I have a love-hate relationship with children. Although I find them precious and laugh-out-loud funny, something seems to happen to a lot of them after the age of nine or so. Oftentimes, that's when kids start making fun of each other, and just about everyone — and everything — else (at least from my experiences). Late elementary school, middle school, and, let's face it, most of high school, felt like an endless string of "you suck for this's," and "I hate you for that's," usually culminating in a lot of effed-up self-esteems and internal existential crises. For me, the ridiculousness of it all has only become apparent many years down the line.
Back then, everything was potential fodder for bullies: The clothes we were wearing, the brands of makeup our parents let us buy, how early or late we were "blooming," how early or late we knew what a blow job was. But I must say that in pre-teen and adolescent circles in my life, it was most often my fashion and beauty choices that got me on people's sh*t lists.
There are plenty of things many of us got made fun of for back in the day that might seem ludicrous now. So let's take a stroll through some of those things, and remember the cruel-spirited sea of contradictions that was being a girl or femme human in school.
1. Wearing A Bra
If you developed boobies earlier than your classmates, chances are you heard a thing or two about it. I know that having C cups in seventh grade meant many boys in my classes felt entitled to slut shame me — making jokes about titty f*cking before I even knew about penis and vagina f*cking.
As for other girls, it wasn't uncommon from some of them to giggle at how old you were getting, or draw comparisons between your chest and those of their middle aged mothers. Weird times, guys. Weird times.
2. Not Wearing A Bra
Oh, the double standards. Needing a bra before the designated period of acceptability was a problem. But not needing one was just as bad.
My best friend didn't get her first bra until mid high school, and you can bet she got tormented for it. The locker rooms were the perfect time for push-up-clad cool-girls to deem her the latest member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee.
If only we knew that having boobs — regardless of their size — is as normal as having toes. If only we knew that there's nothing weird or embarrassing or gross or even necessarily sexual about our chests.
3. Wearing High-Rise Bottoms
High-rise jeans and shorts were so early '90s. They were things moms and school teachers wore. They weren't suitable for middle or high school girls! Where was the sex appeal? Where was the peeking-out thong?
Better question: Where was our sense of individuality?
4. Wearing Low-Rise Bottoms
On the opposite side of the coin, wearing low-rise jeans wasn't always met with nods of approval. That'd be too easy.
If you weren't "conventionally" attractive during your school days — i.e. you didn't closely resemble Christina Aguilera in 2001 — you probably heard a thing or two about how gross or inappropriate the sight of your love handles or booty in low-rise jeans was.
To this day, I know plenty of plus size women who can't put on a pair of low or mid-rise jeans without worrying about the sight of their visible belly outline or side fat in them. Granted this is probably due to a whole lot more culturally ingrained fat shaming than that spread by school bullies. But nonetheless, it probably could've been avoided if we encouraged self-respect rather than judgment.
5. Having Glasses
Four eyes! Need I say more?
But really, how a product with totally valid medical uses became this stigmatized is still beyond me. Someone should've told us we'd live to see the hipster revolution — a time when oversized, tortoiseshell glasses = laidback coolness du jour.
6. Covering Up
I have vivid memories of being called a prude between the ages of 13 and 18, simply because I didn't relish in showing a ton of skin. My reasons for that were numerous: I grew up in a conservative Catholic Colombian household, and wasn't often allowed out of the door in mini skirts or V-neck tops; I wasn't super interested in sex (and was taught to associate all forms of nudity or even partial nudity with sex); and I just loved a good hoodie.
Even then, the clothing we wore seemed to equate to how sexual or not-sexual we were. The sexism was real.
7. Not Covering Up Enough
The mixed messaging given to girls throughout school was a whole heap of garbage. Be sexy, but modest. Be virginal, but experienced. Being a prude was Undesirable Trait No. 1, but looking "slutty" apparently meant you were giving everyone a pass to contemplate how many dirty, dirty things you were doing. Within the confines of school hallways, neither assumption was particularly coveted.
