The diary entry – was it seventh grade? ninth? – included a dictionary definition.
Because I wanted to know what, exactly, “ugly scum” meant. That’s what my peers thought of me, a boy told me. And I needed to drive home that point to myself. In case I had any thoughts to the contrary.
I grew up knowing this truth about myself. No one ever told me I was beautiful. Or even pretty. Not my parents. Though I probably wouldn’t have believed them, anyway. Obviously not my friends. Frenemies. Bueller. Anyone. My sister and I now laugh about our awkward years, from age 7 to 27.
Seven. The age my daughter is now.
My sister-in-law once told me that Ellen was the smart one and I was the pretty one. I laughed pretty hard at that. My sister was so very beautiful to me. I was the one with the big thighs, the big nose. The one who didn’t have her first boyfriend until after college graduation.
So maybe you can understand that when a boy she didn’t know called Sage “ugly” on the playground, when he pointed and laughed at her, it rocked me to my core.
“How do you feel about being called that?” I’d asked her.
“I’m not ugly,” Sage said. “I’m cute!”
I swallowed hard. Her confidence amazed me. She thought something was wrong with him, to say something so ridiculous. She was correct.
One of our nicknames for Sage is Beauty Girl. Strangers have commented on how gorgeous her eyes are, and she learned to take a compliment at an early age. This is not to say we don’t praise her for her internal qualities; her intelligence, her determination, her sense of humor, her unexpected kindnesses toward her brothers, her athleticism. We do. Her confidence – her beauty – is not simply skin-deep.
But the harassment continued from this boy and his friend. Calling Sage names. Pulling her hair. The bullying got to her and, after I had spoken to the mother of one of the boys and to Sage’s teachers and nothing helped, I went to the assistant principal.
I know how some little boys are. When they like a girl, and the girl doesn’t respond, then they have to find a different way to get her attention. When I shared this theory with Sage, I also made it clear that this behavior was not remotely okay. That boys should not be mean to girls they like. Because what if she’s 16 and thinks that? What would she put up with then? When you think that being treated badly means something good, when your self-confidence erodes grain by grain, then you lessen yourself.
I don’t want that for Sage.
How dare they? Who are they to try to shame my girl with their thoughtless words?
The boys don’t bother anymore. Much.
They bothered me, though.
They bothered me.