When I was around 12, I began to betray myself.
A bit about me (if you’re new around these parts and haven’t heard this before): I was bullied. By girls. Girls who really went to impressive, creative lengths to let me know just how much I would never, ever fit in with them.
For a while, I was able to let it roll off. They were not, by and large, girls that I related to, and so I didn’t particularly care that they didn’t like me.
But you can only be pelted with acidic disapproval for so long before your sense of self, your comfort within yourself, erodes and you are left completely unprotected. I kept my head down, and hoped that it would stop, but it didn’t, and so in the middle of 7th grade, I switched schools.
I went from a private school where I’d been with the same couple of dozen kids from kindergarten on, to a public junior high school with complete strangers. Here, at last, was a chance at reinvention.
So I started collecting stickers.
Understand that prior to this, I collected stamps. I was all about the VALUE of a thing as it aged. I was deeply interested in anything old, and in anything recent that had the potential of becoming old, and thus, valuable. Stickers did not compute. And yet I observed the girls in my neighborhood furiously stockpiling scratch-n-sniff, Mouthless Kitty™, and the deeply-coveted “puffy” stickers, as though their very lives depended on it. And I remembered an afternoon where I actually lectured one or two of them about the OBVIOUS superiority of postage stamps, which weren’t at all “cute” and didn’t have googly-eyes.
It occurred to me, then, that in order to have, and keep, any friends that I could make in this new environment, I would have to fake things about myself. And so I obtained a spiral-bound photo album, and began dutifully filling it with stickers.
I found that sticking, if you will, to this relatively simple process of obtaining things, and then trading them for “cuter” things, enabled me to interact with other girls without revealing my “real” personality. I was starved for companionship, and willing to settle for the superficial as I navigated this new environment. Understand, at this point, that I had more or less been mentally and emotionally beaten down into believing that my true self was not anything to be proud of or sought after. And so I sold out my stamp collecting soul in favor of stickers that smelled like watermelon.
And that’s exhausting – the act of suppressing your own needs in favor of being thought of, as evidenced by the signatures on my 8th grade yearbook, “a really good kid.” Don’t make waves. Don’t wear the wrong sweater. Carry the little Jordache purse with the right lipgloss and pretendpretendpretend. This went on for a good couple of years, until 10th grade, when I gave myself over to Thespis, joined the Drama Club, and finally felt safe again.
This is all just a roundabout way of explaining that women are terrifying to me, even now. I never cease to be amazed at how ruthlessly efficient we can be at tearing one another down. This week’s Internet Kerfuffle™ — Sinead writing to Miley, Miley snarking at Sinead, Amanda writing to Sinead about writing to Miley, and the accompanying maelstrom of slut-shaming and mental-illness-bashing that pierces a place in my heart where I am trying to keep that 12-year-old me safe.
The internet is, quite often, just no place for me to be. So I carve out my little corner and stay here with my stamp collection and hope that the girls here will be kind.