Personal Note #2: I Destroyed The Cool Girl Within Me

…and I’m not sorry.

A black and white image with a vignette. It shows my bass guitar, a hardwood floor, and part of my basement wall. Picture by me.

I grew up in a family of unacceptance.

Everything I did was judged, ridiculed, and mocked. Trying my hardest was never enough. My mistakes were never forgotten. If I tried to share what I liked, or dress how I wanted, I was laughed at until I left for middle school, high school, or college crying. My voice didn’t matter because I was young and female and my entire being was deemed worthless before I could even read or tie my shoes.

There’s little reprieve when you live with your bullies.

As a result I grew up anxious, terrified of failure and rejection, and desperate for affection and acceptance from just about anyone. I suppressed my own likes and desires and instead went full chameleon mode, blending in to whatever group of friends I had because their likes and dislikes were simply more important than mine. Not only was I desperate for affirmation for others, but I learned that affirmation from myself held no meaning.

This lead me to become “The Cool Girl.” You know, the girl who hangs with the guys and speaks badly of other women, the girl who always says yes and never says no. I was the cool girlfriend who didn’t mind if her boyfriend wouldn’t speak to her for a week. I never asked for anything because I wasn’t like those other girls who want things, I was just happy to be there. Pride swelled in me when one male friend told the other, “oh, don’t worry about her, she’s cool.” That’s right, guys. I’m cool. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be invisible until you feel like acknowledging me. And if you never do and just ignore me the whole time, that’s alright too.

When I was in high school and college as a millennial, it was common for young men to demand young women to prove they liked something if the men found that subject atypical for women to enjoy. At the time, most of my likes were seen as masculine. In reality, there were tons of other women who liked what I did, but most of us were busy comparing ourselves against one another instead of finding each other and building community. I had countless interactions with men who demanded I prove myself immediately. I never hesitated to jump to command.

Yes sir! I can play the bass guitar, I’ll perform for you the moment you snap your fingers! Yes sir! I can name three characters from Red vs. Blue! Yes sir! I like hockey and I’ll prove it to you by naming all the current players of our home team! Yes sir! I’ll answer literally any question you ask about me even if it’s deeply invasive! Yes sir! I’ll totally sleep with you even though I’m not attracted to you at all, because my mother told me as a child since I’m ugly and disabled no one will love me, so I better hang on to the attention of literally any man who looks at me, no matter how hostile, abusive, and unhygienic you are!

Oh.

The need for acceptance turned dangerous. I got myself into several toxic relationships that I struggled to leave. I worked in racist and ableist work places, killing my body for minimum wage because I thought it wasn’t going to get better than that, and there was no way I could actually accomplish my dreams. My mother became increasingly more violent towards me. But I never complained when I was mistreated. I never argued. I just kept quiet and hoped maybe, just maybe, people would find it in their hearts to treat me with some dignity and compassion. Of course they never did because I taught people how to treat me. And I was a terrible teacher. But who was mine?

My mother taught me early on that other women were a threat. She always had something judgmental to say about confident looking and beautiful women, but if she was in a hurry, she would just mumble, “bitch.” They couldn’t hear her, but I could.

She didn’t know them. She’d never seen them before. But she loathed any woman who seemed happy. She hated thin women, ethnic women (including her own mixed-race daughters), pretty women, women with husbands … let’s just say she hated everyone.

Her attitude got worse as I got older, and in high school, I became just another woman my mother despised. While I tried to discover myself as I struggled with abuse and undiagnosed physical disabilities, my mother reminded me I wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the few female friends I did have. “You’re not anything like Katherine and Bethany,” she’d say, “they’re pretty. They can have any boy they want. You can’t be picky like them, you know.” She relished in tearing me apart.

If you’re wondering what kind of woman would treat other women or her daughter like this, well, according to the many therapists I’ve seen to undo her damage, my mother was both a narcissist and a clinical psychopath. So you know, that explains most of it.

But here’s the tricky part; many women with loving, well-meaning parents are still taught from an early age that the amount of make-up they wear or don’t wear, the height of their shoes, and how much or little clothing they wear will teach people to respect or not respect them. But we’re not often taught that physical and mental boundaries are valuable to our lives and safety, that we deserve to speak up for ourselves, or that how we look should be dictated by only us and no one else. Sometimes, it’s so much easier to blend in and be quiet and just go along with everything, and well-meaning parents teach their daughters to blend in because they think it will keep them safe.

The cool girls don’t complain.

The cool girls don’t stand out.

The cool girls are agreeable.

The cool girls are down for anything.

I don’t know what snapped in me or when. I can’t point to one specific example and say yeah, that’s the moment the cool girl died. Maybe it’s an amalgamation of two decades worth of abuse that finally made me say enough is enough. It was bound to happen eventually. I was beat down over and over again until I was left with two choices: cave in and live this way for the rest of my life or change.

When I stopped being the cool girl I lost many friends. I realized I was essentially dating the same abusive person, they just looked different and had different names. It was heartbreaking at times to see what both male and female friends thought of me when I decided to respect myself and say no. Still, I am so thankful that I changed. Finding my self respect and deciding my worth could only be decided by myself allowed me to become more than I thought I would be. I’ve become far more confident, I dress how I want without caring what others think, and shame isn’t always lingering in my brain. Not to mention, I have friends who love me and respect my boundaries, as well as a partner who does the same.

The one good thing about having terrible parents is that they’re a great example of how not to be a person. If I have a daughter of my own, which might happen some day, this is what I’d tell her:

Don’t be the cool girl. Don’t base your own identity off the acceptance of people who don’t value you. Dress however you want. Learn how to defend yourself. Your voice always matters. Be proud of who you are even when others try to push you down and shut you up. Teach people how to treat you, and if they don’t treat you right, recognize that says more about them than it does about you.

Don’t prove how different you are compared to other girls so that men like you. Instead, find the other girls who like hockey, video games, and play instruments so you can vibe with them. Also find a diverse group of people who value community over competition and who spread compassion and joy to one another. Be the kind of woman your own daughter would look at and say under her breath, “wow, she’s amazing.” And when you have your own daughter, teach her to be everything you are and more.

That’s the kind of woman I’m striving to be now.

Maybe this is what being a cool girl is actually like.

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Ellie Marie

Ellie Marie

Speculative fiction & non-fiction. Disabled shenaniganizer. Lover of 50s/60s vintage. IG: @elliemthewriter