08/13/2012 02:21 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

Why I'm Glad I Grew Up With the Spice Girls

Every generation has its female teen idols. Girls of the 1960s had groups like The Supremes and The Ronettes. In the '80s, girls had Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Those of us who grew up in the '90s had the Spice Girls. Their reunion at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony was the perfect mix of excitement, fun and nostalgia. No matter how old I get, I'll always love the Spice Girls and am thankful that I grew up under their influence.

Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh hit the scene in 1996. "Wannabe" was a smash single and the girls quickly achieved international stardom. They went on world tours, starred in their own movie and even had a line of dolls created in their image. The inevitable stress of such success prompted Ginger's departure from the group in 1998. The remaining four Spices continued making music but ultimately split in 2000. In 2007, the girls put aside their differences and announced a reunion tour. The '90s were certainly over but Spicemania was not.

A childhood friend introduced me to the Spice Girls sometime in 1997. I was immediately hooked. Like many other girls at the time, I tried to dress like my idols: platform shoes, Baby-Spice-style pigtails, etc. I collected the dolls and whatever other merchandise I could get my hands on. My friends and I made up dance routines to their songs. We saw Spiceworld in the theater. When Ginger left the group, I was devastated. Ten years later, I was a sophomore in college. When the Spice Girls announced a reunion show in Boston, I bought tickets and attended the show in a Union Jack dress. I had grown up but my love for the Spice Girls remained.

I know many don't share my appreciation of the Spice Girls. Some parents in the '90s hated their wardrobe choices. Still, I'm glad that I grew up with them. They were decent role models. The Spice Girls promoted "girl power" -- the idea that girls can do whatever they set their minds to. The Spice Girls' dedication to feminist ideals can be debated thanks to their revealing clothing but they never strayed from the opinion that girls can do things just as well as boys, if not better.

The Spice Girls were incredibly relatable. Most girls that grew up in the '90s remember identifying with a certain Spice (Ginger is petite and half-Spanish, just like me!). They looked like glammed up versions of the girl next door. Though we'll never really know what happened behind the scenes, they looked like they were having fun. Sure, not all of them could sing or even dance but that made them all the more endearing and real.

Though it was bubblegum pop, I still find myself returning to certain Spice Girls lyrics even as an adult. "I want a man not a boy who thinks he can," croons Sporty Spice on "Too Much." "Be a little bit wiser baby, put it on, put it on," sings Baby Spice on "2 Become 1." It's great advice: don't date losers and always insist that your partner wear a condom. Having watched Spiceworld numerous times as an adult, I find it incredibly witty. The girls can't act but the Hard Day's Night parody is clever. Plus, you can't deny its quirky yet fabulous cast: Meatloaf as the bus driver! Alan Cumming as the documentary filmmaker! Richard E. Grant as the manager! Elvis Costello as a bartender!

After the Spice Girls' reign, it was the era of the teen queen. The Spice Girls never pretended to be innocent (except "Baby," obviously), but the teen queens took it to entirely new levels. I was still a tween at the time but the Britneys and Christinas of the world just didn't appeal to me like the Spice Girls still do. As I entered my teen years, my platform shoes were replaced with Chuck Taylors and dance routines gave way to guitar lessons. I no longer wished to be Ginger Spice; I wanted to be Justine Frischmann from Elastica. Nowadays, I'm a mixture of both -- ginger hair from a bottle with Doc Martens, Fred Perrys, and yes, the occasional platforms and mini dresses.

I'm sad that the little girls of today won't grow up with the Spice Girls. Pop music has and always will feature girls singing wistfully about a boy that won't love them (see one of my favorite examples, Lesley Gore's "That's The Way Boys Are") but the Spice Girls' songs were empowering. They taught us to express what we want what we really, really want. They owned their sexuality and at the end of the day, it's all about having a good time with your friends. Their "girl power" message wasn't executed perfectly but they showed an entire generation a brand of self-confidence that came from within.