To be perfect. Not just perfect, but also pretty, seductive, happy, friendly, great in bed, emotionally stable, and successful. And all at the age of thirteen.
It’s at that moment when images begin to take shape in a young woman’s mind. These ideas are on how to act and who should they be. What are the motives behind this peculiar construction on the feminine figure? It’s at this time when the girl becoming a woman stops listening to her mother, grandmother, or any authority figure that could be conservative in any way. Instead, they look up to women who have that spectacular coolness about them and become their goal to achieve.
Knowing this from her own experience, and with a maternal sensibility, Anna Grzelewska carried out an experimental visual project focused on capturing that critical time in her daughter’s life. This meant showing the tough game of illusions, representations, desires, and devastating disappointments that make up early adolescence.
The artist named the series Julia Wannabe, in reference to the Madonna Wannabe phenomenon, where young girls listening to pop music want to be as glamorous, dominant, sexual, and fierce as their pop idols.
With these external and internal traits, every girl tries to uncover the essence of being a sort of Madonna, which to them implies an established femininity and real beauty. In a bizarre contradiction, even though young girls believe these role models help them express themselves, in the case of Grzeleska’s daughter it proves the exact opposite.
We might admire these modern goddesses, but the painful truth is that their aesthetics and ideas on behavior prove how they eventually lead down a path of insecurities, fears, demands, and decisions that nobody should ever be faced with. This is particularly important when speaking on a young girl who is constantly bombarded with information that leaves her confused and distraught.
In the words of the photographer, “My purpose was to search for sources of a woman’s identity and to explore the moment when a girl becomes a woman. There is something ambiguous and disturbing in this transition. Popular culture pictures childhood as a land of happiness: sweet and innocent. Our memory also tends to wipe any flaws off this image.”
In other words, childhood is always shown as a happy time. But eventually it must be stamped out and progressively substituted by its opposites. These elements of maturity are mostly lust and bitterness.
“Shooting Julia, I wanted to look at the process of growing up in a more complex way. It is not a reportage, a diary or a family album, but an attempt to capture the universality of this period. It is also a photographic reinterpretation of a psychological process of transferring —a photographic image is the result of Julia’s experience and my memory of it.”
Her documentary feat was not based on mere personal purposes. The series is created to give testimony to the depression, fleeting euphoria, and emotional breaks that create internal and external conflicts, in other words, the difference between what one has and what the world alleges they should have.
We’ve all suffered through adolescence. It made us doubt and hate everything around us. Anna’s lens captures those moments in order to display the stumble of developing humans. It's also a reminder of how terribly society deals with the pressures put on a young person who is trying to understand what is happening to them.
By providing us sincere images of anxiety and uncertainty, Anna Grzelewska proves through her work the raw truth of imposed and assumed gender roles, the construction of the self, the creation of opinion, and the aesthetic autonomy of the everyday life of a young woman.
Translated by María Suárez