18x18 launch / Suzanne Axxelson
I have a feeling no-one really knows how they felt at 18 until they’re not 18 anymore.
And it’s only a feeling because I am 18 (so I will have to get back to you in a few years on whether I knew myself at all) — but what I, and many of my peers, have experienced till this point is a confusing storm of sudden responsibilities, daunting options, crises, hope and determination.
Last year Verity Johnson, curator of the 18x18 exhibition, and Suzanne Axelsson, lead photographer, delved right into this swirling storm to speak to 18 young Kiwi women about being— well, just that. 18 years-old, young, Kiwi, and a woman.
What did they find?
Firstly, there’s a lot of pressure.
Young women are not at all sheltered from the pressure to have it all. There’s usually an expectation to succeed academically, and falling into the trap of wanting to grow up faster (seriously, why did we ever want that?) is all too easy when curated, airbrushed lifestyles taunt us from the cybersphere — which, once an escapist paradise, is now fraught with cyber-dangers.
The result? Burnout, mental health issues and a lack of support networks in the space between school and the ‘real’ world.
“18 is scary because it's the age when you're expected to know what you're doing… My older siblings dropped out and didn't go [to university], so the expectation is on me because I'm the last one in high school,” Lisi says.
“I hated school so much. Girls’ schools are horrible, there's lots of bullying. It happened to me, I did it to others; it was everywhere. Self-harm was everywhere,” Rayna recalls.
Coco explains, “We're expected to do everything these days. I should be running, doing shoots, editing, having a healthy lifestyle, taking the dog to the beach, meeting a partner, at uni, working, seeing friends… And also there's like 16-year-olds in America who are famous! They are younger than me and they're famous!”
“At the moment I'm on a gap year, and I knew I needed a gap year because … when it came to exams I was like: "I'm so stressed, it would be easier if I was dead!" And now you look back and think: "Why would I say that? That's crazy!" But at the time it's just the stress you put on yourself,” Gloria says.
But far from cracking under pressure, young people are getting up when the world gets us down. We’re sad and mad, comical yet serious, we have our hearts on our sleeves and science in our heads. We’re rallying, mobilising and voting to shift power to those who would use it for better causes.
Gidienne is “passionate about human rights, especially with what's happening in the world right now. It doesn't matter if we have differences, we should respect each other.”
“We do a karakia and pick the flax, come home and weave it. It’s awesome!” Precorqtion says of her family business. “It’s all around culturally sustainable ideas and revitalising our language.”
“I want to be a police officer because I’m black, I’m Muslim and female,” Tasnim says. “I’m the three things society hates, so I just want to be a familiar face for people like me.”
Maybe older people are more experienced in calling things as they are, but we are great at calling things as they could be, and as they should be, and then acting on these goals.
Corrina remembers, “I saw this quote, probably on Instagram, that says: ‘People used to laugh at comedians and listen to politicians, now people listen to comedians and laugh at politicians.’ Sad sis, but f*cking hell, it's true.”
“We’re reluctant to give up anything to help the environment, but not everyone needs to go crazy on it! Everyone just needs to make small changes, and if everyone did then we’d have a big difference,” Jemima says.
“I have got this feeling that I'm going to change something big. I don't know what it is but I'm going to change it. I may be little, but watch out world!” Sophie tells us.
“I think I have no limit. I can keep going and going and going and not stop,” Ranisha said.
Yes, the road from being a wishful child to becoming an empowered young woman is long, winding and, frankly, terrifying — but NZ’s young women are walking it with humour, ambition and grace.
18x18 invites everyone to join us on the path.