on mean girls and the weight of words

As an educator to young children, I hear girls toss around hurtful words and insults without a second thought. I’ll often shake my head in disbelief and think, how in the world can those cruel words come from a child? I even find myself saying aloud, There was a time when kids weren’t this cruel to one another.

But, I know that’s not true. You see, I’ve been on the receiving end of a mean girls fury. I can tell you exactly what it feels like to be chosen last, to be bigger than all of my friends, to be a day late on the current trends, to try out for something and fail. I’m here to tell you that in the mid-90s when I was in elementary and middle school those words were just as prevalent. The girls were just as mean. For a while, I avoided that crowd, but there is something ingrained in a young girl, a desire to belong, to fit in, to be as cool as the other kids. Something liken to a fight or flight response that rests within your emotions. As the words rolled off of her tongue and into my ear, my mind had to quickly decide how I would adapt. Would I jab back? Would I cry? Hide? Gather my own posse? In that instant, my emotions required a response.

I quickly evolved into something ugly, every bit as mean as those girls. I learned, if I could make the first joke, the first dig, if I could get everyone to laugh with my witty one-liners, then the pressure was off. I think one of the most widely-used tools of the insecure is humor. I found it rather quickly, and I used it like a hidden talent I had just discovered. I could make people laugh for days, at the expense of some unsuspecting person, and I would feed off of their laughter. All the while, my heart angry with me. I knew it wasn’t right, but their laughter was like fuel to my fire and I knew that if I could keep them laughing at someone else, then I was in the clear. My brain worked fast as I used my intelligence and my wit, to ease into this new crowd. My ability to think quickly and react before anyone else made me a step ahead of the other people in the conversation. My rapid-fire thoughts gave little time for my mind to consider the words that I was actually saying. Across the lunchroom, on the other side of the gym, a quiet remark in the ear of one of my friends meant for an unsuspecting classmate.

And just like that, a mean girl was born.

Guilt welled up inside because I knew the words were wrong. I even tried to reason with my convictions; I wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt people, I never said mean things to their face, I was just being funny. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake what I already knew, it was wrong.

I’m very aware of the vicious cycle. Mean girls turn into mean women and mean women raise mean children. And sometimes mean girls are born out of a desire to fit in, in a response to fellow mean girls’ actions. I know her because I’ve been her. Just look at your Facebook page, take a look at how women interact with one another on Twitter. They come in all types from the passive aggressive variety to the down-right, in your face, vile. Look around your place of work, even at church. The sad truth is some women never outgrow this, they fail to overcome. It is the only remedy for their insecurities.

It’s a conviction that I wrestled with for some time. I attempted to rationalize these thoughts with irrational thinking. Perhaps, if the words remain thoughts in my head, if I never express those thoughts out loud, then I’m not really doing anything wrong. What a dangerous way of thinking, freeing me of the responsibility of my own thoughts.

That responsibility weighs heavily on me these days. It comes in the form of a toddler with the biggest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. I already see so much of myself in her, as she orders her books and gives everything a place, as she talks incessantly to anyone she meets. I hope she is many things; patient, kind, understanding. I hope she takes up for herself and stands up for what’s right. I don’t think for one second that I can always protect her from hurt. I simply hope that when she is a young lady and given the chance to adapt, she becomes something different than I did in that instance.That she listens to her heart and stays true to herself.

Her blue eyes, following my every move, serve as a daily reminder to do the right thing, even if it isn’t the most popular option. Some days I come up short, but there isn’t a day that I forget about the little person who is taking her cues from me. As for me,  I’m worlds away from that middle-school girl, but I still remember those hurtful words as if it were yesterday.  If you think people ever truly forget your words, you are completely wrong. Overcome? Sure. Doubt that they were true? Perhaps. Forget? Not a chance. There is a big difference in overcoming something and forgetting something.


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  1. says

    This sits with me. I too gave into the pressure of becoming a mean girl and relied on being “funny” to take the heat off of me. But everyone someone laughed at something I said at the expense of someone else, it broiled in my stomach. I always hated the fact that when I became anorexic in 8th grade and a total bitch, that was when I was the most popular and had the most friends and interests from boys. It’s a horrible message to send because I wasn’t cool for making fun of others – I was a jerk. And when I realized it and became nice again, all the popularity went away. At least then I was being true to me. Young girls are so impressionable and I know having my mom as a good role model helped me navigate that time of my life. BK is so sweet and I know that even though kids can’t always be protected by mom, she’ll have a good foundation for making the right choices on her own.
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  2. says

    I feel like “mean girl syndrome” has kind of taken over lately – I’ve noticed it a lot more. All of a sudden, it’s cool for adults to pretend like we’re in middle school again. It can suck you in so quickly if you don’t fight against it. And you are SO right – mean girls become mean women who raise mean daughters – it’s a cycle. Thank you (as the mommy of a daughter and a woman) for this reminder that we (and nobody else) are responsible for our own words and thoughts!
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  3. Ashley says

    current going through this with my 8 year old daughter. I often think back and say was I the mean girl or was the one on the other end or is she just two sensitive? Either way it breaks my heart at how mean they really are. My words to her is in the end no one will won’t to be around a mean person, period. Well written blog post!

  4. says

    wow…. as someone who was picked on in junior high by a gang of mean girls (and boys) (i was that girl who developed before everyone else) I can tell you that it is true… that the weight of the words DO make a huge difference. I went through a really rough period when I was younger because I was picked on SO MUCH at that age. WHen I got to high school, things changed, but that period of time was really difficult. Some of those mean girls are STILL like that now, too. It sort of makes me sad for them because I wonder WHY.

    Then, there are some girls that I thought were mean back then who are super kind and nice now and I realize that maybe it was just their way of trying to adapt back then. I do think that EVERYONE has an insecurity of some sort and that we all cope with it in different ways- I wound up going from being an awkward, quickly developed wall flower in junior high to being totally involved with school and extracurriculars in high school, and then being an officer in student government, a sorority member/officer in college- once I phased out of that awkward stage I think it made me a little bit stronger with a more outgoing personality.. I went out of my way to be super friendly to everyone and I’m a chatterbox (obvi) so eventually it worked in my favor.

    And for the record, I can’t EVEN IMAGINE you being mean at all! You are just too sweet Jennifer!

    This is a great blog post!
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  5. Brandi says

    Hi there! You don’t know me, but I just found your blog on Pinterest!

    I just wanted to tell you thank you for this honest post. I was that same little girl you were, picked on, picked last, the “bigger” friend, the one with the un-cool wardrobe. I have to say, I love this blog even more now, knowing a little more about where you come from. I loved this post for so many reasons, but mainly because you are right, we now have little eyes watching what we do, and we hope and pray so much, that they will not be put through pain and suffering, but that they won’t do it to anyone else in their life. It is amazing what becoming a momma will do to you!

    Many blessings,

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