I supposed it started when my parents bought me a toy kitchen for Christmas. Everything sort of escalated from there. It started small at first. Baby steps. I learned never to demand things. I was to ask nicely, politely. I was never to raise my voice. Little boys could roughhouse and get dirty. But I was a girl. Therefore, I hated grass stains. It never occurred to me that the two were not mutually exclusive.
When I was in middle school, I learned even more do’s and don’ts. I learned that having a lunch box wasn’t considered “cool,” only my mom wouldn’t pack my sandwiches in brown paper bags because it wasn’t environmentally friendly. So I learned to buy my lunch and not eat it. All because we were girls, and sloppy joe’s weren’t girly. I learned that competition among girls was far more ruthless than competition between the sexes. And I learned to settle for Lays Baked Sour Cream and Onion potato chips instead.
I never actively tried to follow the fads, but I liked to be aware of them. I learned that it wasn’t cool to shop at Limited Too. I learned to shop at Hollister and Abercrombie&Fitch, because that’s where the infinitely cooler eighth grade girls shopped. When we eventually outgrew those stores, I learned that Forever 21 and H&M was the way to go. That is, until I wore what was, in my opinion, a really cute sailor dress to school. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but I was mercilessly teased for it. Apparently, there’s a “weird section” of Forever 21 from which everyone who is anyone is forbidden to buy.
After that, I learned that some girls can be petty bitches and that they learn this pettiness from other girls. I learned never to accept a compliment, regardless of its sincerity. Instead, I learned to be jealous other girls. Jealous of girls who had perfect hair or steady boyfriends. Jealous of girls who had bigger cup sizes and smaller waistlines. Later, I learned that my own level of hotness was measured in relation to other girls. I learned never to admit that I thought was pretty, but to always aspire to be prettier than my best friend. And I learned that all these superficial niceties were masking some kind of learned resentment of other girls.
By the time I learned this, I had already picked up so many bad habits, so many learned insecurities. I didn’t want to hate those Other Girls, whom I had come to recognize as an ominous entity.
“You’re not like other girls.”
The first time a guy told me this, I didn’t feel pride or contentment or any self-satisfaction. I wanted to embark on a feminist tirade about how there was nothing wrong with the Other Girls. I took it as a compliment instead.
It is always harder to break a habit than it is to pick it up. There was a lot I couldn’t forgive the Other Girls for, even though I knew we were all women, all subject to the same gender-stratified world. At the end of the day, I felt personally victimized by the Regina Georges of society. Pettiness didn’t matter so long as it felt like revenge.
But if I learned anything from Mean Girls, it’s that calling another girl ugly won’t make you any prettier. Ruining Regina George’s life won’t make you any happier. Once we realize this, the cycle of self-loathing can finally be broken. The limit does not exist, and it’s only by coming to terms with this epiphany that everything can be unlearned.