I had a strange high school journey, but I guess that could be said by a lot of adults. I didn’t hit my groove until part way through grade 10, when I finally developed a personal sense of style that didn’t involve borrowing my mom’s clothes. It was still the early 90s, so take the word “style” with a grain of salt. Nobody’s perfect, okay? I also went from an A-cup to a C-cup rather quickly. And the boys noticed. The older, popular boys.
These boys would congregate in one particular section of a major hallway that led to most of the classrooms. They were loud, obnoxious, funny, and they attracted the attention of everyone who passed by. And they noticed that I had “developed” in a rather short period of time. And they told everyone.
I don’t mean they spread rumours or whispered the news to friends and classmates; no, they yelled it so that everyone could hear. Every. Time. I. Walked. By. They would see me coming and shout, in unison, “Nice cans!” when I walked by them. Or, they would refer to me as “Hooters” in the third person, shouting for everyone to look at me.
I was mortified, and I loved the attention, too. Being commodified had been rare for me, up until that moment. I had been average–not unpopular, but definitely not popular, either. The teenaged ego is a complex and fragile thing, so be singled out for a desirable trait was exciting…until it wasn’t.
Until I was walking down the hall in a baggy sweatshirt, and still referred to as “Hooters!” Until I noticed that none of the boys calling me these names actually wanted to hang out and get to know me, never mind date me.
I didn’t get invited to more parties. I didn’t have guys lining up to ask me out. I had more and more guys staring at my chest or commenting on my chest, instead of having conversations. I had many, many of my yearbook messages addressed not to me, but to my breasts. I laughed it off, but those nicknames lasted for the rest of high school.
It’s taken me a long time to unpack this. A lot of my high school friends thought it was funny, too. That it was an enviable position to be in. That I enjoyed it. What I came away with, though, was that I was worth looking at but not getting to know. My friends offered me support and validation, but there wasn’t a guy out there I felt I could trust.
What I wish someone had told me during that time was that I was worth so much more than the attention of a few assholes in the hall. That I could fight back, tell them all to go to hell instead of laughing along with the jokes. Or that I could have refrained from reacting at all, which might have led them to drop the nickname entirely and leave me alone for the rest of high school.
I know better, now. But I’ve had to work hard for it, and it’s informed every moment I’ve spent telling my teenage stepdaughter that she is strong and her inner beauty, that I admire so much, is what makes her beautiful. It’s informed each and every time I’ve told my 6-year-old daughter that being fierce and funny is what makes her amazing. And it’s informed all the times I’ve tried to teach my kids that, above all else, we must listen to and respect others.
I like to think that the girls we’re raising right now have more self-awareness than we did, more than 20 years ago, thanks to the continuing development of society’s view of women. That they understand they don’t exist for the benefit of the male gaze. I’m not sure, though. So I will keep writing about it, in the hopes that more and more parents realize the importance of teaching our kids their worth, that worth comes from within, and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
Maybe, someday, #MeToo will be something our children are taught about, rather than what they experience.