In the coming weeks, I will lead a support group for young women in regards to women’s issues. The point of this group is to educate young women on various topics (mostly pertaining to mental health and body image, along with building one another up). My hope here is to make young women feel support from their community, and find support in one another. I’ve had quite a few realizations since beginning this project.
When I was in high school, I was raised by my Grandmother- she was strict, and unlike most of my friend’s parents. I had a hard time with this. With the loss of my mother as a child and my father being an addict, I already felt like an oddball. I did everything in my power to appear and act “normal”. I wasn’t though. My life was so different from my friends. Because I was so insecure in my home-life and childhood, along with my body image and general “quirkiness”, I tried my best to seem like everyone else.
I consider myself an ex “mean girl”. Not to say I was popular by any means, because I wouldn’t say that. But, I participated in the bullying of classmates in an effort to fit in. Although it wasn’t to the same extremities as the stuff I am seeing now (thanks to the internet and social media), it’s still not something I am proud of. The best thing I ever did, was recognize the “mean girl” in myself, and shun her from my personality. That part of me sometimes rears its ugly head when I feel threatened or angry, it’s true. I can be catty and sassy. I am not perfect and will make “the face” at particular styles of dress sometimes. I am no longer trying to be a good person, I just am being a good person who sometimes slips up.
The problem is, it’s learned behavior. It’s habit. Habits are hard to break.
While journaling for the first session of this young women’s group, I watched that clip from the movie Mean Girls. You know, the clip with Tina Fey schooling these young women on their treatment of one another…
Here’s what I wrote:
“We are all on the same team when it comes down to it. We are all here for one another, we need to treat one another with respect because that needs to be the example we set for the following generation, and even the men around us. If we are making fun of girls for their appearance, sexuality or their interests, we are doing a disservice to all women. Love is the answer to stopping this epidemic. When you feel love for yourself and everyone around you, it shines. It truly stops the “mean girls” in their tracks. It breaks the cycle. If someone bullies you? Listen not to the words they say, but the sadness in their tone of voice. Hear that they aren’t trying to hurt you, they are trying to make themselves feel more powerful because they have felt weak in the past.”
Immediately after, I began to tear up thinking of all the young women who I had hurt at one point or another in my teen years. This shame is real. I feel true remorse and sadness for the pain that I may have caused anyone.
I also experienced my fair share of bullying from other young women as a teen. In my junior year of high school, a Myspace page was created by other young women in my class. The page named a few girls in my graduating class calling us out on our weight and appearance, and even went as far to call one poor girl a “Walmart for STDs”, classic high school slut shaming. Bullying at it’s very finest.
I had an idea at the time who the people were behind the page, and looking back, I don’t really care that they did it. If anything, it’s given me even more reason to be an advocate against bullying.
But my biggest motivation still lies with the fact that I was sometimes a bully myself. After that page was created, one of the girls and her mother filed a police report. The investigator called me, and asked me if there was anyone that would have a reason to create this page against me- you guys, that’s when it hit me. I thought, there are a few people who would do this to me… We constructed at list. There were around 10-15 young women in my class alone who might have motivation to create this page. All because I had hurt them first. I remember having this realization then, but shrugging it off.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I thought about how my actions and words truly do have an effect on others.
So let me say this: if somehow, someway, these words make it to the eyes of the women in my class who were affected by me, I am so sorry. I am sorry if I caused you any pain that could have possibly set you back, or caused any insecurities. I am sorry because you didn’t deserve that. No one deserves that.
As an adult woman working with young women, I can see a vicious cycle. The classic “hurt people, hurt people”. As a former “mean girl” and victim of bullying, I know that this is a cycle that has got to end.