My Experience with a “Mean Girl”

UPDATE: This blog was reposted on the Huff Post site where my blog occasionally went viral. This is one where I have had an all time high of mail about and mothers of daughters in particular write me to thank me for sharing. Here then is the original.

There is nothing uglier than a middle school Mean Girl.  The Lindsay Lohan movie didn’t quite do the real life Mean Girl justice, in detailing the long term trauma and psychological battering they cause for their victims. They pick on other girls at one of the most vulnerable times in life when puberty and emotional and physical changes are also wreaking havoc on girls’ bodies and minds. And that is not even throwing complicated family dynamics into the fray.

I actually hadn’t thought about my own version of the Mean Girl for what seemed like an eternity. I remembered her name and the names of a few in her posse and what she looked like, but the intervening years that provided me a wealth of wonderful and loyal friends, and a terrific life, pretty much obliterated both the wounds and the memories. When someone recently posted photos on Facebook of her I came face to face with her again.
Seeing someone who was so powerful at one time in my life forced some memories and the feelings associated with them to come back.

A little background – I was a gawky, awkward pre-adolescent, hand-me-down dressed, and a year younger than the rest of my class because I had skipped a grade. I was only 11 years old – and remained that age- for the entire first year of what was then known as junior high which began at the seventh grade. That was way too young to navigate the hormonal driven behavior of most of my peers and besides, I was a very late bloomer anyway. So this put me at an extreme disadvantage.

Despite my dorky looks, immaturity and general awkwardness, I was extremely outgoing, social and friendly. So on my very first day, I met an adorable, beautifully dressed equally friendly girl I will refer to as MG for Mean Girl. She had come from another elementary school, and we happened to sit next to each other at the opening assembly of junior high with matching brand new Twiggy cut hairdos, and then later we were placed in the same homeroom together. Her last name alphabet letter followed mine so we sat close to each other.

Instantly clicking, we became best friends from that first day on, and seventh grade became a dizzying whirlwind of social events from her world. These included boy-girl dance parties, slumber parties at her home, shopping with her and other wealthier more spoiled girls. When I had to baby-sit to earn some spending money to keep up with her, she sometimes even accompanied me. I spent so much time at her home, it was like her doting mother had two daughters. I was her side-kick, and followed her everywhere.

MG lived on a block with tons of kids our age, or around our age, and that was fun for me too, because I didn’t have anyone my age who lived on my street.

That seventh grade year ended as the best of my short life up to that point, but the beginning of eighth grade – at age 12- had my whole world changing once again. MG was put into a different homeroom and shortly after she made some new friends there, she was ordered to drop me like a hot rock.

That’s how it goes in Mean Girl World. The Queen Bee dictates who is cool, and who can be a friend, and of course, who is not. The other Mean Girl bees just follow the Queen in order to be in her powerful circle. I remember the name of the Queen Bee, but by high school she was apologetic when I became socially acceptable, and I realized she didn’t know me or my history with MG before she made her banishment edict. MG, on the other hand, had become like a sister to me the year before, yet she was willing to just ditch me and our friendship in a New York minute.

With my lack of experience in life, I couldn’t understand this. There were no books, no Lindsay Lohan movies, no term such as Mean Girl to explain this phenomenon at the time, nor were there parents or even school counselors or social workers to work on the concept of “self-esteem.”  Since we were joined at the hip until the day before the banishment, pathetically, I begged MG for a reason why she couldn’t be friends with me, thinking I had done something wrong.

I didn’t realize that my whole dorky persona was wrong.

MG, of course, never looked back. I grieved and grieved, left in a confused state as to why life could be so unfair. The whirl of parties that year left me squarely excluded, and photos from that time are the some of the ones I found on Facebook.

The following year, some other Mean Girl in my class was nice enough to explain the junior high social hierarchy and caste system to me but I still didn’t understand or like it.

If you look up the word resilience in the dictionary, there might as well be a photo of me there to describe the word. Despite rejections, tough luck, and hateful behavior directed my way, each and every time this has happened in my life, I just peel my self esteem off the floor, dust it off, and slip it back on. Don’t ask me why or how I am able to do this, but I know I appreciate this self-built system because it has me carrying on with an optimistic view despite failures.

I decided shortly afterward that MG was the real loser – because she lost out on me – a loyal, doting, and true friend. I found a few friends and just continued plodding through life, learning that friendship and popularity are sometimes completely arbitrary.

What happened to me has happened to countless other girls and it is the topic of many books. Later, as the mother of a pre-teen daughter, I had to address these social issues to make sure my daughter would never be, or associate with, Mean Girls. I am proud to say that she has always been friendly to everyone and has not selected friends based on an arbitrary social hierarchy.

In my own case, life became progressively better year after year. I learned to choose friends based on values and important attributes. In fact, I am still close with some of my dear and wonderful high school friends who taught me the meaning of true friendship, and how to be a friend in return.

And with the concept of karma, I figured that some of those Mean Girls would get theirs someday.

My daughter, who is now an adult and as keen an observer of human nature as me, noted that many of the Mean Girls from her era “peaked young” and then went on to live ordinary and undistinguished lives – whereas girls who were late bloomers or those who had a wider selection of friends turned out to be the real winners in life.  That certainly could be said for people like Miley and Taylor as well. Who among their crowd of Mean Girls could compare success with the two of them?

My own MG, whose face is now immortalized on Facebook, might never know how well I am doing and how much I succeeded since the days she made me feel like a worthless person – but that’s okay too. Though she lingers in her eighth grade persona in a litany of photos, she no longer haunts my psyche.

I wish the same for Miley, Taylor, and all those girls who felt the pain of being a target of Mean Girls. It is my hope that this form of bullying ends with this coming generation.

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