We all ask it at some point. It’s a grand awakening, a moment filled with fear. You’ve lost something you didn’t even know you had, and now it’s gone. It makes you wonder—what are your other blindspots? And can you become innocent again?
It got really bad when I was about 14. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and I was no longer feeling unstoppable now that consequences were starting to enter the picture. On bad days, I would wear white just to make myself feel purer. But it didn’t matter how many milkmaid dresses I wore—there was no getting my innocence back.
I felt so uncomfortable and alone through it all. The things I went through involuntarily and the things I did consciously haunted me. Seemingly outside of my body, I watched myself be hypersexualized by men with a Blasian fetish, watched the sweet boy next door become the neighborhood dealer, and watched myself discover that my parents weren’t perfect. Soon enough I was living in it, too: drinking, smoking, sneaking out, getting in trouble, cursing. I tried it all.
It was at this weird moment in my life that I realized: my innocence was slipping away.
Now—let me backtrack for a second. I admit I really, really, wanted to be innocent. I’d always been the sweet one in my family. So when I got older and began engaging in off-brand behavior, that’s when I got scared. It’s not that anyone shamed me necessarily, but I began questioning myself.
America’s weird obsession with purity didn’t help either. Our country is filled with girls who shave, wax, tweeze, thread, and laser, paying a hefty price to have themselves infantilized. All to look youthful. It’s the same reason why I fawned over La Mer’s $235 eye concentrate. But this cultural obsession goes beyond physical beauty; we fixate on virginity, coming-of-age stories, “submissive” girls to take advantage of, the girls who don’t know they’re hot yet, and the idea that men get to let you know when you’re hot—because you’re just too innocent to have thought of your own sexiness yet.
The innocent American girl sits on a pretty high pedestal—so it hurt when I realized that was simply unattainable for me. I felt like I was failing America, my sweet-girl identity, and my future adult self while stuck in this in-between stage of losing my innocence.
In the midst of all this fear and failure, I found solace in the times when I gave myself permission to explore. My first trip to Babeland, playing dress-up in my room, getting my first set of long-AF acrylics—that was fun for me. Every time I explored something new or taboo or adult, it was amazing—but knowing these things were supposed to be “bad” made me feel less pure.
I still missed my younger self, but moments of exploring always triumphed that longing. It was thrilling and exciting to let go a little and not care about old iterations of myself. That’s what made all the difference.
Being scared about losing your innocence and wanting it back is a normal, valid feeling. But we can’t stay in that state forever. Adolescence is a very purposeful and intentional time, yet after serving its purpose, there’s no need to fight it. Acknowledge it, honor it, and then let it go.
After learning this myself, I was able to say goodbye to America’s cultural obsession with purity. Since then, I’ve been able to accept and grow into my adult self. It just took a second.
I’m not going to tell you to reject your innocence, because I still catch myself reminiscing on my own. But to combat losing it would be a disservice to yourself.
Relying on social cues can never be totally fulfilling. By opening ourselves up to growth, instead, we can step into consciousness of knowledge, awareness, and most importantly, love. Once we stop allowing others to dictate what’s acceptable, we can discover the magic of the unknown, freedom from fear, and the beauty of living in the moment, and feel the abundance of the universe.
By Anna M Erickson
Illustration by Gabriella Shery