Honey, You’re 18: Thighs Don’t Matter

David had to meet up with some work people tonight, so after dinner (take-out, because it’s Saturday and because I just didn’t feel like it), I took SK and the Mighty Quinn to get some ice cream.  We were sitting on a bench when I noticed two high school girls giggling by the shop’s front window. My eye caught them because one girl was wearing a “Seniors 2011” shirt, and I was trying to figure out which high school she attended, and the other had her skirt hiked so far up her torso that at first I thought it was a second shirt. (Now, you know that skirt wasn’t that high before she left her parents at the house…I hope.)

As I watched, another small herd of girls approached them. They must’ve been friends, but this is the coversation that played out in front of us:

Girl A, approaching:  “Stop looking at my thighs! You’re looking at my thighs!”

Girl B, texting: “Yeah, I’m looking at your thighs!”

Girl A, laughing: “Stop looking at my thighs!”

Girl B, not smiling: “Well, they’re shaking so much, I can’t help but look at your thighs.”

End scene.

Once the herd caught up with Alpha Girl and her sidekick, they bantered back and forth, trying to figure out what to do next (“I don’t know. What should we do?”….I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”). I looked down at Saoirse, who was quietly sitting beside me on the edge of the bench, licking her ice cream cone (vanilla, with “spwinkles”). She had been listening to the girls the entire time, and didn’t take her eyes off of them as they walked away. I choked down the urge to go chase after them for a ranting lecture about self-esteem and respect, but as much as I wanted to knock some sense into their identically styled heads (Be a better role model for my kid! Treat your friends more kindly! Don’t tear another woman down just to make yourself feel better! And for heaven’s sake, pull down your skirt!), I quickly realized that a) I’m not a teacher anymore, and b) regardless, some crazy lady haranguing a bunch of teenagers in the middle of a parking lot is going to get the cops called on her.

Am I overreacting? Do you think I’m too sensitive? I might be, I guess. When I taught I always opted out of chaperoning any of the high school dances, because I didn’t want to witness the way my students behaved when they were in the wild. I very much enjoyed my image of them as they were in the happy little bubble of my classroom. It frightens me, how mean children can be to each other. It scares me out of my mind the pressures to be grown-up and sexy, and exactly what kids will do to belong. I looked at Saoirse sitting there, face smeared with melted ice cream, wearing her little rainbow shirt and flowery sandals, and tried to picture her in 10 or 15 years: will she be that girl, scoffing at the others while texting some no-good, weed-smoking, criminal felon of a boyfriend her parents had banned her from seeing? Or will she be the girl joking back at her, trying to make a point to the others that she can hang with the leader? And what if she’s just one of the herd, smiling nervously on the outskirts of the group, adjusting her skirt a little and just glad to be included?

Go ahead, tell me that girls will be girls and teenagers are just trying to figure themselves out. But while you’re at it, please also assure me that in a just a few short years’ time my daughters won’t be obsessing about the jiggly-ness of their thighs. Please tell me that my daughter won’t be one of the girls tearing her friends apart just to feel better about herself. I wish it could be like teaching, where I could put the brakes on how much I really got to know about a kid’s social life. I want to be able to pretend that my girls will always be innocent. That they’ll always be the sweet creatures who giggle at each other on the floor, and hold hands with their friends on the playground. Because this glimpse of the future made me wish that growing up just didn’t have to be so complicated. I know I can’t protect them forever, but it’d be nice to know that they’ll be able to rise above the bullying and pressure. But then, I’d also like a guarantee that by the time my girls are teenagers, baggy clothes will be back in fashion. Hey. A parent can dream.

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