Shape Shifter

Julia Rudlaff, 18, she/her/hers

I feel like a fraud.

I’m a shapeshifter who’s transformed so many times
I can’t remember who I was the first time.
Before the little lies melded together and created me.
Before that first rush of reinvention as I stitched together my new self
Leaving my past in the seams so I could become the creature of my dreams:
Eloquent, unscathed, and a little airbrushed.

Free from the toxins, rid of the scars,
Filled with only interesting stories and happy thoughts,
I was so perfectly portrayed I just couldn’t stop.
So I built on, and on and on
Like an insatiable architect.
More fake rooms and trap doors
All leading nowhere.

These new selves were just compilations of lies
Built from word suicide as exaggerations and mistruths jumped off the edge of my tongue and
landed in people ears,
Sinking their vowels into the wax and consonants into the cartilage
Before I could even consider telling the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the
bullshit.

There it goes again.
Words sliding off my tongue like children sledding in a snowstorm
With the joy and anxiety of never knowing what will come next.
I’m always surprised.
What exits my mouth and enters my mind shouldn’t be so unfamiliar.
But I am constantly in redesign,
So I remind myself to catch up, stick with it,
Stay present or be left out of the next iteration.
Pretty soon there will be an entire generation.
Hundreds of layers, faces, and random conversations
Categorized and renamed to fit the current model,
Each compilation a presentation of Julia v1 v2 v3, untitled
Each form serving a different person, pleasing a different crowd,
Filling each space with that particular, fraudulent shape.

Visual Art by: Cammie Zehner, 16, she/her/hers

Breakthrough represents the loud, colorful, and explorative moment an individual breaks out of their societal mold and expresses their authentic voice. Being able to unapologetically express oneself is a challenge every teenager endures, especially as we are barraged by a seemingly infinite set of social standards. These standards hinder the mind from self-exploration and appreciation, veiling our individuality and authentic voice.
I’ve experienced these binding chains most of my life. I found that even with my friends and loved ones, I could never use my real voice. I molded myself into a person I was unhappy with in order to avoid the menacing consequences of derivation. Luckily for me, I found my person. She is my best friend, and the first to encourage me to be confident and accepting of every part of me. She was my breakthrough moment.
Breakthrough is a visual representation of the vibrance of authenticity: derivation finally overcoming conformity. I hope it inspires other individuals to unapologetically accept and love who they are.