This is an unintended follow up to yesterday’s post. I meant what I said; every word, but on subsequent reads I think that it came off as preachy and self righteous. I’m committed to not taking any posts down because it’s part of the process to discover my voice, even when my voice is not its best. Everything I write here is part of the journey and I refuse to self censor, even if the inner critic says people are judging. What I will do is add context from my personal experience. So, I give you the tale of my days as a mean girl.
In middle school I was a teacher’s pet and an oblivious nerd. I’d rather read Shakespeare than talk to you and my grades were more important than my popularity. In 7th grade, the worst year of any girl’s life, (seriously, ask any girl and they’ll tell you their life took a nosedive in the 7th grade) I decided that I desperately wanted to be cool. Unfortunately, I was not cool material and I went through the painful process of realizing that I was not cool material, including vicious emotional bullying at the hands of “mean girls”. Rather than realizing that the behavior of the mean girls was unacceptable, I vowed that one day I would be a mean girl. They seemed so aloof, so unaffected by the world around them. Their meanness seemed to protect them from everything that hurt in the world, and I hurt. A lot. I vowed that one day I would learn to be a cool mean girl.
In high school my pursuit of cool mean girl status failed for one major reason: I was fat. I always thought my eating disorder surfaced Senior year of high school when I stopped eating, but I know now that it started much earlier with eating my feelings. Since the traumatic 7th grade year, I had done a lot of emotional binge eating and now my pain showed on the outside. I was the fat girl. I tried to own this and had marginal success at being the “fat friend” of the cool mean girls, but this rarely lasted for long. I was always left behind for a cooler, thinner girl. Eventually I accepted my status and found the Theater program at my school. I blended in with this band of misfits and for a while I was happy with my tribe. Late in my Junior year I decided to go on a diet. Someone told me that if I didn’t like being fat I didn’t have to be and I believed it with my whole heart. I set out to be thin and hopefully by proxy be cool. My journey to being a cool mean girl began.
I do not mean to imply that I had never been a mean girl before I started to lose weight. I think a sad reality of our society is that all girls are horribly mean to each other. Girls are taught that female friendships are temporary alliances at best and that we must always be on our guard around other women. This is especially true in middle school and high school when girls start to have crushes on boys. Now other girls represent tools for comparison of our desirability to boys, and even worse, competition for said boys. This all results in a heartbreaking amount of cruelty. Girls talk about each other constantly. Alliances shift daily. Punishment is rendered for the smallest infractions. I have cried over female friendships more in my life than I ever have over romantic relationships. I was involved in all of this activity, just as involved as any other girl, but like so many others I was mean because I was caught in the crossfire of a lot of meanness. Very rarely was I intentionally a mean girl. When I started to lose weight, I started to become an intentional mean girl.
Between the end of my Junior year and the middle of my Senior year I lost approximately a third of my body weight. For the first time in my adolescent life I was a thin girl. I was a beautiful girl. The compliments were overwhelming. Boys were interested in me in a way they never had been before. Girls were jealous of me and even more alluring, they admired me. Girls who had spent most of our school years ignoring me talked to me, asked me what diet I was on and how often I went to the gym. It didn’t take me long to understand the full impact of body privilege. My thin body afforded me power I had never before possessed. It protected me from vicious emotional bullying. It allowed me access to groups that had always ignored me. It gave me control over the men in my life. My thin body made me feel invincible. It was intoxicating, and I went power mad.
I started wearing skirts and makeup every day. I started spending time on my hair. I started wearing pink and heels. I spent more time talking about other girls. I started turning down plans with old friends. I started flirting with other girls’ boyfriends and crushes. I started taking part in cruel jokes at the expense of other girls, some of whom used to be my friends. Not coincidentally, the movie “Mean Girls” came out that year and I idolized Regina George, which I’ve figured out since was not the goal of the movie. My transformation in to a cool mean girl was complete, and I owned it unapologetically. I was proud to be a mean girl, unabashed at my own bad behavior.
This mean girl persona followed me to college, where I started to finally experience the consequences of my mean girl ways. I won’t go in to gory details, but I will tell you that I only speak to two people I met during my Freshman year of college. The rest would likely not respond if I contacted them, with good reasons.
I say all this in order to make the point that I know the cost of being a mean girl. I know the cost of tearing down other women and ruining friendships that could have been life long. This is why I’m so adamant that it’s time for us to stop talking about each other and shaming each other. I have spent literally years of my life shaming other women for their life choices. I have been the victim of other people’s shaming of my life decisions. I have spent most of my life shaming myself for my life choices. I know how awful it feels to be a mean girl and to be the victim of mean girls. I know that every woman who is reading this post knows how it feels too.
I’m saying that we have the power to stop the mean girl phenomenon. It starts with each one of us not being mean. It continues with us shutting down other women who are mean. It continues with us refusing to participate when other women are being mean. It continues with us teaching our daughters, nieces, and mentees not to be mean. It continues with us making daily choices to be kind to other women. It continues with us complimenting other women for their strength and intelligence rather than their bodies or their clothes. It continues with us truly supporting other women going through hard times rather than talking to other women about how sad you are for them. It continues with us trusting each other enough to be vulnerable. It continues with us building deep and intimate friendships with other women. It ends with a kinder, more truthful world where women aren’t afraid of other women. Make the choice not to be a mean girl, one day at a time.