Tween Girls and The Cult of Personality

March 31, 2015

“You won’t believe what Karl said today,” my husband chuckles, plunking a lone ice cube into his rocks glass.

Karl is one of the radiologists in my husband’s practice. He also happens to have a daughter about the same age as Miss D., who is a seventh grader.

“What?” I say, slicing cucumbers into thin rounds for the salad.

“This is good. Karl came into the reading room and he sat down and looked like shit. Just exhausted. He gave this big sigh and then said, ‘Has the entire climate of your household been completely upended by the demise of One Direction?'”

I crack up. “Okayyy. What did you tell him?”

“I said, ‘D. doesn’t give one single fuck about One Direction, Karl. She’s not into that kind of stuff. Now, say, if Benedict Cumberbatch had announced that he was quitting Sherlock or if they were cancelling Dr. Who or Supernatural, that would be a complete cause for hysteria. But One Direction? Nah.”

“I’m thanking the Nerd Gods that our kid inherited our Nerd Genes.” I pop a crouton into my mouth and grab the salad tongs. “D. did say that some of the girls at school were completely freaking out about it, though. I mean, crying, for Christ’s sake.”

“That’s what Karl was saying,” my husband shakes his head. “It’s complete emotional chaos. Crying and whining and despairing and constant phone activity. Talk about drama overload.”

“Zayne.” I wrinkle my nose. “Jeez, who even names their kid that?”


Later that night, I get a Facebook message from my friend Amy. Her daughter is also 13.

“Haley is going through some bad bullying from the group of girls she hangs out with,” she writes. “These girls are all big One Direction fans and Haley is the only one who really isn’t into them any more. She’s just kind of over it. But these girls were all broken up about that Zayne kid leaving, and Haley said something like, ‘You know, it doesn’t really matter,’ and these girls immediately turned on her. Boom, just like that. Now she’s being flooded with all of these mean texts and nasty messages on her Facebook wall.”

“That’s crazy, ” I write.  “That sucks. How is Haley doing?”

“She’s upset but okay enough about it to talk to me. Which I am grateful for. I told her that obviously, this is stupid and she should ignore them and that I was proud of her for being herself. But guess what these girls did? They went on Instagram and blurred Haley’s face out of every group picture they had.”

When I read those words, I go cold in my bones.  As fast as the times are changing, some things remain eerily the same.

The summer before I entered eighth grade, the group of “friends” I was part of decided that it was my turn to be ostracized. It didn’t come as a huge  surprise; this group of girls turned on each other on a regular basis. They had been doing it all year.

Of course, at some point, it was going to be my turn, but when my turn came, I was unprepared. The rapidity and the viciousness of it left me gasping.

One afternoon that summer, a boy from my grade called me on the phone. I was puzzled, because I knew this kid only marginally. He’d been in my gym class, but we’d never really spoken.

“Hey,” I said cautiously into the phone.

“Hey, there. Having a nice summer?”

“It’s okay, I guess.”

“Well, guess what your best girlfriends did today?” he said, in a silky voice.

I tried to choke something out but it caught in my throat. It ended up sounding like a faint and garbled “mew.”

I waited.

“They took all of the pictures of the group that had your face in it. All of them. And they burned them in Shannon’s backyard.”

I placed the telephone gently back into the receiver.

The message was clear.

We can erase you.

We can make you disappear.

Without us, you don’t exist.

Without us, you are nobody.

And sadly, part of me believed them. I was thirteen years old and didn’t really know who I was; I was still in the process of figuring it out. What girl, at the tender age of thirteen, really knows any of that stuff? I knew I was shy and that I liked to read and that math wasn’t my favorite subject and that maybe I wanted to kiss a boy somewhere down the road, but that was about it.

What did I know of the more difficult terrain of myself?


This weekend, my husband and I took the girls to the mall. At one point, I separated myself from the group to sneak off for some Easter gifts and all things chocolate. Later, as we were driving home, my husband broke into a grin and addressed Miss D., eyes twinkling at her in the rearview mirror.

“Hey, D. Wanna tell mom what you said at the  mall?”

My teenager rolled her eyes at him and plopped her headphones on, but she was smiling a little. “Jeez, Dad. Whatever.”