8. Being An "Alternative" Dresser
God forbid you actually had your own sense of unique style from elementary through high school. What would the deities of conformity have to say about that?
In my own school district, wearing anything that wasn't surfer or preppy basically guaranteed you'd be dubbed an outcast. And if you were emo, goth, or a scene kid, you surpassed the realm of outcasts and headed straight into pariah territory.
9. Wearing "The Wrong" Shoes
I have no idea what constitutes a right shoe versus a wrong shoe. Surely anything that allows you to walk and move around comfortably is, well, a good shoe.
However, if you didn't have a pair of DCs or Vans on your feet circa 2005, it's very likely that you got teased. Teased so hard that you proceeded to beg your parents for them, until they either caved or told you to get a job and buy some kicks yourself.
10. Not Wearing Makeup
How could we be so childish and immature?
11. Wearing "Too Much" Makeup
Who did we think we were? A mother? A college grad? A cast member of Beverly Hills, 90210? Clearly we were "trying too hard."
12. Buying Drugstore Brands
This was classism at its adolescent finest. As soon as girls started experimenting with makeup in my school, they also started promoting the notion that nothing will ever compare to the big name brands on the counters of Lord & Taylor or Saks. If you couldn't afford those things, you were sh*t out of luck I guess. Makes total sense.
13. Not Wearing Perfume
By high school, having a signature scent meant you were womanly — whatever the hell that meant. Not having one meant you were a childish fool who should've stayed in middle school.
14. Having Body Hair
Middle school was around the time when I started hearing that body hair on women was unacceptable, repulsive, and totally unhygienic. Being seen with fuzzy legs or pits or even pubic hair come swimsuit season was cause for social alienation. Why no one thought to tell us that body hair is a natural occurrence on folks of all genders, I shall never understand.
15. Not Owning A Coach Bag
Coach bags were the crème de la crème of the high school elite. If you didn't have one, you were a nobody. If you did have one, it had to be from the current season. If you didn't want one, there was no hope for you in the hierarchy of total BS.
16. Wearing Nerd Culture On Your Sleeve
Back in my day, being a nerd wasn't cool. You usually couldn't get away with wearing Marvel character-printed dresses or Star Wars T-shirts or skirts with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on them. No, no. If you wore such things, you were called a "geek" and risked having slushies thrown in your face.
OK, the latter might not have happened all that frequently. But people didn't really like nerds. The term was linked to having interests outside of the mainstream — interests that apparently made you appear young or immature or anti-social. You weren't trying to be cool, and that's precisely why you were so confusing to the popular crowd.
17. Just Being "Weird"
These days, being weird is often what gets people noticed: Standing out from the crowd, being your own human, having unique points of view. It's all a recipe for catching the interests of others. Back in school, however, being weird felt, to many, like a death sentence. I know my goal for years was to seem and look as "normal" as possible: Listen to the top 40 songs, wear whatever the kids of the Jersey Shore were wearing, dye my hair with chunky yellow highlights. I wish I'd known that it's usually the freaks, the geeks, and the total oddballs who lead the most fascinating lives.
I can't say that I have any particular desire to go back to school days. Sure, I didn't have to pay rent. I had no credit card debt. I didn't spend all that much time worried about the possibility of the future president of the United States being sexist or racist or all-around awful. But throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I encountered far more people who were unapologetically vocal about their prejudices. And it was exhausting.
That's not to say that as humans age, they all mature or evolve or become open-minded thinkers. We all likely know plenty of adults who would disprove that theory. But something about being a kid or teenager seemed to equate having a free pass to be a d*ck with few repercussions. I'd like to think that, at least in more liberal grown-up circles, being a d*ck to those around you wouldn't be as well received. One can hope so, anyway.
Images: Disney Channel Original Series (1); Giphy (2); NBC Studios (1); Warner Bros Television (1); Michael Jacobs Production (1); Paramount Pictures (1); DC Shoes (1); Nickelodeon (1); Coach (1); Rogue Retro/Etsy (1); The WB (1)