...for a different kind of girl

silent surburban girl releasing her voice, not yet knowing what all she wants to say about her life and the things that make it spin. do you have to be 18 to be here? you'll know when i know.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

like you're less than...

I was at my oldest son's basketball game last night when a group of his classmates, fellow ball players fueled by an earlier victory, sat down a few seats away from me. Lanky boys armed with cell phones or wired to iPods, it didn't take long for their collective attention to turn from the action on various tiny screens and the court to the cluster of cheerleaders next to them who were exuding school spirit for the home team. The squad, by no means the stylized visions of professional cheerleaders, included various individuals clearly trying to fill in the awkward uniform of teenagerhood.

At some point between foul shots, the two groups developed a slightly casual, seemingly harmless bantering in a fashion I can recall between teenage boys and girls. The boys began making up their own cheers for our team, and the girls laughed at their attempts. I found it all rather charming.

When the buzzer signaled halftime, the girls pranced out to the middle of the court and took a formation that made it clear they we're going to attempt a pyramid lift. Anchors were spotted, squats were taken, and the girl designated to peak the formation was lifted into place. The boys began making remarks about it all, and then, over their laughter, I heard one say, "Watch it there, Thunder Thighs. You wouldn't want to kill someone under you!"

His words were met with whoops among his peers. Some of the laughter seemed genuine, some of it I hope was just the reaction of those who didn't know how else to respond, so they did what they felt would allow them continued acceptance in the fold. As for me, I wanted to come off my chair and go after them for their thoughtlessness. I was seething as I looked out at the girls, each as gangly as the boys, each as athletic in their own way.

But not one of them overweight.

I prayed none of the girls heard the boy's words and the others' reactions. I prayed that because I was that girl who had thoughtless words lobbed at her. I was that girl referred to as a 'blow up doll,' 'fat bitch,' and others far more cruel by thoughtless boys while in school. Their words, combined with others from my mother, family members, other classmates, even strangers, made me hate myself for an incredibly long time, and in that immediate moment last night, I didn't want any of those girls to feel such a degree of self-hatred simply because another person chose to be senselessly cruel. I don't want any of those girls to be 43 years old one day and still remember hateful words lobbed at them when they were 14. I do. I remember every word, every time they were said, and even though I like to tell myself they mean nothing, they do. In their own way, they do. I was seated in a corner of the gym last night, secluded from other parents and fans, because when I walked in just moments before my son's game started, I didn't want to draw attention to myself, didn't want to clumsily engage someone in conversation and come off sounding stupid. I do this sometimes, even now, because of words said to me when I was the same age as the kids around me last night. To be called fat, to me, is to be made to feel worthless, unworthy, stupid. I opt to stay quiet and hidden more often than not, and honestly, I would hate that for the girls on that cheer squad. I hate it for me.

I hate that I let my own voice join the chorus of detractors around me, compelling me to take them to heart and feed my pain. I've seen pictures of myself from when I was a 13-14 year old girl, and I absolutely wasn't overweight, but as time went on, I grew increasingly unhealthy, and I struggle even now not to degrade myself when I look in a mirror or slip into a pair of jeans. It's not every day, of course, but there are days still when I do think of how I used to imagine physically slicing away at my thighs, hips and stomach to rid myself of the pain I was putting on myself, and it's all because of a few stupid words someone said to me, and that I eventually said to myself.

Of course, I am not so naive to think none of us makes hasty, uninformed decisions about a person based solely on their appearance. We do it every day. If you haven't yet, no doubt you will. So will I. But I try very hard not to. I know adolescence is an awkward time, but it's disgusting and disheartening to realize people can still be disparaged by another for something so grossly untrue.

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20 Comments:

Blogger Bijoux said...

Oh, that is just awful. I'm disgusted by the stuff that teens say now, in front of anyone. At least back in my day, they would attempt to hide their bullying. In the HS parking lot last week, I heard a boy call 3 girls 'bitch' in place of their names. And the girls allowed it. Sickens me.

Despite the old adage, 'Sticks and stones....' words CAN hurt and as you said, stick with you for a lifetime. I'm very sorry that you have to endure those ugly memories. All we can do is raise our own children to be better than that.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 6:35:00 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Oh, I've been there. And on both sides, FWIW - I've been the smartass adolescent teaser (and as much as I might plead that it wasn't meant maliciously, more of it was than ever should have been), and I've been the object of other people's derision (which certainly felt more malicious than they no doubt would say it was meant to).

I grew up as The Fat Kid. And even tho I grew into a measure of athletic success, I'm still The Fat Kid in my own mind. I've come to a measure of overcoming those thoughts, and a measure of accepting them. But sometimes I wonder if I can just be Me. Whoever that is. . .

I can promise you this, tho - if I ever hear one of my sons speak that way to a young woman, even in jest, he'll finish the sentence laying on his ass. . .

Just sayin'. . .

Thursday, February 10, 2011 8:04:00 AM  
Blogger Meg said...

Oh I remember my teen angst, my horrible body image that even now forces me to grimace when I glance in the mirror as I'm getting out of the shower or trying to doll myself up for a night out. Self esteem is so fragile when they're that age and it breaks my heart when people make fun. I don't think they realize how cruel they are. I wish I could beat them up, too!

