On Teenage Suicide

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I was sitting in Mcdonald’s typing up one of my typically self-centered posts when the news hit: “Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student…[and that victim of gang rape a year and a half ago], was taken off life support on Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself.”

I tried to go through with my post, my selfish, solipsistic post about the insecurities of this past teenage girl (myself), but I just couldn’t. Not without acknowledging the tragedy.

Suddenly, my “Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face” couldn’t hold a candle to what I was imagining this poor girl had gone through: being gang-raped, then “blamed, shunned, and harassed by everyone,” to the point of death.

What were my puny pimples, compared to this?

And yet, once upon a teenage time, I, too, tried to commit suicide.

Though it seems almost vulgar to compare my story to hers, I’d like to…if only to throw into relief how little it takes for a girl to doubt her worth, to doubt her life, to consider ending it. And so, despite myself, I give you [a modified version of]…

Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face

No matter how much older and wiser I get, it seems I can’t quite move past certain childhood insecurities. These days especially, the fact that I’m a twenty-eight-year-old with recurring acne much disheartens me.

Thankfully, I don’t go through life with this “ugly complex” always on my mind—not like I used to. But as a teenager, I remember living with perpetual horror at the thought that I was un-pretty, and unworthy.

I remember it really starting at age fourteen. Somehow I got the idea that my stomach was just gross—incidentally, that was right around the time I had to start undressing in public. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that age-old trope about the locker room.

Kids historically have feigned all manner of sickness, inventing a bevy of excuses, to escape that locker room reckoning.

But I never wasted my excuses on a mere class period. I saved those for entire days when the insecurity, or the depression got too bad. Plus, I was in sports all school year, so I had to get used to it. I mean, I got used to dressing in the locker room with the other girls. But I never got used to how bad it made me feel about myself.

That year, as a fourteen-year-old eighth grader, I had my mom order a book for me, Karen Amen’s The Crunch. And every night I would close my bedroom door, don a sports bra sans shirt, and do those crunches—in hopes, I guess, of watching my stomach shrink before my very eyes. I even kept a log to track my progress. But I remember being very guarded about it.

No one but my mom knew that I had embarked on this program toward self-improvement. I didn’t let my dad or brother see me doing it, didn’t tell my friends. Only let my mom come into my room sometimes and see me in the sports bra, as I pointed in disgust at my stomach and lamented how freakish I was in comparison to other girls. I remember mom looking at me with sad eyes, just listening. Soon after, Mom left us. And I started taking antidepressants. (But I’m greatly compressing, of course.)

The thing is, adolescence is confusing enough without having to undress in front of others. Without having to contend with a parent’s abandonment. Or without having a boy shame you (much less four). All these things, which partly account for my first suicide attempt, are terrifying to a teen.

But having to go through what Rehtaeh did? Having my pain and my shame and my body and my insecurity swirled onto the World Wide Web for all to see? Unthinkable.

The Mirage of Hollywood

I can’t say for certain that the teenage years are worse for girls than for boys, but I feel I could make a strong case for the former. What do I know, though?

I do know there’s this extreme cultural pressure imposed on girls to be pretty, sexy, skinny. And while being all of this, girls are also supposed to be chaste—to be better sexually behaved than boys. And even though I’ve gained considerable perspective on all the media’s BS about what constitutes true beauty for a woman—and even though I don’t base my self-worth on my looks or my bra size like I used to—sometimes I still get taken in. Sometimes, when surrounded by bikini clad beauties whose clear skin and shapely bodies I will never rival, sometimes, for a little while, I feel like I hate my body, hate my face, hate  myself.

Even well past adolescence, I don’t need anyone else’s voice but my own to tell me I am unworthy, I am ugly, I am disgusting.

Rehtaeh, although a victim of gang rape, was called a whore by her classmates, by her friends, (by the media?).

Fortunately for me, because I have twelve years on Rehtaeh, and the benefit of no viral pictures or videos to condemn me, I can take a step back and re-see the whole picture. I can remember that this isn’t reality—this is a mirage of advertising and Hollywood and Satanic lies about what I have to do and how I have to look and how I have to be—to be worth anything. And as I make this reflective, redeeming remove, I can see clearly again.

But Rehtaeh never will.

A Devilish Game

Ladies, why are we continuously taken in?

Why do some girls get up at the crack of dawn to make themselves up? (One of my high school students proudly flaunted this fact.)

Why do others spend every spare moment in front of the mirror? (This describes many other students I had.)

Why do yet others become bulimic, depressed, and suicidal? (Yep, that was me.)

And why do innocent girls like Rehtaeh so easily become martyrs to rapists, to the media, to the devil?

We may not think we are playing the devil’s game, but all of us—whether we find ourselves fretting over pimples or starring in child porn—are.

It can’t be God’s will for women to worry and strive, to be attacked with lies, and to never feel pretty enough, never feel good enough.

It might be different if we felt it were a matter of choice not to go to all the trouble, not to spend an hour on the makeup, not to log our ridiculous repertoire of crunches, not to go along with any old man or boy, just because he’s offered—or if we just elected to do these things once in awhile. But I know ladies who won’t leave home without an hour’s prepping. I know women who can’t escape abusive relationships no matter what they say. And I know of a teen girl who will never, ever be able to get back her life—because the rumors, the bullying, the façade that life was over, was just too real.

