Mother Daughter Book Reviews is pleased to welcome Krysten Lindsay Hager with us today as a guest contributor to share her experiences writing for a preteen audience.
Writing for tweens and teens about a middle school student named Landry who is dealing with frenemies, school, insecurities, and self-esteem issues takes me back in time to when I was that age…and it’s not always easy. People ask how I can get into Landry’s mindset so easily, but I remember those years very clearly. I can recall the little details of my bedroom (posters and stuffed animals), classrooms, and even the brands of lip balms and body sprays I wore back then. Can we have a moment of silence for the amazingness that was the Dr. Pepper Bonne Bell Lipsmacker (not to mention the Maybelline Kissing Koolers in strawberry fizz )and Love’s Baby Soft perfume? I go back through old photos and scrapbooks and, as I cringe over seeing myself in pastel flowered jeans (which I wore to my sixth grade dance), I notice how I pasted every Niki Taylor ad and cover into my scrapbook. I remember thinking Niki was the teenage ideal and I couldn’t come close to that.
Growing up during the time of the Supermodels wasn’t easy and I can remember going to the drugstore to buy the teen magazines and they’d include this little blurb about the makeup the cover models were wearing. I’d save up my allowance and buy every single item listened that my favorite model was supposedly wearing and try to recreate the look at my vanity. No matter how hard I tried, a sophisticated Niki wasn’t staring back at my middle school face in the mirror. Nope, I just saw a kid who was trying to way look older than her years with way too much lipstick on.
At the time, I thought I was the only one and that somehow everyone else felt secure in how they looked and woke up feeling like supermodel Christy Turlington’s little sister. Little did I know my friends were also staring at the Seventeen covers on the stands and wondering why they didn’t look like Niki Taylor, too. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the listed products were not what was used on the models and I could have spent a lifetime trying to recreate those faces and would never, ever walk out of my bathroom looking like Niki. And really, why should I have wanted to speed up time to look like an older teenager anyway? Why couldn’t I appreciate the age I was?
In the second book in my Landry’s True Colors Series, I have Landry going to the makeup counter wanting to recreate the look of her favorite model, Talisa Milan. Landry tries on Talisa’s “favorite lip gloss” and wonders why the pale, natural color on the model, makes Landry look washed out and sickly…until the lady behind the counter tells her that despite what the ad says, the model is wearing more than just a natural looking gloss. Even Talisa Milan doesn’t wake up looking like Talisa Milan.
In creating my character, Landry, I’m mindful of the fact that we all think we’re alone in the insecure thoughts and feelings we have. What I didn’t know as a preteen and teen is now clear to me and I want to show those false images portrayed to girls that age so they realize that what they see in magazines and online are carefully plotted out images—and probably a photoshopped ones at that. And today, with all the social media, we even see “photoshopped” lives where everyday people post only the best moments of their lives on their social media pages. We see a pretty picture, but we don’t know what went into getting that flawless selfie on Instagram. And can I just say that as much as I like Instagram now, I love the fact it wasn’t around when I was a preteen.
I cannot image taking selfies with my oily skin (seriously, how many Clean and Clear blotter papers did I go through on school picture day back then?) or documenting my seventh grade fling with Sun-In that turned my dark brown hair a lovely copper shade (actually, think rust in the sun). And how many times did I take a picture of Mariah Carey’s hair to the salon only to walk out with…well, again, let’s just say again how grateful I am that Instagram and camera phones weren’t around back then. Still, I look back on those days and realize how it wasn’t just Mariah’s hair or Christy’s bone structure that I admired, I wanted to look exactly like them instead of appreciating anything I had going for me.
Like so many girls, I fell victim to that whole idea that if you had straight hair, you needed curls, if you were a blonde, you should have dark exotic hair or vice versa. The grass was always greener elsewhere. I didn’t realize back then, as I was spraying Sun-In in my hair, that it wasn’t just sunkissed “blonde” highlights I wanted, it was that I wanted to fit in and my dark hair didn’t in my eyes. I wish I had taken just a moment to appreciate the uniqueness that I and every other girl in my class possessed. How much easier would life had been if I had stopped worrying about fitting in and focused on more important things like grades or figuring out which girls were my true friends and which ones didn’t have my best interests at heart?
Now I look back and see it all so clearly. I hope that I can help the next generation see these things and realize they are okay just the way they are and to have a sense of humor about it…even if it means I have to sort through old Polaroids of me in a pink ruffled jean skirt and scrunchy to recreate those feelings.
About the Guest Contributor: Krysten Lindsay Hager
Krysten Lindsay Hager writes for tweens and teens and is the author of the Landry’s True Colors Series, a clean reads teen humor series on fitting in, self-esteem, and frenemies . Her work has been ranked #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases in Teen and Young Adult Values & Virtues Fiction and listed as one of Amazon’s top rated books in Children’s Books on Values. True Colors is an international bestselling book and was featured in USA Today. She has worked as a journalist and humor essayist. Hager is originally from Michigan and has lived in Portugal, South Dakota, and currently resides in Southwestern Ohio where you can find her reading and writing when she’s not catching up on her favorite shows. She received her master’s degree from the University of Michigan-Flint. Her third teen novel, Next Door to a Star, will be out September 1st.