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.