Nasty girls

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I went to an all-girls school.

But whether the lack of competition for boys’ attention played a role or I was just immune to and/or ignorant of it, I can’t really recall much rank bitchiness going on. (Or maybe I was so traumatised by it that I’ve blanked it out? Naah.)

But yissis, the slings and arrows my daughter has to put up with sometimes make me want to march straight down to that school and punch some of her classmates right in the nose.

And almost all of the nastiness revolves around body issues. My daughter is a perfectly normal weight for her height and body type: curvaceous, yes, but not fat by any stretch of the imagination. Yet she regularly comes home from school in a state of distress because some girl in her class has commented on her ‘tree-trunk legs’ or her ‘huge bum’ (these are verbatim criticisms, and not the worst ones).

And, sadly, as teenagers do, she fights fire with fire. I was taken aback recently when she told me about something fairly innocuous a classmate had done, with such heat that she was practically steaming from the ears. When she’d finally wound down, I said, ‘But sweetie, that doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like something you might do?’ And she shot back, ‘She’s such a bitch. She called me fat in front of the whole class!’

Ah.

On the flip side, there are girls in her school who are so thin it makes my bones ache just to look at them. One of them – a close friend of my daughter – recently wasn’t allowed to donate blood because her weight was dangerously low. She laughed this off – ‘You have to suffer to be beautiful,’ she said, and that she saw ‘beauty’ in her coat-hanger hips, knife-edge collar bones and fleshless limbs made me very sad.

Some of the nastiness arises out of plain old-fashioned jealousy. Once, when my daughter went to a Valentine’s Ball at her school wearing a sweetly alluring mini-dress and looking particularly fresh and pretty, the event was spoilt for her when an older girl hissed ‘Slut!’ at her as she walked in. She spent the rest of the evening seated miserably at her table, too intimidated to walk around in case she attracted yet more unwelcome (and unjustified) judgement calls.

Since actually bopping these bitches on the nose isn’t allowed, all I can really do is remind my daughter that ‘sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never harm you’. Which, unfortunately, isn’t entirely true.

It takes enormous self-possession even for an adult to turn the other cheek on spiteful taunts; for teenagers, who wage a constant battle for self-assurance amid sometimes overwhelming peer pressure, not only can ignoring the jeering prove impossible, but the words can cause real emotional anguish.

Have you or your teen experienced bitchiness? What’s the right way to handle it?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne


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