I laugh. “Okay, what? Spill.”

“Well,” he smirked, “I needed to get some shaving gel, because I’m out, and so I took the girls into Sephora. D. took two steps in there and physically recoiled. She said to me, in this horrified voice, ‘What the heck are we in here for? This store sells, like, makeup and stuff.'”

I rubberneck around to look at my daughter, who has heard but isn’t meeting my eye. “Yo, D.!” She grudgingly removes her headphones. “What’s wrong with  makeup?”

“God! Mom.” She shakes her head and puts her headphones back on. “Gross popular girls wear makeup. And all they care about is getting a boyfriend. They’re horrible. You won’t catch me dead wearing makeup.”

The day is unseasonably warm and when we get home, D. marches out to the backyard, headphones still firmly on her ears. As usual, she heads for the swings. I watch her out the kitchen window as she pumps her legs, seeking higher ground. My husband sees me watching her and smiles. He wanders over and watches her, too.

“She’s really going for it out there.”

“She always does. The girl loves to swing.”

He laughs. “She’s a funny kid.”

“She is. A great kid, but funny. I worry about her sometimes.”

“Why?” He looks puzzled. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders.”

“It’s just…this age, you know? Kids can be so cruel at this age, I mean, downright vicious, and I don’t think she has the skills to handle that kind of thing. She’s fairly immature for her age. Look at her. Five foot seven and still playing on the swings.”

“Aren’t you happy about that, though? She’s not boy-crazy or dressing like a tramp or sneaking beer out of the refrigerator.”

“Yeah, I’m grateful for that. I am. I’m glad she’s not in a rush to grow up. It’s the others I worry about.”

“Kids can be little bastards. But she’s a smart kid.”

“She calls herself a nerd. Like, that’s really how she sees herself.”

He gives a sharp little laugh. “So what? We were both nerds. Hell, we still are nerds. We say that all the time.”

“I know, but do you think she really believes that? Deep down?”

He puts his hand on the small of my back. “I think the kid is all right. You worry too much. Just…get yourself off the ledge and enjoy her, okay? Just the way she is.”

Enjoy her.

Just the way she is.

My funny, quirky, brainy, unbridled girl, with curls that run riot like wild horses.

It takes another few minutes before I can tear my eyes away from the window, away from the sight of her soaring, high as she can go.



{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam March 31, 2015 at 6:44 pm

I don’t know if my son (12 years old – 7th grader – just a smidge taller than my 4th grader and weighs less), is bullied, because it is something that he wouldn’t notice. He is completely oblivious to all social happenings around him. And he has (as he puts it) enough friends. But I still worry constantly. He is small. He is kind. He is gentle. He talks about kids that bullied him in the past, and says they were probably treated poorly by their parents and they probably didn’t know they were bullying him, so you can’t judge them. But it is middle school now. And I worry. A lot. He loves Dr. Who. He loves books. He loves Cosmos. He loves to play alone in his room making up stories. He loves to write. Tonight (as always) I read to him and his brother. They listened and drew pictures and crocheted (which I don’t actually know how to do). He is a nerd. A geek. Securely in the outlier region of the world. And my second biggest fear, (after my biggest which is that the world will abuse him) is that I will make him afraid of the world because I am so afraid for him.

FYI – he loves swings too. He loves to swing and daydream.


Dana Talusani March 31, 2015 at 7:42 pm


Your message left me in tears, but in a good way. You are the watchdog, and you are doing a good job. I think what my husband was trying to tell me was, “Don’t worry about their oddities until they start worrying about them.” Daphne has a vague idea that she is different but not so much that it is crippling. Daphne has had cruel things thrown at her, and last year (6th grade) she felt them deeply. She is back on firmer ground this year but of course, like you, I worry. And my fears are the same as yours–down to fear #1 and fear #2. Maybe that is why we have men in our lives; to talk us down from worrying, even though I will always worry. Is your son really into drawing? Miss. D. wants to be a graphic novelist when she grows up. Maybe they could be pen pals? Not so much in letters,but drawings?

ps: I know why you are afraid for him. Kids made your life Hell. I saw it.


