Today we have a new perspective: the one of a reformed “mean girl”. As an adult I find her funny and kind to all, so please be supportive. I always said this site was for both sides, because only in hearing both, can we truly grasp how and why mean girls exist and thrive. I know this story tied her into knots, because while it is hard to admit you were ever a victim, it just as difficult to admit you were wrong.
This is Renée‘s story.
* * *
I was a mean girl.
In elementary school, I was friends with Cat. Best friends. Together Cat and I
made elaborate puppets with scraps of fabric and wrote scripts that we turned
into full-length plays which we performed for ourselves. We baked cookies,
experimented with exotic recipes which we made Cat’s sister taste-test.
I spent countless hours at Cat’s house and woke up on many Saturday mornings
enveloped in the sunny Marimekko sheets of their guestroom bed.
For three years, life was filled with creative projects with Cat. But as we transitioned to
middle school, I became more interested in boys. And Cat put on a lot of weight.
She developed enormous breasts and an anxious stutter. Her hair grew long and
I started hearing people call my best friend “Fat-Cat” behind her back. Instead
of protecting my friend, one day, I simply dropped her.
As I started 6th grade, I began eating lunch with an entirely different group of girls: girls
who were not necessarily more popular but people who were definitely more naughty. And
infinitely less supervised. They introduced me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show
and invited me into a secret basement clubhouse where we could write on the
walls in invisible ink, our messages only apparent under a black light.
Cat called my house. A lot.
I never returned her calls.
And I didn’t really think about what I was doing.
I just did it. I distanced myself from her.
Later, in high school, my social group changed again.
A cheerleader now, mostly, I just went along with the popular kids.
I understood how unstable everything was. How people could be ousted from
lunchroom tables. I didn’t want that to be me.
In 1982, I went to summer camp where I jockeyed hard to make sure that I got
into one of the popular girls’ tents: my efforts paid off.
One of the girls, Aubrey, was beautiful. She had blond hair, blue eyes and skin
that turned brown in the summer. She had a perfect figure — petite and curvy –
– and she got a lot of attention from the boys. Aubrey could be soft-spoken, but
she knew how to manipulate people in the way that people with wounded hearts do.
One day, Aubrey decided that we needed to turn our attention to one of the girls
in another tent. Her real name was Martel, but everyone called her “Leech.”
Aubrey said “Leech” needed our help. I didn’t know Martel. I lived in another
city, came from a totally different place than most of the other kids. Martel had
never done anything to me. In fact she was completely off my radar until Aubrey
pointed her out to me.
Martel was not a pretty girl. She had tight, black curls and a rather boyish
figure. She had masculine mannerisms that seem to offend Aubrey’s feminine
sensibility, and one day Aubrey approached Martel and suggested that she come
to our tent during rest hour and receive a “special beauty treatment.”
I don’t know what Martel could have been thinking. Maybe she simply knew not
to try and go against Aubrey, so she appeared at our tent at rest hour as she had
I sat on my bed and pretended to read as I watched Aubrey and my other
bunkmate, Jane, work on Martel’s hair using a blow dryer and a round brush,
trying to straighten out Martel’s kinky curls, using the same techniques that
Aubrey used on her own long, sun-kissed locks.
Aubrey first applied purple and green eye shadow, black liner and mascara to Martel’s
lids. Then she stained her cheeks with a color far too pink for her skin, and completed
the treatment by tinting Martel’s lips with a red stain, which gave Martel the appearance
of a circus clown.
Aubrey and Jane purred at each other.
Like two satisfied cats, they licked their paws.
I read and re-read the same sentence of my book and felt terrible. Why didn’t I
stop them? I wondered.
But I knew the answer.
I knew to speak out would be to commit social suicide. I was not pretty enough or
secure enough in the group to take such a bold stand. So I stayed quiet. I didn’t
want to bear witness to their cruelty, and it never occurred to me to leave.
As Aubrey held the mirror up for Martel to admire the terrible makeover, Martel
did not smile. And I felt something turn in my stomach.
I felt like a mean girl.
I went back to school that September having decided I was not going to be a
follower anymore. I promised myself that I would not stay silent if I saw someone
being mean to someone else. I promised myself I would always intervene.
No matter what.
Many years later, as my 20th high school reunion approached, I thought about all
the times I had been cruel: actively – like with Cat — but also when I had acted as
a bystander for all those years. When I silently stood by and watched people do
mean things and did nothing. And I realized I had to make it right.
I volunteered to work as the Communications Guru and as I found people
and told them about our upcoming reunion, I also used the connection as an
opportunity to apologize to anyone I felt I had ever been intentionally hurtful to
during my entire life. I told people the stories I remembered, my involvement – or
rather my lack of involvement – the shame I felt when I should have intervened
but didn’t. I tried to atone for the pain I felt like I’d caused.
Not one of them admitted to even remembering these events.
They could find nothing of the mean me in their memories.
But I knew her. I could feel her in my shoes. She had worn my jeans.
She had followed me in snow and rain and summer heat.
So there I was: a decidedly mean girl that no one remembered as mean.
What does one do with a cracked memory of herself that no one can confirm?
Ultimately, I had one last person to contact: Cat. I got her phone number from her
parents who were kind enough to share it with me.
When I called her and identified myself, the phone was silent for a beat. I thought
we’d lost the connection. I started to explain why I was calling – about the
reunion, but also because I had wanted to apologize…
Everyone else had been so forgiving. I guess I had started to believe that maybe
I hadn’t been that girl.
“Fuck. You,” she repeated. “Fuck you and your fucking reunion and your bullshit
apology,” Cat said before she hung up, leaving me with a dead phone in my
hand. No dial tone. No cleared conscience. Just a black phone and that old, sour
feeling in my stomach.
Memories can be sweet or painful. And Cat reminded me that while I may
have been a bystander for most of my life, with her I had been undoubtedly,
As an adult, I still see there are still plenty of “mean girls” out there. They are just
older. These women seem to need that same kind of tight clique of friends, that
same kind of exclusivity some girls craved in high school. I understand nowthese women
have their own insecurities causing them to behave in this way.
But I don’t have to hang out with them. Or even like them. Or even pretend to like
them. I can be friendly without being their friends.
There are no more lunch tables and, frankly, I don’t want to sit at theirs anymore.
Sometimes I find myself alone, but I’m honestly okay with that.
Because I decided a long time ago, I’d rather be alone than be a mean girl.
* * *
She specifically requested I post this under her full name: Renée Schuls-Jacobson – to publicly apologize and atone for what she did, either overtly or as a bystander, in her youth. She cannot change the past, but I have no doubt she would do anything to right the wrongs done then.
It is a good thing to remember – sometimes the followers were as trapped as we were, scared they would become one of “us”.
Sometimes it was just the callousness of youth, not realizing the full consequences of their actions.
Because who is to say, had we been on the other side, if we might not have followed for fear of being ousted?
If you’d like to see what Renée does now, you can check out her blog, Lessons from Teachers and Twits.