Nearing the age of thirty, it’s funny to me that I’ve overcome, or am near overcoming, so many childhood demons—depression, fear of having children—but what still gets me on a regular basis is that little-girl insecurity about my looks, whether my adult acne; my below average bra size; my frizzy hair; or my thunder thighs.

After today’s news, these insecurities seemed almost too mundane to mention. But they’re not, of course, because they are outward fruits of the same hidden roots, lies, that so many women and teenage girls struggle with. And though it’s not the worst root some of us will contend with, I don’t want to leave it unchecked so that it continues to degrade us, to degrade me—and younger versions of me—forever. It has done destruction enough.

Rest in peace, Rehtaeh.

Going to the Movies? $30. Going Numb? Priceless

The sky was dark, the wind whipped, and rain clouds threatened. Still, we pulled into an almost full parking lot.

“Apparently a lot of people like to see movies on Saturday nights,” I remarked to Buc.

“You think?” he snorted, exasperated that he couldn’t find a parking spot.

As we stood in line, waiting to be gouged thirty dollars deep, I found my mind’s gears shifting into analytical mode again…as they so often do when I’m supposed to be having fun.

Why are we paying so much money for a cheap thrill that will soon be over?

Flashbacks: Scenes from my Movie-Watching Past   

When I was fourteen, going out to movies with friends became the thing to do. None of us could drive, so our parents would chauffer us the fifteen miles to the Cozy Theater in W, Minnesota, drop us off, and pledge to return in a few hours. Then we’d loiter in the video store trying to look “cool” while waiting for the movie to start.

Usually it was some terrible show I didn’t want to see, but I had come just to fit in. I don’t know how many movies I watched those teen years just because someone had invited me to. Godzilla was one; Star Wars, the prequel, was another (but I hadn’t even seen the originals–I realize I may have just lost some readers now). Then there was Behind Enemy Lines, which my then-boyfriend took me to see. Actually, I took him. At sixteen, I’d recently gotten my license, but he, a few months behind in age, was still bicycle bound.

I drove to his house, he climbed in the car, and we drove in almost complete silence for all twenty minutes of the drive. During the movie, which he’d chosen and which bored me stiff, we sat like statues, our palms turning clammy in one another’s, my arm getting sore from holding the pose too long.

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Credit for this photo goes to datedaily.mate1.com.

In fact, everything about our four months together was sorta like that. Mechanical, I mean. I guess I was too young, or he just wasn’t the one. Ah, first loves.

At that age, it’s enough to just be with someone—it doesn’t matter who, unless he’s totally gross (and luckily this guy wasn’t)—because at least if someone openly loves you, it’s not just you against the world trying to prove your worth. Somehow it just helps to have someone, anyone, in your corner. (But when you’re sixteen, oh, for the affirmation of a cute guy!)

I’m guessing it’s this desire to feel wanted, to have a place to belong, that held me captive to so many morbid movies in my youth. And even my young adulthood.

When I got married at age twenty, I was suddenly trying to fit in with my hubby’s family (because they were the only family and potential friends I had at the time). Then, too, I found myself sitting through what seemed like interminable Sci-Fi or shoot-em-up movies—what other options did I have? It never occurred to me to speak up and start a meaningful conversation. This mind-numbing bevy of bullets and violence was what everyone wanted, right? And anyway, who was I, a little whisper of a person who’d just mysteriously blown in from Michigan, or was it Wisconsin, or maybe Iowa?

During those first few years of marriage during movie nights at their houses, my in-laws formed the opinion that I was an easy sleeper. I guess it was just easier to let them think this than to explain that the real reason I kept falling asleep on their couches was that their movie selections, in my opinion, weren’t worth staying awake for.

Because I Can’t Help Myself 

Have you noticed, by the way, that movies seem to be getting more mechanical all the time? Have you noticed all the machinery involved, both in front of the camera and behind it? So many plots in which Good Guy avenges Bad Guy with machine gun (or his super powers); or Superhero combats Evil with atomic level warfare (did anybody else find The Avengers incredibly loud?). Or day-after-tomorrow scenarios where one lone survivor is desperately seeking human contact in an otherwise virtual reality?

Is this trend in cinema parabolic in any way? Somehow telling of our times?

That’s what I wondered as I watched the people milling around at the movies this weekend. Fat people paying to get fatter as they handed over $5 bills for 42-ounce drinks (I can only say this because I, too, overpaid for calories I didn’t need). Time wasters paying to waste more time. Teens traveling in packs, maybe to see movies they don’t want to see, just to belong.

(Please note: I realize this picture isn’t true of every movie-goer—I’m just calling out some trends I see.)

Have you ever wondered: Why do we, even for a few hours of ignorant bliss, squander our hard-earned money for the cost of movies, drinks, and junk food we don’t need? (Or is this just a rare analytical curse I happen to live with?)

I don’t go to movies often (I prefer to waste my money at book stores and coffee shops, thank you), but when I do, I am quickly reminded of why I stopped going. Notwithstanding the monster tub of popcorn I’ve helped devour throughout the show, it’s that empty feeling I’m left with at the end.

Still, when enough time has elapsed, I’m sure I’ll look forward to going again, just as I did all day Saturday. I’ll forget just how short-lived the fix is—and I’ll find myself standing in line, once again, waiting to be raped by Hollywood.

Have you noticed how mechanical movie-goers are getting these days?

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