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lip lit: ask me anything

9780702253874

Ask Me Anything is acclaimed writer Rebecca Sparrow’s endeavour to answer a tangled and awkward mess of questions posed to her by teenagers. On the surface Ask Me Anything sounds like the kind of book that worried parents might buy their teenage daughter for Christmas, a remedy for unwanted pregnancies and a clever way to avoid having the dreaded ‘talk’. The author deals her best possible hand, inserting humour and her own personal reflections when answering questions, reminding us that our teenage years, thankfully, aren’t usually our best and brightest.

The questions in Ask Me Anything are for the most part, trivial, and could be read as quite petty at first glance. With my teenage years almost on the backburner and happily forgotten, I tried to stay open-minded while reading questions like ‘I’m ugly. So how will I ever get a boyfriend?’ The teenage silliness of this question made me laugh but after dismounting from my self-professed high horse, I felt sad. Sad that teenage girls have low self-esteem and unrealistic ideas about beauty and even sadder that these unattainable standards aren’t grounded with age.

Sparrow’s answer to this question is exactly what is required, albeit blunt and somewhat cheesy: ‘It’s not your face or your cute skirt or your haircut that someone falls in love with… You don’t “get” a boyfriend, you get to CHOOSE that certain someone. If you wanted a boyfriend that badly you could have one by now—you and I both know that…’

To Sparrow’s credit, she tackles some challenging questions, from eating disorders to bullying and self-harm, bringing in the experts when required. She never ridicules anyone (even when she gets a question about how one can meet Justin Bieber) and she maintains a maternal compassion throughout, emphasising that she can be asked the deepest, trickiest questions and not be tempted by judgement and condescension in her replies.

Most surprising is the number of questions about friendship. There seems to be this myth that teenage girls spend their time pining after boys like hungry wolves and stealing each other’s boyfriends. But what rang true throughout the book was the platonic love and the loyalty that women have for each other. Sparrow says it herself: ‘Don’t believe the myth that female friendships are fraught with bitchiness. Real friendships among women are robust. They’ll survive ups and downs.’

The winning question comes halfway through the book, one that I think stumped Sparrow herself. It is a universal question, one that I asked myself when I was in high school and spit balls were being blown at kids through straws, girls were being called sluts for wearing skirts above the knee and kids were filming school yard fights on their flip phones and then posting them on YouTube.

‘Why does everyone look up or to or want to be accepted by the girls who are so obviously not great people? Why do looks always rank higher than brains?’

It’s a question that gets Sparrow’s feminist juices flowing. She first gives the girl a metaphorical high-five and then answers in capitals:

AS WOMEN, THAT’S THE MESSAGE WE ARE BOMBARDED WITH EVERYWHERE… Call out sexism. Challenge it. Identify with and support feminism—since feminism is a movement advocating for men and women to be equal… I’ve travelled to New York, London, Rome, Athens, Paris, Bangkok and Amsterdam. I’ve laughed till I’ve cried with my girlfriends more times than I can remember. I’ve loved and been in love… Don’t fall for the lie that a woman’s worth has anything to do with the size of her jeans.

As any woman knows, society already gives out too much unwanted advice about what a woman should be. But Ask Me Anything isn’t written to lecture young women. Instead, the book aims to inspire and empower teenage girls while avoiding venturing into the territory of double standards and sexism. Grab a teenager you know a copy of Ask Me Anything; a little bit of feminist literature to fill the Christmas stocking won’t hurt anybody…

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Ask Me Anything by Rebecca Sparrow

UQP, 2015

PB 192pp

RRP $14.95

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