Jamie and I had a talk this morning. She’s in eighth grade and having a tough time with middle school in general. Luckily, she’s almost finished, but still – it sucks. I told her that middle school sucks for everyone, and that nearly everyone I know counts 6th, 7th, and/or 8th grade among the worst years of her life.
All middle school kids are assholes. It’s their job. All the kids get made fun of about something, whether they’re chunky or skinny, tall or short, smart or dumb, pretty or plain. It doesn’t matter. Middle school kids have an innate talent for finding the one thing you are most insecure about and exploiting it mercilessly, and when you’re already dealing with hormones and body changes and all that other stuff, it’s a nightmare. I told her all of this.
When I was in middle school, I was teased for being smart. I was teased for being a good singer. I was teased for being short, for having long hair, for being in band, for playing sports, for all of the things that made me who I was. I didn’t start shaving my legs when the popular girls did, so I was made fun of for that. I was teased because I was younger than all of the other girls, and didn’t get my period until after they did. I was teased because I didn’t wear makeup. I had a terrible perm and a mall wall and I was made fun of for that, even though everyone else had the same hair, or tried to.
I didn’t have any older sisters to guide me, so I overdressed for a middle school dance and was ripped on so mercilessly for the dress I loved, and for my terrible dancing, that I hate dances to this very day. I had a boyfriend but I didn’t kiss him enough so he dumped me. I had a group of popular girls who hated me for no apparent reason, and would trip me in the hallway or corner me at my locker and kick me and pull my hair.
And the thing is, I wasn’t a misfit. The dorky kids had it way worse. I was a completely average, well-rounded student with a little group of friends who stuck together like glue, and middle school was STILL terrible.
I know I have a few young readers, and I just want you guys to know – it gets better. It’s never going to be perfect, but I swear it gets better. I’m sure my comments are going to be filled with stories like mine, or worse.
You know what? I continued to be that same girl in high school, minus the bad perm, and I did just fine. I didn’t start wearing makeup every day until I was in college. For that matter, I didn’t drink or have sex until I was in college, either. And I waited long enough on both counts until I was sure that I was able to deal with my decisions, and I don’t regret either one.
I wish every girl in middle school or high school would know that it’s okay not to wear low-rise jeans. They flatter almost nobody. It’s okay not to wear a pound of makeup, and you’ll probably have better skin if you don’t. It’s okay to eat lunch, for heaven’s sake – if the girls at your lunch table pick at their fries and complain that they’ll get fat, fuck ’em. Eat. It’s okay not to get drunk. In ten years, no one’s going to care whether you drank in high school or not. It’s okay not to have sex until you’re SURE you’re ready.
I know I’m not the first one to say it, but maybe if we keep saying it over and over and over again, it’ll eventually stick somewhere. I try to teach my little sisters these few lessons wherever possible, and I think they pay attention sometimes.
I think it’s important for confident young women to be role models for teenage girls whenever possible, because lots of teenage girls don’t have that and they NEED it. Parents are great and wonderful and necessary, but there’s something to be said for finding a woman who’s been through it all recently, who can tell you it’s all going to be okay. I don’t know if I’m doing it all right, or right at all, but I’m doing the best I can.
And seriously, Jay, I promise you that middle school sucks for everyone, and that it’ll get better soon. I’m sure the rest of you will agree.