Okay ladies and gents, I’m going to say something possibly ground breaking here: your high school experience will not be what you think it will.
We no longer live (nor do I believe, did we ever) in the Mean Girls cinematic universe.
The plastics may exist to a degree but my first port of call here is to relieve all the graduates of any lingering assumption that people have the energy to be openly cruel anymore.
Again, I hear half of the world’s population shout back at me about the very real issue of bullying, passive aggressiveness and peer pressure, I hear you. However, ultimately you likely won’t have a Carrie moment of blood thrown at your face. Generally speaking, most of the bullying nowadays is psychologically intensive, or at worst, simply careless.
This was also reflected in my experiences at an all girls’ boarding school way back when. Well, three years ago.
So yes, while I don’t pretend that my experiences are in any way universal or encompassing of the rest of my class, but I enjoyed my time at school. Yes, I’m one of those people that, in having been academically validated in when I was younger, got a hankering for the shinny badges and wanted more.
To set the scene properly for you, I’ll tell you a little about myself…
English major (RIP to all my maths teachers, I can only apologise), raised around London, and had about three growth spurts that redisposed me towards being around 6ft tall. When I was about to start the first year of secondary school, I could be forgiven for thinking that it was going to be rough.
The issue of ‘fitting in’ never particularly occurred to me as something that I might not naturally fall into, because primary school tends to operate on the basis of ‘everyone goes to the party or you don’t get a party’ within the class.
Not so for secondary school, but also you don’t notice half the time. Yes, when social media erupted when I was about 15, you do see parties on Snapchat, but it’s not nearly the snub that the characters of Mean Girls thought.
Indeed, it’s only when I watch those drunken snaps that I wonder why I follow these people that I’m not friends with at all.
But that’s a discussion for the proxy-emotionalism of social media for later.
My point being, that the films about girls schools and high school in general makes you think that everyone knows everyone, knows everything, and cares about every mistake that people make.
Maybe it was different having gone to a school in the UK as opposed to America, but people are so stuck in their own worlds and personal issues to worry particularly intensively about anyone else’s. In fact, it’s the culture of self-comparison and competition with applications for University and internships and general academia that makes peer pressure such a crippling issue. It’s our own fixations and worries that generally prompt the most unresolvable issues because we can’t get out of our own headspace.
It’s 2019, we just don’t care as much anymore.
That sounded nihilistic, but it really wasn’t a negative sentiment, but rather one of empowerment. We aren’t wasting our emotional and empathetic time on other people, or at least we’re focused on ourselves first. Mostly. It is a hard practice, and hard to find the balance.
But back to communal living and my experiences specific to being in an all girl’s school. I promise I will eventually get to my point.
It’s not the year of the cat anymore. I personally believe, in my experience, that the time of the catty ‘plastics’ in high school has gone. Yes, there are still cliques and yes they’re probably still rubbish for everyone else’s self esteem if you’re in with them, but actually it’s quite easy to avoid them. Everyone is insecure, and the people who look like they have it all together are the least likely to be chill in who they are.
It’s human nature to overthink and spiral.
That’s just the way it works. Therefore, it’s not like I would walk down the corridor and get picked on, or they just wouldn’t particularly disturb me. Being something of a nerd, we would be perfectly polite with each other if they needed notes or support – and while that is by no means the basis of friendship, and obviously they generally just spoke to me when they needed assistance – what’s wrong with that? It’s not like they’re my best friends or the people closest to me.
I don’t need anything from them.
You can’t be ‘used’ in a relationship if you aren’t actually in a relationship, therefore it’s pretty easy to just stay adrift of that, but still have perfectly fulfilling friendships outside of that traditional drama. We’re all just minding our own business, and while I did sometimes get wind of bust-ups or diva-battles from those in the upper echelons of popularity, it wasn’t particularly relevant.
In general, there is a fairly bitter pill to swallow that people are mostly pretty nice to you in public (whether or not they actually like you) or you aren’t relevant to them, so you don’t interact. It may seem unromantic, but life moves more easily.
Another thing that we as a society have to unlearn our assumptions that when alone, women just talk about makeup and boys. Yes, we do talk about that. A lot. But also we talk about politics and dogs and family and a book we just read, a magazine with a really cool kitchen, and your inability to feel right sometimes.
We share, we emote, we love to express what we’re feeling.
It can sometimes take a while to bed into that new friendship, but once you’re both vulnerable and receptive to talking things out in a friendship, female-centric friendships can be the most enduring and satisfying of any relationships.
That is because we were generally attuned to what each other was experiencing. Largely because the school perspective and related stresses were shared with each other, but also because we had a nuanced understanding of each other. We saw when one another was down, or if they flunked a test, or if they were stressing about their driving lesson.
The importance was that none of these struggles were being experienced by just one person.
Everyone was feeling similar things. It’s the knowledge of not being alone or isolated in your experiences.
Quite apart from being catty – which I’m sure was a media-driven circus to start with to keep us in a position of witty insubstantialism – teenager girls are way more compassionate than anyone is willing to give them credit for. It’s easier if society pigeonholes young women into the box of ‘emotionally excessive and therefore silly or laughable’ than to acknowledge our power to help each other.
So yes, my experiences I’m sure are by no means universal. But I’m sure I’m not alone in witnessing the turn from ‘catty teenager’ to empathetic young women while in an all girls school. Quite apart from anything else, we stuck together because no one ever knew what was happening around them. Life is largely a bewildering whirlpool – we don’t have time for in-fighting in school.
And lastly, for those of you wondering: no, our periods didn’t always sync up.