I still remember the palpable fear I felt calling my friend Michelle’s house in case her older sister, Simone picked up the phone. If having to answer your call disturbed Simone from whatever glorious older sister activity she was doing, she would let you know by pausing, exhaling loudly into the phone and shouting, “Michelle! It’s one of your fuckin’ loser pals on the phone.” I would shudder at her response and wait for Michelle to come on the line so we could talk for an hour about how bad Monique Park’s eyeliner had looked in physics that afternoon.
To my younger, 12-year-old self, Simone and the other older sisters of my close friends were super stars. They were untouchable, higher beings that had the knowing aura of someone who had been fingered multiple times in the deep end of the local swimming pool. Older sisters had the best music, they knew the latest dance moves first, they had long term boyfriends who sometimes stayed over and their bedrooms were like life size versions of the bag Madonna carries around in Desperately Seeking Susan—full of fluro tops, cool trinkets, bits of leather, incredible make-up, huge gold earrings and cigarettes.
To me and my friends, older sisters were our gateway to becoming teenagers. They did everything first and when they were feeling charitable they would throw scraps of valuable wisdom to their little sisters (my pals), who would then pass on the golden nuggets to the rest of us. We’d often sit wide-eyed, sharing a chip butty as someone would describe how to give a blow job in great detail, how to roll a joint that didn’t look like a tampon or how to shoplift from the Body Shop without getting caught.
The older sister’s biggest allure was that they weren’t remotely interested in me or my friends. If anything, they were outwardly hostile and that made them all the more captivating. They were dangerous girls. There was a sense that if they caught you staring at them from across the street they would kick the shit out of you for visually invading their space. However, my obsession with them outweighed the fear of being chased, caught and kicked repeatedly in the head. I would watch them intently, almost in slow motion, as they moved as a unit around our estate reeking of Charlie Red and trailed by plumes of cigarette smoke.
They were living proof that in a few years our irrelevant lives could blossom into something fabulous. Their make-up was heavy, their jeans were tight and their tops were the ones from Miss Selfridge that we couldn’t afford. They were often only going to sections of the estate that they had designated as theirs but those darkened corners next to the garages were strictly off limits to anyone not in their clique—least of all their little sisters and their pathetic friends. To them we were a constant reminder that they’d only recently progressed from being losers themselves—they didn’t want our desperate attempts to be cool to stink up their lives. Whilst they went to underage drinking bars and illegal raves at the weekend we had to be content with recreating their looks in our bedrooms and making up dance routines to their mixtapes that we’d never perform on an actual dance floor.
Part of their appeal was also the fact I didn’t have a sister. I had to get all of my older sister wisdom second hand and I longed for my own sisterly guardian to guide me through the emotional quagmire of tweendom. I had an older brother who was good for teaching me the cheats on Sonic and passing on the latest death metal tapes but not so good on shoplifting and blowjob techniques.
As we navigated our way through our teenage years we met them at an acceptable apex—the gap between us being total losers and the older sisters being unapproachable goddesses became marginally smaller. Our paths would sometimes cross at raves or house parties. No matter how messy they looked up-close after downing endless bottles of blue WKD, the older sisters never lost their appeal or intrigue. There was still something unknowable about them. They were mystical hot messes.
As I’ve grown up I’ve admired other women for their style or beauty. I’ve obsessively googled Chloë Sevigny, Solange, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Monica Bellucci but no one has ever had the same appeal for me as that group of older sisters. I can still conjure the feeling of intoxication when I think about them—I’ve never seen anyone so glorious, so magical and yet so utterly normal.
Riposte Issue #12 is now available to order here and comes with a limited edition print by Laura Callaghan.