The brutal honesty teenage girls pen in their diaries is something to be celebrated, says Olivia Phillips. But can we learn from replicating it as an adult?
Overwrought and in love with Jared Leto; I literally was Angela from My So-Called Life

IT IS ONE OF MY GREATEST SATISFACTIONS IN LIFE that I had the forethought – and quite possibly the wild, unchecked self-obsessiveness – to write a daily diary from the ages of 12 to 17. Great, sprawling dissertations dedicated to me – clearly the most fascinating person I knew – and every little melodramatic thought to come wailing out of my hormone-addled, teenage lady brain.

I was prolific. Honestly, it’s a wonder I managed to pass any GCSEs, spending what looks like every waking hour between 1996 and 2001 scribbling pages and pages of a rambling inner monologue – the Samuel Pepys of south London, but in a crop top, with scratch-n-sniff stickers. From boys to bum size – both worryingly frequent leitmotifs over the years – the subject matter is, quite frankly, a substantial written testament to my absolute idiocy. In that way, probably an early precursor to this column. But I’ll tell you what. Those diaries? They’re my finest body of work.

Growing up, I lived in a half-Greek household, which meant that absolutely nothing was sacred and/or off-limits to my mother. Private letters, school books, firmly closed bathroom doors – my mum would waltz right on in with all the flagrant disregard of Marion Kelly (of yellow-knitwear-and-BBC-Skype-interview fame), reading, seeing, knowing everything. And I knew that she knew. So much so, that I actually dedicated the opening page of my 1999 X-Files diary to it. The preface, incidentally, was a succinct: “Live fast. Party hard.” Evidently my motto at 14.

“Hello mum. I know you’re reading this – or maybe you’ve skipped this part and gone straight to the juicy bits. I think invading someone’s privacy is wrong, no matter what your relationship is. I also think if you can’t trust your mum, you can’t trust anyone. If I know you’ve read this, I don’t think I’ll ever trust you again. And that’s a very sad thing for me to realise. Please don’t make it real.” And then, after a number of empty lines – presumably to add gravitas – “Just close the damn book.”

This no doubt made me the source of untold hilarity at every subsequent coffee morning from then on out. They’re probably still laughing at it now. I also dread to think what kind of “juicy bits” I was referring to, as my life at the time could pretty much have been summarised thus: School. Home. Telly. Spot. School again. Somewhere in this heady combination, however, I had managed to confuse myself with some kind of Nancy Spungen figure, living life in one big illicit, speeding ball of hedonism and doomed trysts at bus stops with Year 10s called Craig.

Perhaps it was this choice snippet to which I was referring: “My life is so c**p. I hate everything. My boyfriend dumped me. The guy I’m in love with [note this is not my boyfriend] doesn’t fancy me and keeps calling me stupid and ugly and just wants to be mates. I keep arguing with my parents, I’m fat and ugly and have no life. I HAVE NO LIFE [this is underlined twice for effect.] I just want to die. I wasn’t even allowed to get out Austin Powers cos the fat moron in the video shop decided all of a sudden that I didn’t look 15. I really want pedal pushers.”

Ah, those familiar feelings. PMS, pain… and pedal pushers. I really should have been more cheerful. After all, I was a comedy genius and I had no idea. So earnest. So solemn. So ridiculous. I have to say, though, reading the entries back makes me really miss that kind of brutal, unfettered honesty that I had with myself as a teen. Our lives nowadays are so heavily edited that sometimes it’s impossible to differentiate the reality from the filter – even to yourself. Sometimes I look at my Instagram – essentially, a modern-day diary – and wonder if it’s really me; a fixed smile, flitting about Dubai in a permanent state of candid delight. No off-days where I write something shouty and embarrassing in capital letters. No outbursts where I announce that I’m marrying Leonardo DiCaprio, or that I’m starting a Goo Goo Dolls cover band. And that’s kind of a shame. After all, there’s no therapy to be had in pretending to be perfect all the time. Especially when I’m still as prone to flailing adolescent meltdowns as I ever was. It’s made me realise that it’s about time to reclaim the diary in all its mortifying glory, embracing the angst and committing it all to paper. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my room. No adults allowed.

Photo: REX