A few months ago, I stumbled upon a book called ‘Strong Is The New Pretty’ by Kate. T. Parker while out shopping with my daughter and snatched it up. Being a photography nut, the image of the girl on the cover looking like she could kick some serious butt in a swim relay immediately caught my eye. As I looked inside, the images and the words blew me away. Pictures of girls, being their version of girls, with quotes about how they are living their own ‘girl life.’ If you haven’t read it or seen it, ESPECIALLY if you have a daughter, do me a favor….hit pause on reading, scroll over to your favorite site to order books, and order it. Like now.
So this book. This book was devoured by my little strong girl. She’s 11, and she’s in that stage where she’s figuring out who she is. And these images and these words are the inspiration that I want her to look towards. These girls are kicking butt and taking names. They are supporting each other, building each other up, finding their truth, and living their dreams. Most of the time, the book lives in her special wall bookcase built by her Grandaddy for her before she was even born (it was like he knew she would be the perpetual bookworm and lover of all things written). Some times, I find it at night, on the floor by her bed, where it has fallen after she dozed off reading it before bed. But wherever it lands, it is a constant in the collection of books she holds so dear. Which is why, when she let me in on how Middle School was going last night, I wanted to take this book to school and smack some girls upside the head with it.
Y’all. I know we all have our own Middle School horror stories. I was comically skinny (think bones and skin), insanely shy (came off as snobby), terrible at sports (last one picked..that’s me), and strived to do well in school (nerd alert). But, all things considered, even though I was painfully aware I was not in the ‘popular’ crowd and was not included in the sleepovers and parties and movie dates, no one was ever mean. Friendly picking done? Well, yes. But mean, never. I may not have had the latest Guess Jeans (I still loathe that little damn triangle stamp of acceptance), and I may have worn pleated jeans (thanks for that Mom), but no one was point-blank rude.
Enter the Middle School of 2017. Not the Middle School of 1989. Not even close.
A little background on my girl. She’s little, like me. She’s a full foot shorter than every one of her friends and weighs about 30 pounds less than them. She’s got glasses (got a double dose of bad eyes from her dad and I), but they’re adorable and trendy and cute. She loves having short hair, so it’s cute in a bob with messy curls. She loves books…like obsessively so. She hit a twelfth grade reading level in 4th grade. Hence, she’s smart and witty and has a better vocabulary than I do. She doesn’t do social media, because I don’t think kids need to have another pressure on them at 11. And she’s got an iPod..a new one. But, it’s not a phone. Here again, her dad and I feel that a phone at 11 just isn’t necessary. She completes riding horses at a level that scares me and fascinates me in the same breath. She’s fearless on those animals. And up until now, the above little ball of fire has been so secure in herself and her Strong Girl ways.
Enter Middle School.
Fudge y’all. The little peanut has been moody for a couple of weeks, but I was blaming it on getting to be late and hormones and all that jazz. But yesterday, my Mommy radar was pinging, and I cornered her before dinner with a simple question. “Peanut, is it a boy, is it friends, or is it school?” You would have thought I slapped her. “What are you even talking about Mama?” Again, I asked “Boy? Friend? School?” And then her little face slid off, and the tears started, and the words bubbled up, and she crumbled down.
“Mama…they pick on me because I’m small” “They say I’m a boy because I have short hair and that it looks stupid and why would anyone have hair like that” “Apparently I’m a nerd because I read all of the time” “I’m weird because I don’t have a phone and they point and laugh at me when I take my iPod out to listen to music because it isn’t a new iPhone” “No one talks to me” “I eat lunch alone” “It’s like they just don’t even see me, and when they do, they’re mean” “They think I’m weird because I talk to the kids that no-one else will, because I hate that they are lonely and sad.”
Chew on those words for a minute you guys. Chew hard.
Because here’s the thing, my child isn’t that different than these other girls and boys and this is how she is being treated and spoken to. Can you imagine what these kids are saying to the kids who are truly different and who truly don’t have the same things as them? I’m scared to.
This isn’t our first rodeo with bullying. I’m sure it won’t be our last, but damn. What in the world is wrong with kids these days and WHY do parents think it is ok to raise children who are so mean to other kids for being different or for having different things? So here I sit, broken as a mama because I’m looking into the beautiful eyes of half my heart walking around outside of my body and wondering how anyone could be so terrible to her and think it was ok.
As a parent you are faced with a choice..do you encourage them to assimilate to the crowd and buy her that iPhone and grow her hair out and tell her not to read as much and tell her to not be friends with the kids that aren’t very popular? Or do you do everything you can to keep her as she is and try and protect her as much as possible so that those words and those people never change the incredible soul she has become over the past 11 years?
Or do you drive up to the school and beat some serious Middle School ass (asking for a friend. Obviously.) I’m going to be honest; I just don’t get it. I think that every mama and daddy out there needs to take a hard look at their kid and themselves (myself included because no one is perfect). Why are we so short and cruel to each other now? Why is the news filled with hate about this person and that person. Why do we judge EVERYONE and EVERYTHING? Why is it ok to be flat-out mean in today’s world?
Who have we become as a society? And better yet, who are we raising?
Adulting sucks. Middle Schooling sucks more.
Guess what book I pulled out this morning and placed on her pillow for when she gets home. Yep, the Strong Girls book. I refuse to let her get beat down or try and change her to be what they want or think she should be. Let her read, and have short hair, and be friends to all, and wear her glasses proudly, and jam out to her iPod, and be tiny. I will not allow her to be the same as them. She will be different. She is different. She is strong.
One of my favorite quotes from that book is by a girl named Logan, who is 13. She says “Girls get to be everything: tomboy, pretty, soft, and strong.”
Amen, Logan. Amen.