Rebecca had always been a fairly confident, happy girl. She had a good relationship with her parents. They were involved but not pushy. She always tried to learn from her mistakes so they trusted and respected her. They were open to whatever she wanted to do with her life as long as she gave something to the world, just as they both tried to do with their own lives.
Life had been really good but Junior High had changed that. Harmless Elementary School teasing had become cruel attacks in her new school. Grade was 7 okay, but Grade 8 was awful–or rather one girl in it was: Tina. Tina called Rebecca some awful version of fat every single time she saw her. And because Tina’s parents had money and bought her the most expensive clothes, she always had a gaggle of jealous girls with her to cackle at her insults.
Becca’s friends would always offer counter-compliments designed to disarm Tina’s attacks, which they often had levelled at themselves too, so they knew how it felt. And it wasn’t like they were saying things she couldn’t believe, but humans are built with a longing to belong, so consciously focusing on the insults and the laughter was a painful experience.
Becca hated herself even more when she would catch herself trying to hide her weight with loose clothes. It was like Tina was inside her house too. And of course social media was a total hell, with her body photoshopped onto everything from walrus’s to gigantic people eating ice cream. In her nightmares Becca would look down at her clothes in school only to see the body of an elephant. She hated Tina and her perfect, skinny beauty.
Tina was cruel. She had a lot of cruel poured into her. Whereas Becca had supportive caring parents that had held Becca responsible, where they’d never called her names or undermined her confidence; Tina had a beauty queen Mom who was at the stage where some wrinkles were showing up just as her I – married – a – beauty – queen father’s eyes started wandering to wrinkleless young ladies.
Tina’s mother felt belittled by her husband’s actions and that lead to more drinking, which often lead to flurries of insults or even blows. If Tina was even nearby when they were fighting her pure wrinkleless youth would infuriate her jealous mother. She would insult Tina viciously in a way that Becca would find very familiar, almost as though she’d heard a recording of them; which in a way she did.
Tina’s sister had thoroughly aligned herself with her mother in the parental war. And why not? Her mother was the one who dealt with guilt via her credit cards. By agreeing with her mother Tina’s sister had become the favoured child, and she lorded her status over her younger sister like an ogre. She too constantly insulted Tina, talking about her skinny boyish frame and her total lack of a chest. Tina took that insult to heart. She had no idea that her sister picked that quality only because it was the biggest difference between them.
Many years later, when she ran into the only junior high friend she’d ever run into, she was reminded of how she used to tease Becca. The woman thought Tina actually didn’t like Rebecca even after all these years. In hindsight, Tina recalled Becca as a nice, smart girl. She had teased her terribly during that time, that was true. That was the most painful period of her life; when her parents were in the process of breaking up. But she hoped the girl hadn’t let that bother her too much. It literally had nothing to do with her.
Tina made the mistake of thinking that her thoughts about things were the actual things, so for a while she felt she really was fat and she worked hard on trying to change that, but the fact was she had a bigger, softer, more bosomy figure than that. It was like trying to change the basis of her being. It never worked. So it would have been good to know that she was just confusing her thoughts about herself as being facts that were first presented by Tina.
The fact was Tina didn’t think Rebecca was fat. But she did know she was one of the first girls in class to get breasts, and that reminded Tina of her sister. So Tina didn’t hate Becca. She didn’t even hate Becca’s chest, or her own sister. Becca was only called fat because Tina was jealous because she had no defense against her mother’s cruel attacks.
Now that she was older and she’d been through a divorce herself, Tina felt more on her feet than she ever had. Now that she had some self-confidence of her own, Tina certainly didn’t try to elevate herself by putting others down. She knew that was the sure mark of an unhealthy personality.
For her part Becca did think for too many years about Tina’s insults, but in the end the beliefs her parents instilled in her won out and she regained her natural confidence. It was a far less painful and growth-laden experience for her than it was for Tina, but it left both women ended up in a place where they basically liked themselves.
Whatever routes they took, both of their older selves knew that junior high was a tiny blip in their life, and that any differences anyone had there were the sort of immature differences that would not survive the struggles of adulthood. In the end, as with all challenges in life, neither one of them would trade them away. Because in their maturity they both knew, those experiences are the essences of our people’s growth and maturity. The route there just happens to be called Junior High.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.