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Monday, 22 May 2017

Sticks and Stones


Whenever I’m home from University I make a point of going on drives. I’m a slave to the tube in London and don’t get to see rolling hills unless I make a trip to Hampstead Heath. There’s something very therapeutic about driving my little Mini around green countryside with feel good music blasting from the speakers. There’s a sense of freedom that you just don’t get on the Piccadilly line at rush hour.

On a recent trip home, I brought my mum along on one of these excursions. We reminisced about the old days, when I was in secondary school and still living at home. I’m lucky to be able to say that I had a pretty good high school experience. Unlike many others, I didn’t experience bullying and for the most part people were nice to me. In fact, the only people who ever really put me down were my friends. As a self-conscious teen, the accumulation of these little remarks from my nearest and dearest accrued to a huge knock in my confidence that I’ve never fully recovered from. I told my mum about one occasion that I remember particularly vividly and thought I’d share it here as a reminder of how damaging our words can be.

If you’re a female in your early 20s, chances are you’ve seen the classic (and incredibly cringey) teen film ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’. Like many other 14 year olds, my friends and I were obsessed with the movie. We watched it over and over again. We imitated their handshakes and sang along to the soundtrack. Upon arrival at one of many sleepovers my friend pulled out her very own physical attractiveness test.

The 6 of us sat in a circle in the living room, scrutinising one another and scoring each asset out of 10. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be scoring anyone lower than a 7. These girls were my friends and incidentally all pretty gorgeous. I didn’t want to be the reason they felt bad about themselves, particularly when I knew how that felt. Unfortunately, not everyone seemed to share this tactic. When the unpleasant exercise eventually came to an end, we were handed back our score sheets. My eyes scanned the page. I received a handful of 7s and 8s, the odd 9 for various things: eyes, hair, arms. My teeth and nose didn’t fare quite as well, both receiving 4s. I didn’t expect the scores to be quite so honest and I’ve got to admit it hurt.

At the age of 14, I was incredibly insecure. I found it difficult to look at myself in mirrors and would daydream about cutting big chunks off my body. Whenever I did catch myself in a window or bathroom mirror I’d feel sick. So, to be told by my best friends that actually yeah I did look a bit shit was pretty devastating. In a world that encouraged women to obsess over physical perfection it was heart breaking to be branded unattractive by those closest to me. An accumulation of events like these had a lasting effect on the way I viewed myself. I needed to have thinner legs, shinier hair and bigger boobs. Suddenly it didn’t matter what I was like as a person. I was only as valuable as the sum of my parts.

What hurt even more was that, when we tallied up the scores, my best friend came in last. It didn’t make sense to me. She was (and still is) the most beautiful young woman. She’s got these incredible legs, beautiful skin and the most amazing smile. It hurt me that people could score her so badly. I worried desperately that she’d listen to these awful things when it was plain to see that there was not only nothing wrong with her but lots very, very right with her. I mean, she’s bloody gorgeous. I hated to think that because of some ill thought out comments she’d feel as awful as I did when she had absolutely no reason to.


Although experiences like this were painful, they were also important. Without them I might not be aware of how detrimental cruel comments can be. Nowadays I’m careful with my words, knowing the impact they can make. I want people to walk away from me feeling good about themselves, and I’m quick to remind those I love how wonderful they are. Despite a few low scores, I still received a lot of high ones. I just chose to focus on the bad bits. Looking back I wish I’d used those 8s and 9s to remind myself that I’m not so bad. Our words can have a positive impact too.

The girls that made nasty comments about the way I looked weren't bad people. In fact, I'm sure they'd be mortified if they knew their actions affected me in this way. That's what worries me most about this kind of bitchy behaviour. It's not a minority of mean girls saying these things. We all let them slip out from time to time. Every once in a while we need to take a look at what we're saying and consider whether it's constructive or just plain hurtful. To borrow the words of a cartoon bunny rabbit, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". 

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