Wednesday, February 10, 2010

99 Problems

I still remember the name of my after school care bully.

Ella.

She was 10 and might have been close to 5 ft tall, but to me, she could’ve played in the WNBA, or possibly tight end for the Cleveland Browns. She made fun of the fact I hadn't developed any boobs, (mind you I was like 8?..) and that I still hadn't mastered the best dismount on the double bars at gymnastics class. And she always knew how to make me cry.

It’s not even like Ella was the most beautiful of girls in our class. Come to think of it, she wasn't even popular. The other kids were just nice to her out of pure fear.

Who knows why Ella picked me to be the recipient of all her pent up hostility. It wasn’t like I was the prettiest, or the ugliest kid. I was more in the middle of the pack. Maybe it was the fact that like most wild beasts, bullies can smell fear. And my poor little eight year old self esteem reeked like the overzealous sale lady at the perfume counter.

Ella wasn’t even the prettiest girl at school, or the skinniest. She was just the meanest. Me? I was a tiny girl, and generally pretty nice to everyone. My mom swears the reason Ella picked on me was because she was jealous. Even today, I insist the reason most women are so catty to one another is based strictly on envy. Jealousy, while sometimes productive, is generally an awful thing. While sometimes it may productively breed competition, it’s more likely a disease that just eats away at your insides and turns you into a mean and conniving version of yourself. Or worse, it downright consumes you.

Females are without a doubt the most judgmental of all creatures, not to mention the better majority of our judgments are superficial. At times, it almost makes me ashamed to be one. You don't hear guys around the water cooler talking like us.

"Oh my God, did you see Bob? Looks like someone put on the freshman 10 and then some."

"It’s totally the suit Chris. It’s just cut wrong. I mean, who wears a six button suit besides Craig Sager?"

"I don't care; he still looks like a fat cow."

"Yeah, but did you hear he's dating Susan in accounting?"

"No way. How is that possible? She's so way prettier than him. God, she must be pretty desperate to go harpooning on that level."

It’s disgraceful really. The way women relate to one another. We’re constantly judging, constantly criticizing and for what?

As someone who Dustin Hoffman would say has dabbled in.. One word.. ”Plastics”... over the years, I would say that 80 percent of the time women get plastic surgery to impress other women. To compete with other women. Men in all honesty could usually give two $hits about how big your boobs are. They're just happy you let them see ‘em every once in a while.

We spend so much time tearing each other down, that we've taught men it’s ok to treat us this way. They’ll judge our bodies, our opinions, and belittle us. I mean, aren’t we doing ourselves a huge disservice by pulling each other’s hair and showing the cavemen we’re still down with that sort of thing?.. Furthermore, how can we expect to be treated with respect when we have none for each other?

I recently had a chance to go back to my alma mater and attend a football game, and though things at the good old Doak Campbell have turned a little sour and may I add bitter, I still wanted nothing more than to go back just to take in the sights and sounds. Nothing makes my heart beat faster on a Saturday morning than hearing the Warchant in person, or the roar of the crowd when the team takes the field. Well, almost nothing. ;)

Still, when I booked my weekend home, I was upset to find out that one of the new Cowgirls had something to say about it. Mind you, these girls wouldn’t even be in the position they are today had I not decided five years ago to wear a cowboy hat and some glitter to a football game. Yet, she still protested. She said I would detract from them, and what they are doing now.

WHAT?.... That’s like Britney Spears telling Madonna she can’t sing ‘Like a Virgin’ in her cone bra. I made “The Cowgirls” biyatch. Are you SERIOUS?... One of them even went as far to start name calling and character judgment. To which I say, Pot, Kettle.. nice to meet your acquaintance.

Still, I decided the petty high school drama just wasn’t worth my time or energy. There would be other games, hopefully with better outcomes than we have come to see these past few seasons at Florida State.

I ended up spending that weekend at home with some girlfriends, at our usual hangout 717 South. We sat at our usual table, in the center of the madness. And while Ashley may bogart the cheese bread, it’s always our favorite time to sit around and catch up on the who, what, when of everyone’s lives. Apparently in my absence a few new girls had also joined the ranks of our little group, ones I didn’t really know all that well. So imagine my surprise when the ballsiest one of the group started ripping on an absent member of our clan. My end of the table got very silent, as I sat back to take in the scene that was unfolding in front of me. Girls were ripping on other girls, ripping on others girlfriends, and the accused were nowhere in sight to defend themselves. I tried to laugh at their jokes, but couldn’t help the immense amount of guilt that crept over me.

Had I become one of THEM?

The kind of girls I had dreaded my entire life. The mean girls. The bitches. While I may have moved up in the pecking order of life in the past few years, I had always prided myself on never having evolved into a Queen Bee. And granted, I still haven’t. But my inability to stand up for the girls they were picking on didn’t make me any less guilty by association. I was one of her minions. And boy was I ashamed. What was next?.. Banning someone from the cool table for not wearing pink, or for being friends with one of the “non-cool” kids?

In my years since spending high school afternoons shoved into lockers, and being mocked endlessly for my now removed braces, I have come to believe there are girls out there, whose sole purpose in life is to make other women feel bad about themselves. It’s pretty pathetic that they derive so much pleasure from tearing someone else down. But it’s to these women I simply smile, nod, and in part, feel sorry that they have little else to do with their lives. It’s why I pray to God.. Whenever I do decide to procreate I’ll make a call to the bullpen and bring in the lefty.. Or maybe just a guy with a penchant for throwing Y’s. Because I don’t know that I can handle picking up my daughter from school in tears over some other girl calling her fat, or flat-chested, or whatever else girls are ripping each other for these days. Besides, women aren’t getting any nicer, even as we get older.

