This post is originally published on Everyday Feminism. It is cross-posted with permission.
I still remember the feeling of anxiety that came along with the excitement of being part of the in-crowd. The first few weeks of school are always a little stressful with me wanting to make sure I had friends and wasn’t an outcast.And each year, I successfully landed a spot in a nice group of girls that I had a lot of fun with. We had sleepovers, movies, lunch dates, and pedicure parties. While all of these girls were nice on their own, something would happen when we all got together. We talked…and we talked about other girls…we said mean things about them behind their backs. And it strangely brought us closer together and made us feel united. The trouble was that what united us was the exclusion of someone else. I remember hearing things and even on occasion saying things like: “I love her to death but I can’t stand when she…”, “If I said this to her, she wouldn’t listen or change”, or the classic “Don’t say anything to her but…”. Those phrases made my stomach turn and my goose bumps rise to attention. Why did I gossip behind other people’s back? If I felt angry, upset or jealous towards someone, why didn’t I just talk to them about it? Or even if I wasn’t saying anything, why didn’t I stop it? Why did I nod along and neutrally agree with things I completely disagreed with and angered me? Thankfully, I talked to my mom about it and she said something to me once that shifted my perspective and made me change my ways. (I’m not going to pretend I became some anti-bullying super hero. I still have moments of weakness where I resort to cattiness or don’t interfere when gossip is occurring.) My mom said, “If they’re saying this about ‘Jenny’, who knows what they’re saying about you when you’re not there”. Looking back, I’m a little disappointed it took a “take a walk in her shoes” pep talk from my mom for me to grow a backbone, but hey, I am what I am.