11/30/2012 09:18 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

The Intersection of Activism and Adolescence

I am not perfect. I don't try to be; I keep my goals manageable and my expectations realistic. I am a teenager, which I think is a synonym for "someone who makes mistakes." I'm given the benefit of the doubt for most of them though, likely due to the "Get Out of (metaphorical) Jail Free" card granted to every child to cover up for their naïve stumbles. But, I also consider myself an advocate for universal equal rights. I'm still learning the ropes, but one thing I have learned is that people who stand up for a cause are expected to be perfect. The internal conflict between my desire to set a good example and my error-prone teenage self is definitely an interesting dynamic.

I'll admit it: I love One Direction. My heart melts at the British boyband's heartthrob looks and flawless harmonies. I take pride in my carefully crafted taste in music, but I am not above dancing in my room to their infectious tunes. Like any boy band, they strive to maintain their lovable image, but sometimes their attempts make me cringe. In the acoustic ballad "Little Things," member Harry Styles sings, "You still have to squeeze into your jeans, but you're perfect to me." Proclaiming a girl's appearance as undesirable and tacking a compliment onto the end is not the way to her heart, boys. This feminist's nightmare of a lyric was enough to cause an existential crisis within myself. How could I, a supporter of women's rights, listen to this band that is clearly preying on the insecurities of their teenage fans? Although my predicament may seem absolutely silly, I didn't want my integrity to be weakened over pop music.

I began to notice that my life was full of these little hiccups. A few months earlier, comedian Daniel Tosh was under fire for making an offensive rape joke to a heckler at one of his shows. I cringed at the news as I remembered the time I was doubled over with laughter while watching his comedy special on TV. Even in my preferred choice of creative expression, fashion, I was not exempt from a misstep. I felt terrible once I realized that the Native American-inspired "tribal print" trend I enjoyed was a prime example of cultural appropriation.

At one point, it seemed that there was something wrong with everything I had come to like. The broader perspective I gained by learning about various issues had caused me to find faults within my everyday life. I was thankful for my newfound knowledge, but I knew that my perfectionist mindset was doing me no good. I eventually came to the conclusion that we live in an imperfect world, where good intentions don't always lead to a good outcome. As someone who strives to stay informed, there's no doubt that I notice these blunders more often now than when I was ignorant to the problems that face society. But my character shouldn't be diminished just because I once liked (or still like) something that could be considered problematic. Supporting a cause does not equate to being flawless, and, as a teen trying to navigate my way through life, I've realized there is room for error.