I had to buy a birthday present recently, so I did some online shopping. A mood ring and a bottle of color changing nail polish? A solid option. Or maybe one of the board games I liked when I was in middle school – you know, Mall Madness, Girl Talk, Dream Phone. Ebay and Etsy are goldmines for vintage Lisa Frank stickers and accessories. Throw in some miniature glow-in-the-dark fairy figurines, and you’ve got yourself the perfect present for any little girl. Except I wasn’t shopping for a little girl. I was shopping for a friend in the 25-34 age bracket, and no, she’s not emotionally stunted or trapped in a 13-Going-On-30 situation (although if I did know someone in that pickle, she would absolutely be my favorite friend).
The thing is, the person I was shopping for isn’t even unusual. I’d consider getting these gifts for many of my adult female friends. So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to THE TWEENYSOMETHING: adult women obsessed with the trends, fashion, entertainment, and culture of girls half their age.
Before I go on, I feel the need to explain that I am definitely a tweenysomething. In fact, I’ve always been a tweenysomething. My interests haven’t changed – at ALL – since I was a tween myself (of course back in those dinosaur days we were boringly called “pre-teens”). My twitter handle is @shinyunicorn, my boyfriend gave me a Pillow Pet for my birthday last year (and I was psyched), cards from my family members always come from the children’s section, I routinely and inexplicably have glitter all over my hands, and my favorite show is Pretty Little Liars. Unironically.
Believe me, the list goes on. But there’s more to tweenysomethings than choosing Lip Smackers over lipstick or painstakingly applying cutesy stickers to our neon fingernails. We’ve invaded present-day pop culture. In fact, we’re shaping it. A few examples:
The Twilight Phenomenon – This was a book series targeted at ten to thirteen year old girls. And yes, the majority of its ardent fans are tweens, but a huge portion is also grown women. They call themselves Twihards, they create Twilight-themed Twitter accounts, and they write fan fiction, much of which consists of distinctly non-childlike fantasizing about Edward Cullen. Without this adult fan base, Twilight would not have been nearly so massively successful. Which brings me to…
The popularity of YA – i.e. Young Adult fiction. Except we are not young adults. We are just adults. My entire group of friends (and the rest of the country) obsessed over The Hunger Games series last year and passionately debated the casting of the movie this spring. Did I mention that on Amazon this book is categorized as Teen Fiction and labeled “For Grade 7 And Up”. Thank god for the “And Up”, or else we’d really be pathetic.
Silly Bandz – At least five of my adult friends gave me these sparkly, multi-colored, animal-shaped rubber band bracelets for my birthday last year, and traded with me when they had a shape I desperately wanted. Never mind that the twelve-year olds I babysat at the time were already too cool for these pointless accessories. Of course, that was last summer. This summer we’ve moved on to the super sophisticated trend of friendship bracelets. Yes, bracelets we made out of those spools of colored thread that we carried around in their very own Caboodle. Better start practicing your Chinese Staircase and Candy Stripe stitch.
Justin Bieber – This pretty much sums it up.
Cupcakes – This is such old news at this point it’s almost not worth mentioning. But the overwhelming development in recent years of trendy cupcake stores, couture lollipops, and upscale sweet shops like Dylan’s Candy Bar is at least in part due to their popularity among tweenysomethings, for whom candy is a dietary staple.
Nostalgia for Tweendom of Years Past – Have you noticed there’s been a crop of flashback tweets, blogs, and articles lately? Women in their 20s and 30s are suddenly quoting Judy Blume (ahem, myself included), re-imagining the Babysitter’s Club girls as women our own age, or salivating over the newest addition to the Sweet Valley High series. This is an interesting tweenysomething compromise: we may not have sunk to the level of (admitting to) DVRing Wizards of Waverly Place, but we will be the first to claim Full House, Punky Brewster, and Hey Dude as shows we still watch and love.
But what effect will this explosion of tweenysomething influence have on the television shows and films that are being created today, right now? It’s not totally clear. First of all, this is not necessarily a brand new concept. Lorelai Gilmore of “Gilmore Girls” fame is a total tweenysomething (she owns multiple Hello Kitty kitchen appliances and her favorite movie is “The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking”, not to mention her junk food addiction or colorful fashion sense). And it would be impossible to talk about grown-ups acting like children without acknowledging Judd Apatow’s model of the “man-child.” Beginning with “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” it was suddenly okay – not only okay, but funny, even preferable – to be a man in your 20s, 30s, or 40s who still plays video games, loves gross-out humor, and doesn’t want to grow up.
Is the tweenysomething the long-awaited (long-dreaded?) female counterpart? Not quite yet, but we’re getting there. Of course everyone’s been talking about “Bridesmaids” (another Apatow production), in which the female lead was a hilarious, gorgeous, late-blooming, emotionally non-commital, mess of a woman. But she wasn’t really a tweenysomething. No, it’s movies like Natalie Portman’s upcoming “Best Buds”, a female-centric stoner flick in which, from what I hear, the pot-smoking leads are childhood best friends who still share the interests of elementary schoolers. There’s also Alicia Silverstone’s “Ass Backwards,” centered around two tweenysomething adult women road tripping to compete in a children’s beauty pageant.
We’re all aware that women are having a moment in TV and film – half of the new shows coming out in the next year have a premise that goes something like, “Girls living together in an apartment”(full disclosure: I write for the upcoming aptly named HBO show, “Girls,” also Apatow-affiliated). But will these girls be tweenysomethings or actual grown-ups? Until I get my strawberry-shimmer-scented, bubble gum pink nail-polished hands on these pilots, it remains to be seen.