One day after my meetings, I stopped into my favorite sandwich shop in the financial district. Apparently the high school across the street had just let out, as the tables were filled with kids loitering and grazing on a few community bags of potato chips and cookies. I sat down at my table to enjoy my honey bourbon chicken, when I overheard a conversation that was all too familiar to me, even after all these years.

“Seriously, why don’t you just go cry into your training bra? Or beg your parents for a nose job?

I spun around in my chair to survey the situation.

There she was, the queen bee, the Ella to my Sterg. She was tall, blonde, and gorgeous with an ego that was bigger than the perfect blowout she sported. She was clearly of an affluent background, as was evident by the name brand designer everything she sported from head to toe. And she clearly had parents who had never taught her the value of being good to others.

And there SHE was. A girl that was so reminiscent of my awkward years that I cringed for her. The Ella teased her for her braces, and her unruly curly hair, and her long legs she just hadn't grown into yet. And the boys all laughed and joined in on the crucifixion. The poor girl ran out of the sandwich shop to lick her wounds and wipe her tears.

I sighed. Some things never change. Still in my full hair and makeup, and dressed to the nines from my meeting, I had noticed both the “Ella” and her harem of suitors giving me the once over… multiple times. The boys stared at me like some wet dream they had just seen in real life. But to the “Ella,” I was probably a threat, because even after my reduction surgery, I’m not exactly a 12 year old Russian gymnast. And as for my unruly curly hair, well, thanks to the miracle that is the CHI flatiron and advancements in hair care, things have clearly evolved for the better. I gave the high school bullies my coldest stare. Then, smiled warmly at them.

“You know,” I said, “this may come to shock you. But years from now, when you’re out of school, and out in the real world, where your parents can’t feed you from silver spoons, and you have to work to become who you are, you’ll realize the things and people you thought were so cool and important in high school were really peanuts in the grand scheme of things. And the kids you picked on and tormented will go on… and become much greater things because of the things you did to them. I should know because I was THAT girl.”

I pointed to the girl now sitting on the bench, who had still yet to collect herself.

“Sure, your blonde hair and good looks and mommy and daddy’s money may make you feel good about yourself now.. but what about ten years from now?.. You’re a beautiful girl.. but it’s a shame you are so empty on the inside that you have to tear down others to assert your own worth. It’s a sad life if you think about it.”

I stood up, threw away my trash and walked towards the exit. Then turned to face the kids.

“And just in case you didn’t catch the moral of the story… let me spell it out for you…

Be nice to the dorks.. You never know what we will become.”

The kids all sat there, silent and ashamed. As I left the restaurant, I stopped by the girl on the bench.

“Don’t let people like that pull you down. There will always be bullies and mean girls and bitches. You just have to rise above them and be the best version of yourself you can. That scene was me… 10 years ago. And just believe me when I say that while things may not get easier and people may not get nicer, know that things will get better. And when that day comes when you’re successful, and people see the real beauty in you..do yourself a favor and don’t ever become her. Because for every mean girl out there, is another one crying on a street bench somewhere. Stay warm and keep smiling. The braces are worth it.”

We both laughed, and I continued my walk down the street.

Maybe I would never be able to stand up to the real Ella, but in some way, it felt good standing up for someone else who needed it. I’ve come to realize in my adult life, there’s no need or room to resort to name calling and hair pulling in today’s girl world. It’s already a cruel enough place as it is. We do however need to start showing a little respect for one another, because regardless of social hierarchies, and popularity contests, at the end of the day we’re still all humans with feelings. Life is complicated enough without being jerks to one another, so why add to all the stress of the day to day dilemmas.

The mean girls were never invited back to our table at 717, and now Ashley gets even more cheese bread. My life may still not be a vision of perfection, and I still encounter my fair share of mean girls now and then, but my experiences with them have only made me a stronger, more compassionate, and more rational adult. And while I may still have 99 problems, at least now I can really say, a bitch ain’t one.

Hmm. J Maybe Jay-Z had it right after all.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Props to you Jen, from another in HS wasn't in the "in" group. I'm not sure even now I would have the courage to step in like you did.

anthony0358 said...

This was beautiful
That was a wonderful thing you did to help that teenage girl when you saw this happening in the resturant.
I fear that I would have sat quietly by and done nothing to help

This was a wonderful thing you did
You helped that girl and she is going to remember you

swampy said...

Thanks Jenn - my 10 year old daughter is at the receiving end of the Mean Girls in her 4th grade class. I'll keep your story in mind as I talk to her at night and try to help her through this phase of her life.

DS said...

I would much rather make a girl laugh, than cry.

Anonymous said...

You have a great heart, Jen.

Warren Wallace said...

Thanks for another great blog, and well played with that little pack of wolves! Kids can be downright cruel, it's just an unfortunate fact of life. Hopefully your words of wisdom make a lasting impression on one or two of them. I'm a big believer in treating others the way I would like to be treated. Like you said, "Life is complicated enough without being jerks to one another."

Anonymous said...

Great Blog! Couldnt have said it better myself! maybe that's cuz i failed english junior year. oh! and, dont judge me and my cheese bread obsession ;)

Shannon said...

This one was definitely your best EVER! I'm so proud of you!
love ya!