An Open Letter to Middle School Girls

...or almost middle school, or just left middle school - you get my point. 

Dear beauties, 

Hey. 

Yeah, I know. I really do know. Middle school, right? WOW. It is so freakin' brutal. It's like that for everyone. It has been like that for everyone since they invented middle school. If you live somewhere where they don't call it "middle school," I'm talking about grades 6-8, and ages 11-14. Call it "intermediate school." Call it "junior high." Whatever you want to call it, it is ROUGH. 

Having been through middle school and having taught middle school, I consider myself pretty proficient in how it works. Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to to every single person who passes through it. My dad always said, "If we really wanted to win a war, we'd deploy a plane full of 12-year-old girls. That'd do it." Oh man, how true that is.

Teaching middle school, I heard the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else. 
Going through middle school, I said the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else. And had them said about me. And so does everyone.

But here's the big difference: when I was in middle school, there was no such thing as Instagram. No Snapchat. No Facebook, even. Social media hadn't been invented yet. 

In my own middle school experience, if someone was talking behind your back, they did it the old-fashioned way: when your back was turned. When you left the room. In the corners of the locker room at P.E. On (now-archaic) three-way-calls after school -- and, by the way, to make those calls, one had to ask, "Is Jennifer there?" to Jennifer's mom. Because it was a landline. Because it was 2000. 

But the game has changed, my friend. Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next, and before long, everyone has seen/read/heard/watched something horrible about you. 

I honestly can't imagine what that must be like. 

As a 12-year-old human, I looked like this: 

Well, it's me and April. But I think we can all tell who's who. 

Well, it's me and April. But I think we can all tell who's who. 

Okay, the first one was just to make you laugh. That was me getting my braces. Oy. 

But the second one - please take note of a few things. Braces, first of all. Unkempt baby hairs everywhere. Chubby cheeks. I don't think I wore makeup yet. This picture happens to be from my 12th birthday. At this particular birthday party, we had cake and watched Stepmom on my back porch. It was awesome. 

I didn't worry about how cute my party was because I wasn't going to post it on Instagram later. I didn't worry about whether I had dark circles or wrinkles on my face, or about how thin I looked. I wasn't adding this photo to my Snapstory or editing it on Facetune or ANY. OF. THAT. SHIT. 

(I said, "shit." Know what kids in middle school say when their parents aren't listening? "Shit." Everyone calm down.) 

If you're in middle school today, the world is telling you that you aren't good enough. The world has always told middle schoolers that. But now, the world has new technology to drive the point home. The fact that there is an app called "Perfect 365" in which you edit yourself to look, you know, perfect...365 days a year...is terrible. The further fact that a new version of middle school mean-girl three-way calling is for someone to pose in a picture alongside a friend, then edit ONLY themselves, leaving the other person to appear (heaven forbid!) unedited, and therefore less attractive, is MIND-BOGGLING TO ME. 

On social media, we curate a very particular version of ourselves. We like to choose or best, prettiest, funniest moments. EVERYONE does this. The problem is, it's not terribly genuine. And in lots of cases, especially middle school, it just gives people another platform to say mean things about you. 

Snapchat changes their filters all the time, but one that has stuck around is the "Beauty" filter. This filter...well, actually, let me just show you. 

I tried to make the same face, but you get the point. The left-hand photo is me, unfiltered, regular ol' MC. Although I am doing what Jordan calls my "social media face," wherein I do not show my teeth and try to get the apples of my cheeks to pop. (See? I, too, am ruined by all this crap.) The right-hand photo is me with the Snapchat's "Beauty" filter - you can see that my skin is suddenly glowing and poreless, my eyebrows are perfectly manicured, my eyes are bigger, my nose is slenderized, my jawline and chin have been tapered and shaved down. 

I have to tell you something, middle school girls: 

This is all bullshit. 

(I know, I said "shit" again.)

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret - every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way. Some days, you'll mask this insecurity with confidence and it won't bother you a bit. These are awesome days. These are the days you'll laugh out loud - not at people, but with people. You'll dance goofy dances. You'll fail a test, but so will your best friend, so it's all kind of okay. You'll stop the gossip around you and talk to the new kid in school even if you risk losing cool points. You'll freely like and comment on the Instagrams of your friends without saying anything ugly or snotty about them. You'll throw yourself into whatever it is you care about with abandon. On these days, you will be your best self. 

Some days, on your less-than-lovely days, your insecurity will win. You will say something nasty about someone, it will get back to them, and you'll have to sit with the knowledge that they'll probably remember your words for a long time. You'll throw a friend under the bus in class. You'll let boys be more important than your girlfriends. You'll sneak out of the house, or send your boyfriend a picture of yourself in your underwear. You'll pass around a photo of a girl in her underwear - a picture she sent her boyfriend in private - and ruin that girl's reputation. She might change schools because of it. 

(A note here for all parents who may be reading this and think that middle schoolers sending each other sexually inappropriate pictures isn't a Thing: it's a Thing. Heads up.)  

These will not be your finest moments. They are ugly moments. They're moments that you'll cringe about for years to come. Whatever the severity of the ugly moments - be it idle gossip or going too far with a guy - everyone will have them. 

The idea that any of us - ANY of us - Kylie Jenner included - leads a Perfect 360 life is a Perfect 360 lie

It's just not REAL. 

Realness does not exist in a screen.

Have you ever seen a sunset and pulled out your phone to try and photograph it, only to be totally disappointed that your picture isn't reflecting how truly awesome what you're looking at is? 

That's because reality is TOO BIG FOR OUR SCREENS. It's just too big and grand. It won't fit. 

The true, gritty, weird, kooky, off-beat, awkward, brace-face, chubby-cheeked, "does the robot at parties because you're too self-conscious to dance" realness that is YOU is just so unbelievably fabulous that it doesn't fit in a frame. It can't be captured with 140 characters. It can't be polished into submission on Facetune. You are too awesome for that. You are too good to be shoved into a tiny box with a giant lightbulb and a touchscreen. You're too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you're supposed to be. 

So listen to me, because I'm older than you (I've been waiting years to say that, okay? I know it was annoying but just let me have it): 

Go forth and be kind, and be weird, and be real. But do not go forth and be perfect. If I catch you attempting the myth of perfection, I will come to your house and scribble on you with permanent marker until you remember what I said about being kind and weird. 

As you're starting school, you're going to feel a lot of pressure to be perfect. Remember instead to join a club or a team, to be respectful to your parents and teachers, to stick by your friends. Remember how awful it felt when someone said that crappy thing about you, and try to not say a bunch of crappy things about other people  -- in person or on the Internet. Hold on to the people who make you feel good about you. Be that person for someone else. 

Whoever you are, go be that person. Unfiltered. 

(And just for the record? You're right. You can do that math with a calculator when you grow up and you don't actually have to learn it. Don't tell your parents I said so.) 

Love, 
Mary Catherine
(Who still looks exactly like this in her own mind.)