Jennifer April 1, 2015 at 4:39 am

You know, to me, it sounds exactly like she knows who she is and isn’t going to apologize for it, and I think that’s great. Yeah, kids still get all of the meanness and nastiness thrown at them, but they also get a lot more message of “it’s okay to be you” and support and love. Maybe, just maybe, those lessons are sinking in and these girls will be different than us. I see it with Cady too. She’s happy to be a “geek” just like Miss D is happy to be a nerd. I think that’s great. Also, I don’t think those words have the negative connotation like they did when we were kids.


Dana Talusani April 1, 2015 at 9:35 am

I’m glad Cady doesn’t mind being her geeky self. I’m thinking that our girls are made of pretty strong stuff.


ThisIsNottheLifeIOrdered April 1, 2015 at 8:07 am

For me, it was also 7th grade. I was always smart enough to be in the AIG (called AG back in the day) classes with all of the rich, popular kids. But I was never rich, never popular and never accepted. And this was the year I stopped trying.

It was “Wear a dress to school day”. All the 7th grade girls had to wear dresses. Why? WHO KNOWS? This also included wearing HOSE. So grown up.

Of course the hose belonged to our Mothers and they would start to slip down as the day wore on. So when on the playground during Recess, territorial little groups would circle around you to hide you as you carefully eased up dressed and pulled them up frantically.

Of course during my turn, two of the “preppy” girls moved out the way to let the entire playground of boys see me. Cue Devastation. Right on Time.

At that moment, pure hate burned a hole in my tender heart. I never forgave those girls. And I stopped trying to fit in.

My son, also in 7th grade, shares my emotional and tender heart. And believe me, the boys can be just as nasty. Survival of the fittest. I too worry constantly. Watch him carefully and hope and pray we will BOTH make it through.


Dana Talusani April 1, 2015 at 9:35 am

That sounds just horrible. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. :(


Dana Talusani May 1, 2015 at 7:25 pm


Girls did that too, when I was that age. EVERYONE wear a dress on Friday. What the heck? My kid would rather be drawn and quartered than wear a dress, but she still is also deeply aware that she isn’t in the crowd that demands that she wears dresses on Friday. I am so relieved but I also feel her agony that she’s different enough that she knows it.


Pam April 1, 2015 at 8:16 am

Graphic novels are cool! What a great way for her to express herself. Be fun for the kids to swap stories.

We only have to do 2 years of middle school. We go to a charter school K – 6th, and then move to 7th and 8th. Almost done with 7th, so we might survive this round. Next round will be child #2 – Mr. Drama. Should I start worrying now, so my worrying skills are sharp – or should I wait until towards the end of 6th?

My stable, sensible husband reminds me that our children are not ourselves. Our children have parents that notice them, and talk to them. Our children are happy and experiencing life in their own way.

Bah – what does he know??


Dana Talusani May 1, 2015 at 7:21 pm


Definitely wait until 6th grade to worry. My Drama Queen had the Wicked Sixth Grade, but maybe your guy will slide right on through?


Lindsey April 1, 2015 at 10:49 am

My screen is blurry because this makes me cry. Yes, yes, and yes. First of all, I love to swing, and still do it whenever I can. And second of all, this age is so fraught, and girls can be so MEAN … what is that about. Instagram is where the meanness manifests, as far as I’m concerned. I’m grateful, like your friend, that Grace still talks to me, but sometimes what I witness sort of takes my breath away. So glad to know you and I are walking the road together, even if it’s only virtually. So thankful for your voice. xox


Dana Talusani April 1, 2015 at 4:46 pm


I still swing, too! It was always my favorite thing to do on the playground at school. Something so soothing about that back and forth motion.


Biz April 1, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I loved this post Dana. Brought me back to when my daughter was in 8th grade. She’d been invited to a party with boys for the first time and was invited to spend the night. I called to check and make sure parents were going to be there, and they were. But I got a call at about 9:30, asking to be picked up.

I go pick her up, ask what’s up and she cannot stop crying. When we got home and I pulled some ice cream out of the freezer and we swapped spoons of ice cream, she said that the rest of the girls decided she didn’t deserve to sleep over because she chose not to drink a beer. Gah. Seems many moons ago, but only ten years has passed, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I told her I was proud of her for not being pressured to drink and then we watched Pretty in Pink. That movie solves everything. :D


Dana Talusani April 1, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Biz, that movie DOES solve everything!


