July 7, 2021 / Megan Shen
And I was just living in it.
Jenny was a good dancer. That was my first impression.
In 2012, and for a few years after that, I attended a summer leadership camp. On top of the usual speaker seminars and group building activities, they would make each class lear
n a dance, because nothing says leadership like preteens performing a dance they learned in a week.
This is where I first saw Jenny. I would say this was where I met her, but that implies that she was aware of my presence at the time. I don’t think she was.
Our class was dancing to Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and equipped with thick socks and cheesy pom poms. There were about 30 of us, but Jenny stood out. She made the moves look easy and natural. Her smile was wide but not forced, and she knew exactly when to step and on what count.
“Girls, we’re going to do a V formation.” The dance teacher was deciding placements now.
I was placed in the back of the formation, which, given my sloppy footwork, was expected. I thought about how I must’ve looked on stage. Knee-length shorts, just starting puberty, still recovering from a bad haircut. Unsurprisingly, I was a
very insecure preteen.
“Jenny will be at the tip of the V.”
Jenny smiled in a bashful yet knowing way as she walked to the front of the stage. Her friends cheered her on, but I knew they were secretly jealous. What I would’ve given to look like that, to be admired like that.
This was the first time I wished I was Jenny.
✻ ✻ ✻
What I admired most about Jenny was her ability to somehow transcend stereotypes. She was clever and well-read, but she could also rap the entirety of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” She was fashionable and clearly well-off, but still down-to-earth and funny.
Effortless. Maybe that was the best way to describe it. The way she carried herself, the way she interacted with others, the way she went about life — it was all effortless. She wasn’t “that Asian girl,” but she was also never “not Asian enough.” She was just Jenny. Pretty, smart, perfect Jenny.
Over the years, my fixation on her lessened. I started college, took interesting classes, joined different clubs, and attended dodgy frat parties with even dodgier drinks. For the first time since childhood, I began to understand myself and the things that motivated me. I think my admiration for Jenny stemmed from how much I despised myself. She was a gorgeous, fashionable, intelligent person, and I was just “some Asian girl.” But as I slowly became more comfortable with myself, the insecurities that incited my obsession began to dwindle. When you develop a personality, you’re less insecure about not having one.
Jenny’s eminence was fading.
But about a year ago, on a night when I was feeling especially vulnerable, Instagram gifted me with a story update. I couldn’t help but indulge. Smiling from some New York City rooftop, dancing to a trendy song I was unfamiliar with, was Jenny. There was this aura that surrounded her, a sparkle so alluring I couldn’t help but stare, but so bright that it hurt.
I thought about how sad I must look, lying in bed watching this girl’s story on repeat, my face illuminated only by the bluish light of the phone screen. Instantly, I was back at that summer camp, slouching in my green shorts and ugly haircut.
It would be nice to end the saga with some sort of confrontation with Jenny, resolving this creepy complex. I’d confess to her how much I looked up to her growing up, and she’d laugh, saying that she was honored. I’d leave the meeting feeling relieved and emboldened because I was confident enough to confess how much I idolized her, and that somehow meant that I was a better person than before.
But I haven’t talked to Jenny in years. And if I’m honest, we were acquaintances at best, never close enough for a casual meet-up.
I don’t think there needs to be that kind of “happily ever after” meeting, though. Somewhere along the line, the image in my head had deviated from the real person. At this point, it wasn’t even Jenny whom I was idolizing — it was an aggrandized idea of her. Even Jenny would want to be the Jenny in my mind. Recognizing that in itself was healing.
There will still be times when I struggle with the internalized white gaze and my inferiority complex. I’ll wonder how my peers perceive me, and I’ll lose sleep dwelling on my insecurities. I’ll probably be visiting Jenny’s Instagram profile on those days. But I don’t need her approval to move on with my life and become the person I’m meant to be. I know that I’m more than “that boring Asian girl,” and those who genuinely care for me know that too.
Besides, Ted Bundy wasn’t my type anyway. ■
By: Megan Shen
Graphics by: Iszy Coco & Adrianna Torres
Graphics by: Iszy Coco & Adrianna Torres