When “I” goes down. The story of how self-esteem collapses

“Something strange happens to girls at the beginning of adolescence. As planes and ships perish in the Bermuda Triangle, so it goes to the bottom, the “I” of girls at this age disappears, ”says writer Mary Pifer .

The transition period has always been difficult in the life of a growing person, but in America in the early nineties, the problem acquired an incredible scale. Girls across the country suffered from depression, self-harm and eating disorders. Jessica Hyndman , author of Violin, Money, and the Titanic, was a teenager herself at the time. In the book, she tries to understand why this epidemic began and shares her story.

We publish an excerpt from the book. Perhaps he will remind you of your own experiences or help support those who are now experiencing the same thing.

Become better than others

At the age of eleven, you see that in order to be appreciated by others, you need to work hard and hard, and you decide to do it better than others. You set goals and set milestones. And your main goal is to surpass everyone in everything, to become everyone’s favorite.

In the fifth grade, you are one of the few girls who can pull up, and you run faster than the rest. There is not a single school subject that you would not like. You have a lot of friends, everyone invites you to birthday parties and pajama parties. You are elected student council vice president in high school. You are the only one in the class who can play the violin. Fourteen boys, including two twins, invite you to the Valentine’s Day dance.

Like a ship in the Bermuda Triangle

When you turn twelve, an epidemic of eating disorders sweeps the world. A curious feature of this epidemic is that its victims, teenage girls, belong to the middle class. They are from strong, loving families in which parents pay enough attention to children. It’s even stranger that this is set in the 1990s, when women supposedly achieved equal rights. The teacher tells you in class, “You can do anything with hard work.” And he adds: “And the girls now too.”

But no one reports that equality has a price, that mass culture has already declared war on your rapidly developing female body. Theoretically, a woman in an era of equality has every opportunity for self-realization, but in reality, life in the body of a woman means something completely different. You belong to the first generation of girls whose equality with men in the political and civil spheres seems to be approved, and from an early age you are told that you can become at least an astronaut, even a doctor, even the President of the United States (thanks to hard work, of course). In theory, your potential is limitless.

But from the age of twelve, a strange feeling begins to gnaw at you from the inside. You understand that you cannot live in this body – in one that is slowly at first, and then changes faster and faster. This body is like someone else’s, you don’t know it, you don’t like it. You wouldn’t order this from a catalog. You have a new perception of yourself, and you already understand what the woman you will become will look like: short-legged, thick- thighed brunette with monstrous thick eyebrows and a crooked smile. You imagine yourself to be her and you no longer see your place in the world.

Moreover, you do not see your place even in the seventh grade. The talents that until recently were admired by friends, the charm that caused you to be invited to the dance by fourteen boys, including twins, suddenly become unimportant. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much you work, you fall further down the social ladder, while other girls are quiet, thin and beautiful (“impossibly beautiful,” as it is written in the magazine “Tin”, which you recently began to read , eagerly absorbing all the advice on using cosmetics) – ascend to its very top.

By the middle of seventh grade, you have no friends left. You become a victim of bullying by a group of boys.

Some teachers notice your suffering, but give a banal explanation: “They just like you.” However, even at your twelve years old, you understand that this is nonsense. These boys don’t like you. They sniffed out your growing self-doubt and pounced on it like animals on prey. It’s the nineties! These boys are themselves victims of the beauty myth.

When hard work doesn’t work

You do not discuss this with your parents, although your mother feels everything. What could the parents of a girl growing up in the early nineties do? All they had to do was watch a whole generation of girls go under as they helplessly reached out to them. Mom is trying to say something, to cheer you up, to find words that would help you stay on the dangerous waves of school drama. But you hesitate to voice the real problem.

And the real problem is that you’re not pretty enough. And you’ll never be pretty enough. You can’t say it because you’re ashamed. You feel like your problem is unsolvable. You have always been told that everything is achieved by hard work, but hard work will not help here. In magazines, on television, in movies, at school events, you see evidence that the lives of people who are not beautiful enough are very different. It is more complex, it has fewer opportunities. Just a couple of years ago, you didn’t even know that. But even if you manage to become beautiful, you know for sure: it still will not put you on an equal footing with the boys.

On a dull evening, in a strong snowstorm, a few months before your thirteenth birthday, you secretly crawl out of the bedroom window from everyone and walk more than a kilometer to the flyover. You plan to jump off the flyover and stand there for a while, leaning over the railing, telling yourself to fall. But in the end you walk away and lie down in the snow, listening to the eighteen- wheeled trucks screeching past .


In high school, the anorexia epidemic sends its tentacles into the bodies and minds of almost every girl you know. She covers your city with a toxic cloud and mows down her victims: girls fall unconscious in the gym, at the stadium, in the showers. Their lifeless bodies are lifted from the floor, lawn, tiles, loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital, and then to a rehabilitation center. In the corridors they whisper: “heart attack”, “feeding through a tube”, “lying under a dropper”. And in full voice they discuss in what ways they tried to lose weight and how it can be done more effectively. In the school cafeteria, girls gather at tables and practice collective rituals of not eating, pouring a pack of black pepper onto their plates.

Adults do not believe their eyes. They prefer not to notice the epidemic or not to see its scale and threat. They deny that its manifestations are not only physical, but also psychological. Hunger for them is connected with the war. Stupid, ungrateful teenagers cannot starve, because they now have so many opportunities! The nineties! Is it not proven that girls can achieve anything through hard work?

But we girls want to achieve only one thing – to become skeletons.

There are many differences between girls with severe, advanced cases of anorexia and those who never get sick, although they dream about it; However, they have one thing in common – self-hatred. The inability to come to terms with the body in which they will live. You live for a week on water and one sour green caramel. You drink diet pills and vomit syrup. You join all sports teams not because you love sports (you hate sports), but because you hope to turn your muscular body into a wand by loading your muscular body. You wake up at dawn and you go to strength training, you have one cup of coffee, you don’t have lunch, you go to track and field, cross country, football, you come home after dark in a bad mood. Head spinning from hunger. Mom made spaghetti with meatballs, and you’re crushing two plates. It’s all gone, you’re a loser. And the feeling of this failure is two servings of spaghetti! – worse than anyone else in life.

Instead of a conclusion

Jessica has come a long way to regain a healthy attitude towards herself and her body. Low self-esteem and lack of self-respect led her to the Composer’s troupe, where Jessica, as a violinist, participated in concerts that were fake – the musicians pretended to play, although the music was recorded in the studio.

In Violin, Money and the Titanic, Jessica tells this story with irony, interspersed with reflections on how it all became possible. The book reads like a novel and at the same time makes you think.


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