When I was a little girl I loved to learn. I wanted to know everything, I took pride in the fact that I excelled in all of my subjects, and I constantly tried to cram my mind with more stuff. I hopped into kindergarten at four years old, my hyperactive mind salivating at the idea of school. I whizzed through my admission screening, counting past 100 when the tester asked me to count to ten.
My first trips to the school library resulted in a dora the explorer backpack bursting at the seams with books. Towers of fiction and non-fiction books lined my kitchen counter at home, filled my bookshelves, and were found strewn around the apartment. I remember checking out every single book from the section in the library that related to ancient Egyptian culture. I plowed through a whole series of art biographies for kids, where I fell in love with Van Gogh and Monet. I was reading journals from world war II soldiers, slaves and slave owners, and anything else I could get my hands on. My reading level was considered high school before I was in fifth grade. I aced every test I took on the books I read, and I wasn’t even trying to impress anyone.
It wasn’t just reading that got me going. I had to be removed from my classrooms and moved up with the big kids for group reading and spelling tests because whatever we were doing in my class frustrated me entirely because I wasn’t using my mind. I was totally engrossed in my pee-wee science classes, I tried my darnedest in art class, and I even enjoyed math for a short period of time. I fell head over heels for writing, and I honestly can’t tell you when that love affair began. I wrote short stories, poems, haiku’s, I kept journals, and made lists.
The point of my endless bragging about what a smart kid I was does have a point, so hang on. The point is, I lost my love for learning. I lost it somewhere in middle school when I learned that being smart didn’t warrant as much attention as being pretty, and my focal point shifted. I dumbed myself down so I wouldn’t intimidate the boys, and stayed up late desperately trying to transform my unruly curls into the sleek strands my friends flipped around. I snuck eyeliner pencils in my backpack and hiked up my skirts once I left the house. Desperate for attention, desperate for popularity and acceptance.
In middle school, when hormones start wreaking havoc on innocent bodies, the last thing you want people to think of you as is smart. I passed notes in class and spread rumors with my friends. I met boys in the hallway to get out of class for five minutes, and I bragged about low test scores and pathetic grades. My parents were frustrated. They kept asking where their little girl went, and why my report card was zig-zagged with B’s and C’s instead of straight A’s across the board.I made excuses of school being too hard. I blamed my parents for putting too much pressure on me. I still read books, but I read my “weird” books at home and brought girly books to school to fit in with my friends. I read beauty magazines and spent more time on my image than school projects. I know I’m not the only girl who has compromised their IQ for likability.
I know girls who are now young women that still do this. Why is the belief so common that once girls have tits we suddenly have maxed out our potential?
It took me years to let myself be smart again. Once I realized that high school was ending and my worth was going to be based on my character and not who I was friends with or what parties I was going to, I started getting my brain back in gear. It was hard during my first semester of college because I was so used to doing the bare minimum and still getting A’s. When I applied myself I saw my grades go up, along with my confidence. Now I gain respect from my peers by contributing interesting (and mostly controversial) points to our class discussions.
I used to be swept up in the epidemic of pretending to be stupid to be likeable, and guess what? It was stupid. I want girls to grow up honoring their unique minds, cultivating their ideas, and never dulling their shine for the sake of what’s cool.