By the time I was 10 years old there were things I knew about myself that were actually good. They were inherent truths I was aware of. And surprisingly, despite all the other damage I experienced in my childhood, my self-esteem remained pretty well in tact up until that age.
I was told in the first grade that my IQ was above genius level; I was reading and doing math at a high school and college level based on placement testing. I was moved into a gifted program. So I knew I was smart. With hazel-green eyes, fair skin, golden brown hair and decent bone structure, I was frequently complimented on my looks. So I knew I was pretty. I was raised with an understanding of socially appropriate behavior and was applauded on how well behaved I was. So I knew I was a good girl. I had a good number of friends who enjoyed spending time with me. So I knew I was well-liked.
But then I met the mean girls. And things I knew about myself became less tangible, less real. Less valid.
The mean girls caused me to doubt what I previously had known to be true.
I was in the fifth grade in a new school, and I had only been going there a few weeks so I was feeling vulnerable already. I was the new girl. One afternoon while having lunch, one of the mean girls approached me, sat next to me, smiled and asked, “You think you’re pretty don’t you?” I said yes. She was still smiling. But instead of agreeing, the mean girl began to mock me. She openly laughed at me and called me conceited and stuck up.
My self-esteem took a hit. As other girls joined in, one of the few places that had always been safe for me – school – was taken away from me that day. It became unsafe to be pretty – or at least to know I was. From that moment forward, and for many years, if someone complimented my beauty or my looks, I felt the need to disagree. And I meant it.
I got teased for going to the gifted program classes. I started saying I hated going. I stopped trying as hard to do well in class.
I got taunted for being a good girl – helping out in the classroom, doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. I started acting out behaviorally.
I no longer wanted to stand out; I just wanted to fit in. I no longer wanted to be special. I wanted to be invisible.
It’s unfortunate that during a time when girls are becoming young ladies and they need each other most, most often they become quite cruel. We begin to set each other up for petty jealousies, competitive behavior and backbiting that can last a lifetime. I saw this for many years well into my stint in the corporate environment. I don’t believe my experience was all that unusual.
In so many ways, society, culture, even the mean girls cause young ladies to begin to try and hide their light. As if shining brightly and knowing their inherent beauty and majesty is an affront to the world. If somebody says we look pretty, we downplay it – “oh my goodness I’m having a horrible hair day!” If somebody compliments us on an outfit, we redirect – “I got this on sale at Macy’s!” If somebody commends our work – “oh it was nothing.” If somebody tries to recognize us or acknowledge us with a gift – “oh no, you shouldn’t have.”
I’m taking a stand here and saying it’s time to KNOCK THAT SHIT OFF!
Thank you is a whole and complete sentence. It may be uncomfortable as hell to start. But I promise you, you are a magnificent, gorgeous, brilliant, amazing creature and if someone’s trying to bring that to your attention, to recognize you for it, then it’s time for you to say THANK YOU! Begin to own it. You deserve it.
And maybe if enough of us adult women can hold that space, then our young ladies won’t have to face the mean girls. Because those mean girls had their self-esteem damaged somewhere in order to show up like that for us.
From ballerina to businesswoman to breast cancer:
Copyright Kimberly Rinaldi 2014