shatter my self-esteem, nor did he send me seeking out keratin treatments, but I could probably buy a Brooklyn apartment from all the cash I spent buying John Frieda Frizz-Ease in high school and college.

Sidenote: Remember Frizz-Ease??

I tried to accept it because this was the hair I was stuck with, but I also remember thinking that when I moved to New York for a career in magazines (the dream!), I would have to do something about it. The most visible editors, like Amy Astley and Jane Keltner and Meredith Melling and, obviously, Anna Wintour, had shiny hair so straight, they *must* have gotten professional blowouts every morning.

One enormous exception is, obviously, Atoosa, who had a truly wild mane and was proud of it. I couldn't believe my eyes: Someone who had frizzy hair and didn't try to fix it, but instead made it seem like an...asset? What?

But even she succumbed to the siren song of the straightening iron when she made the jump from CosmoGirl to Seventeen, which she memorably wrote about in one of her editor's letters.

I like to think that Atoosa embraces the frizz these days. I do—this Simone Kitchens' essay changed my routine/life—and I really couldn’t care less what a guy thinks about my hair. Or really...anything? I’m working on it.



Just eat the bagel

I was obsessed with the idea of self-improvement from the ages of 13 to 18 21 30? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best version of yourself. This time of the year in particular, everyone seems obsessed with the idea of self-improvement. (Even Jack Dorsey, who spent the weekend tweeting about how he’s been fasting 22 hours a day.)

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When I was 13, self-improvement wasn’t about reading more, cooking more, masking more, or doing more. It certainly wasn’t about loving myself more, either, because self-love wasn’t really a thing. Self-improvement, at least to eighth-grade me, was strictly skin-deep.

I did the exercise routines in my magazines faithfully—I remember running into my bedroom on commercial breaks during ER to do situps—and I diligently followed the monthly diet plans. Well, as diligently as I could, given that I had no choice but to eat school lunch and whatever my parents’ put on the dinner table every night.

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I dreamed about having a six-pack and stressed about getting rid of (imaginary! I was 13!) cellulite. Magazines made cellulite seem like something that just showed up unannounced one morning, sort of like a period. And, like acne or body hair, it was a problem needed to be fixed. They memorably described cellulite as “cottage cheese,” which kept me away from eating actual cottage cheese for years. Back then, body acceptance didn't exist; diets did.

In a 2005 issue of Seventeen, when Dr. Oz Garcia wasn’t quite the hack that he is now (at least not publically), he shared a “back-to-school cleansing diet.” It was part of a “look taller and thinner in two weeks!” package, and it was pretty bad!

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It was filled with the kind of advice we all unfortunately know by heart. Eat fruit instead of dessert. Drink water instead of soda. Swap white bread for whole grains. This advice is not only boring, but it's also damaging because it teaches us that foods are Good and Bad. Still, it used to be so much worse. I found a 1989 issue of Seventeen with an article called, “Why Are Girls Obsessed with Their Weight?” Really? This question was posed by the same publication that ran a monthly column called “Dieter’s Clipboard” in the ‘60s and ‘70s, filled with gems like this one.

I have always wanted to exit gracefully from my butterfly chair while wearing my stretch pants and choker.

It’s not like Seventeen is single-handedly to blame for the body insecurities of women thirty and up, but I was afraid to eat pizza for many years, and that was 100% because the magazine told me cheese was bad. There aren't a lot of upsides to the extinction of teen magazines, but at least there's no one telling impressionable 8th graders that ingesting fat will make them fat.

That said, if you need someone to tell you to eat that damn bagel for breakfast, here you go.

What kind of girl are you?

I didn't grow up reading Rookie. I was a young professional, with a salary and rent and health insurance (hmmm, maybe not actually that last thing) when Tavi Gevinson launched her site. If it was around when I was growing up, it would have been too cool for me anyway. ("Counter-culture" didn't exist in my small town; I'd never heard of riot grrrl until college.

Still, the end of Rookie is a heartbreaker, especially because it comes the same year that both Seventeen and Teen Vogue folded their print editions. When I was a kid, I had subscriptions to Teen Vogue and YM and ElleGirl and Cosmo Girl and Seventeen and, for the hottest second, Teen People. I did not have the internet. No one had the internet. My world was very small, and those magazines opened it in a big way. 

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Teen magazines were never perfect, especially not in the pre-woke aughts, and the tips and tricks and advice that seeped into my brain was not entirely beneficial. I didn't need to learn from Seventeen, at age 12, that low-fat cheese had 30 fewer calories than a slice of cheddar, or that those seemingly insignificant calories could add up to 10, or 15, or 20 extra pounds around my waist a year. I didn't need to learn, in 6th grade, how to give a mindblowing bl*w j*b in Cosmopolitan...which to be fair wasn't a teen magazine, but that didn't stop us from reading it in middle school.

Magazines gave me an education—sometimes too complete of one, in terms of oral sex, tysm Cosmo—about what it's like to be a girl in the world. I learned about expensive designers and indie bands and far-away countries that I'd never really considered were real places. More than that, I had a shelf full of valuable information to turn to anytime I had a question about something that I couldn't ask my mom or Google. Google didn't exist until 1998!

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Lately I've been dealing with some big existential questions—ones that my mom or Google can't answer—so I turned to what I used to let guide me when I was half my age: A magazine quiz from a year 2000 issue of Seventeen.

(Yep, that byline is Sarai Walker-of-Dietland-fame! And yep, magazines were exactly as whitewashed as you'd think!)

Unfortunately, this quiz wasn't *quite* as revelatory as I was hoping. I wanted answers. I wanted advice. I wanted someone to tell me exactly who I am and what I should be and also why I'm like this?

I'm equal parts perfectionist (what girl isn't?), romantic (maybe true), observer (probably true), and peacemaker, which, fine if true, but I reject the love advice to "find a guy who motivates you." I'm good...!

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Still, I did find this personality quiz to be somewhat helpful. For example, I, like Katie Holmes apparently, do need someone who will respect my privacy and leave me alone. (Which begs the question: Does Jamie Foxx give her the space she needs? I hope so.) And who couldn't use another reminder that perfectionism is Very Bad?

I'd love to know what you got, and I'd also love if you'd send this to your best friend who might like to know "what kind of girl" she/he/they* is, too.

*teen magazines were veryyyyyy not gender inclusive, but that doesn't mean we can't be