Kristin Shaw April 1, 2015 at 9:53 pm

This was so well written, Dana. I felt like I WAS THERE with you, hearing the conversations and feeling the feelings. Man, the teenage years are brutal.
(I’m going to share this on my Friday Favorites list this week at Two Cannoli.)
Hope you’re well!


Dana Talusani April 4, 2015 at 10:21 am


Really? Thank you! I’m reading this on a Saturday (yesterday was a fuckery kind of day). If you’d shoot me the link, I’d love to share it? And yeah, the teenage years. They’re land mines.


Pam April 2, 2015 at 12:24 pm

How do you write so beautifully!? I feel like I’m right there, eating croutons, my heart being stomped on middle school, all of it. I am so not ready for my girls to be at that heart wrenching stage. How can you ever be? The only thing I can imagine being worse than repeating 7th grade would be watching my girls go through it. Going to go cry in the corner for a few days now.


Dana Talusani April 4, 2015 at 10:19 am


That’s the double-fuck that motherhood gives you. The agonizing things in your past are behind you, but they’re ready and waiting for your child. Unfair, right?


Sherri April 2, 2015 at 1:38 pm

This was the worst time for my daughter and her friends – the tween years, then…. it did get better. I have a friend with a 12 / almost 13 year old right now, and…. there are days she doesn’t want to go to school because she feels guilty that one girl is being excluded but doesn’t know what to do about it – that she is being pulled into a group that she does not like that much, etc. My friend asks my advice all the time, and…. I just never know what to say. I mean, my oldest daughter is 19 (my youngest is 7 so in a few years, it will be round two, so to speak), and she was fine in high school…. 5th through 7th or 8th grade, though…. things were dicey. I have to say, though, my quirky / dance to her own beat kinda girl did just fine, and… yours will too :). Ugh – I do remember some of the awful people I went to school with, though….. BUT – there are some nice ones, too. Hang in there and enjoy your lovely girl!


Dana Talusani April 4, 2015 at 10:17 am


I had the same problem as your friend’s daughter–it was almost as bad trying to navigate what to do when it WASN’T me being shunned, because I felt so guilty but wasn’t strong enough to stand up for whichever girl was being tormented. Luckily, being shunned myself solved the problem. When my time was over and they said, “we’ll take you back,” I said, “No thanks.”


Tiffany April 2, 2015 at 1:47 pm

She is perfect and any girl would be lucky to be her friend. This made me teary with joy. She is herself and she’s fantastic. Youre doing a good job, nerds!


Dana Talusani April 4, 2015 at 10:13 am

Thanks, Tiff. I have my days of doubting and wringing my hands, but I like to think that my husband has the right idea–the kid is all right.


Dawn April 4, 2015 at 11:21 am

She’s going to do something amazing with her life because she’s strong enough to be who she is and not be swayed by popular belief. And you’re strong enough to let her. It’s going to be amazing.


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Alison April 12, 2015 at 8:27 pm

You are an amazing storyteller.
D. sounds wonderful. A star in a sea of . . . well, non-stars. She sounds like she knows herself.


pamela April 15, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I am sure others have said this, but please publish this somewhere. It’s amazing.

This: Just…get yourself off the ledge and enjoy her, okay? Just the way she is.

Yes. I have to remind myself to do this with my oldest. (sigh).

Anyway, this is so gritty and gorgeous – you and your daughter and your husband and your words. This image of Miss D on the swing will be with me for a long time.


Dana Talusani April 16, 2015 at 3:02 pm


It’s all so messy, you know? Sometimes it’s hard to breathe.


elizabeth April 15, 2015 at 6:43 pm

So I should start by saying that this gave me all of the feels, and I will end it by saying that I need to send you an email about this because a blog comment cannot do it justice.


Dana Talusani April 16, 2015 at 3:01 pm


I can’t wait.


alexandra April 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm

BURSTING into tears.

I am right there, friend.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri April 22, 2015 at 4:26 am

Beautiful. Thank you, Kitch. xo


Andrea @ Maybe It's Just Me April 22, 2015 at 5:21 am

Love, love, love! First time visiting here.


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