It started in sixth grade, when the boys started noticing the girls.
One girl started developing early and became the person all other girls were judged against.
Overnight, we all obtained labels. There were the pretty girls, then there were the flat, fat or ugly girls.
“The average schoolgirl is flat, ugly, and mean. You’re just two of those things, Kelsey,” said one of the bully boys.
I took that as a compliment.
But it didn’t take much time for me to loathe my body. I was far too tall. I’d had my growth spurt before all of the boys and most of the girls did. I towered over most of them. Instead of realizing they were only making fun of me to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy due to short stature, I felt like I was the odd one out.
I did not have any trace of boobs. I knelt at my bed some nights and prayed for them. I measured my bust size periodically with measuring tape I pocketed from an Ikea store. It didn’t change.
When high school came around, things only got worse. I went from a Catholic grade school, where we wore uniforms, to a public school, where casual clothes were appropriate. Now, not only did I have to dress to impress my old classmates, but I had to learn the trends of the new ones, too.
I was lucky to form a close-knit group of friends quickly, so I had at least some level of comfort at my new school. But when I stepped into my freshman CP English class, that fuzzy feeling disintegrated.
The class clown/bully immediately singled me out as a target. At first, he tried to flirt with me. He sent me messages on MySpace and winked at me in class. When I gently turned him down, he began to slowly tear me down.
He called me a “horse” in front of the entire class on a daily basis because I hadn’t yet grown into my longish face. He “neighed” when I walked in the room. He made sexual gestures towards me to make his friends laugh. I cried after school most days. The teacher did nothing about it.
My parents told me to ignore the harassment.
But ignoring it just made it worse. I had tried to snap back at him when he bullied me, but he always had another insult that hurt even worse.
At that point, I began refusing to wear any type of shoe with a heel. I would search for the smallest heel-ed tennis shoe in the store. Once, I even cut off the bottoms of a pair with an already-tiny heel. I wore flip-flops even in the winter and walked on the sides so I wouldn’t add any additional height. I adjusted my walk so I hunched a bit and lost another half-inch.
The summer after freshman year, I laid out in the sun almost every day to get tan and make me feel more confident about myself. I dyed my hair blond and straightened it, and I got my braces off. I came back to school that fall feeling good. But it wasn’t permanent.
I still hated being tall, and I always lied about my height when people asked me. I had made myself look just like I was “supposed to.”
It took until the middle of my college years to accept my height and start to like my body again. One day last year, I looked in the mirror and realized I was standing up straight. I hadn’t given a second thought to my height in a long time. I let my hair go wavy and I wore the clothes I wanted to wear (lots of cat shirts).
The combination of my maturity and lack of teasing from my peers helped me get over my body-hate. I wear high-heeled shoes now.
I know there’s a sixth grader lying in her bed right now feeling the same way I felt back then. And I want to tell her she should only be worrying about which swimming pool to go to tomorrow, not about how to adjust her body to make it look like other people think it should.