Hugs to you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:35:00 AM  
Anonymous FTN said...

Geez. I hope someone talked to those boys, and slapped them into shape. How sad.

Also, I'm going to go hug my daughter, and continue my quest to somehow magically make her not care what the boys in her class think about her.

I really need to complete my quest before she gets to junior high.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:40:00 AM  
Blogger unmitigated me said...

Being a teen is so hard. I like to think that if the boys' teacher had been present, she would have said something like, "Someday, you will grow up and have children of your own, and I hope no one talks to your daughter the way you are talking about these girls."

A girl doesn't need to overweight to feel the pain of that comment. Somewhere, that boy was taught that "thunder thighs" is the best way to hurt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:55:00 AM  
Blogger Mel said...

Thank you for sharing this. I think the more people talk about these things, the more we take the power away from the opressors. And we all need to hug our kids and talk to them about the effects of bullying.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger SciFi Dad said...

Well said. Really, there's nothing I can add.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Christina Lee said...

Yeah, you've pretty much said it all. *sigh*

Except, I just may have said something to them in a jokey kind of way (I've been known to do it)!!

(huggles)

Thursday, February 10, 2011 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Logical Libby said...

That is BULLSHIT! I don't know a single girl who wasn't criticized for her body at some point during adolescence, and it is BULLSHIT.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 8:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Bejewell said...

I wouldn't go back to that age if someone offered me a million, zillion, kajillion dollars.

Friday, February 11, 2011 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Trueself said...

Reading this dredged up so many ugly memories. I too remember every unkind word said to me about my weight when I was growing up. Unfortunately, many of them came from my own parents. I've never quite forgiven them for that.

Friday, February 11, 2011 5:47:00 PM  
Blogger Kate Coveny Hood said...

It's amazing what a number high school does on us. I generally think of high school as a fun time that I largely spent either with good friends or by myself feeling broody and misunderstood. But there is a reason why I never had many boyfriends. I was was so painfully self conscious. So insecure. So completely terrified.

I realized all of that when I went to a party after my 20 year reunion. I went to an all girls' school and a local boys school was having their 20 year reunion the same night. A girl from my class had a twin brother from the other class and someone who owned a restaurant/bar reserved their private room for both groups.

Most of the guys I was friends with in high school went to a different boys' school - but I don't know if it would have made a difference. I immediately went back to my old self - the one who felt awkward and unworthy. And the current me sat on the fringes making faces and rolling her eyes at the flashback me.

I had fun that night, and I even pretended to be the more confident me that I am now...but it brought a lot back. I remember. And I would never want to do it all again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011 12:49:00 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

I didn't go to my 35th class reunion. This is exactly why I stay away year after year. Bullying leaves a mark. I try to convince myself it didn't matter and it doesn't matter. Sadly, it did and it does. Thank you for speaking the truth loud and clear.

Saturday, February 12, 2011 7:36:00 AM  
Blogger justmakingourway said...

Ugh. It makes me angry and sad to hear how kids talk to each other. Not like it hasn't been done for years and years - as we can all attest to - but I feel like it is so much meaner today.

This is why I worry for my daughter, and my son - but more so for her. I want her to be so much stronger and confident then I ever was. I hope I can help show her the way.

Sunday, February 13, 2011 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Homemaker Man said...

In the last 5 years, I've been as thin as I was at 18 to as fat as I've ever been. I still hear it from time to time. One confused soul in my life--he's always been an athlete--will lob out a fat joke every so often. Usually when he's either drunk or embarrassed.

It doesn't suck like it used to, but it still sucks.

The worst part is, I'm losing weight again, he's finally gaining, and a part of me I'm trying to ignore can't wait to get my revenge when the summer comes.

I won't, probably. Maybe. Probably. But I'll sure as hel be thinking it.

Monday, February 14, 2011 10:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At my husband's 30th class reunion last year he went up to one of the men who was mercilessly teased in high school and apologized to him. He wasn't the one doing the teasing, but he never tried to stop it and felt terrible about it for years.

Kids are brutal to each other! I would hope that those boys' parents would be as disgusted by their behavior as you were.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 5:02:00 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

The one time I almost got suspended from High School was when I tore (yes, quite literally) the Izod off a scum bag who was hollering similar insults at the young ladies on the track team while his buddies hooted around him.

His father was on the school board. Oops, didn't know that.

The vice principal in charge of my punishment? A woman. How lucky do you think I felt?

Never did see him or his buddies at another track meet.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 6:13:00 PM  
Blogger lime said...

it is painful to watch other kids endure the things we endured. i have a low threshold of tolerance for such cretinism.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 9:14:00 AM  
Blogger Anna See said...

Oh dear. I have felt fat forever, even though I wasn't and I'm not. Just hearing THUNDER THIGHS hurts.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011 9:28:00 PM  
Blogger Bex said...

In some way and to some degree, all of us girls have a damaged self-image. You have such a compassionate heart. Maybe you will find a ministry in this?

I often envy the pioneer women. They were so busy with hard work and survival they could hardly think about how big their thighs were.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011 7:35:00 AM  

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