This past weekend I recorded a podcast with my friend Lee Carl (if you want to go check it out, it’s the post below this one), and he asked me a question that had never actually been directly posed to me. Right in the middle of conversation, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you think you are misunderstood Ethel Ann?”
To be honest, I kinda felt like I couldn’t breathe for a hot second. I mean…I’m not an idiot; I know what people think of me by and large, particularly people in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. I would venture to guess that the majority of girls here absolutely despise me and that many (though fewer) of the boys do. This isn’t new to me (see: “how i survived high school with a bad reputation”), but thinking about whether I’m misunderstood is. I was always content to just put my blinders up when the hate started pouring in and then, when leaving the situation by myself, to have a quick jam session to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” or “Mean” all while wearing a Nirvana t-shirt and having the gall to be pretentious about my taste in music. Now, however, this question has caught my attention, which is a nearly impossible feat, and I feel I must address it.
In short, I do think I’m misunderstood. I don’t think that negates the fact that I’ve done a lot of shady/morally questionable things in my past, but I do think that there are aspects of my personality that people would never assume I’d have. I think there is an Ethel that is very different from the one who displays her opinions with bravado on social media, an Ethel much more akin to the little girl whose mom thought she was autistic until she was six. That was me, by the way. (Edit: I know that the correct grammar is “that was I,” but I can’t bring myself to actually write that out.)
In reality, I’m a very sensitive, weird, awkward girl with a gap in her teeth and a mental illness that has rid her of almost every friend she’s ever had. I may come off like I think I’m of supreme quality both physically and intellectually because I post really silly photos of myself in bikinis on instagram and write pretentious things on the internet, but I’m actually quite certain that I would be lucky to be classified as a “hot mess.” I don’t think I’m better than anyone else…because I’m not better than anyone else. By a long shot.
When I wonder how my reputation as snob took root and bloomed in my life, I ultimately conclude that I just have that air about me. I think I have a punchable vibe that just exudes from my very pores. I’ve tried to fix it for years, for real. I’ve made a concerted effort to be kind to the people I meet and to make a good impression since I was at least seventeen years old, but I’m not sure it’s amounted to much, unfortunately. I wish I came off as an unassuming, sweet little creature…but I’m not that.
I’m a girl who curses. I’m a girl who isn’t afraid of confrontation or disagreement. I’m firm in my convictions and willing to go to the brink fighting for those convictions. I don’t limit my vocabulary (though I don’t intentionally use “big words” either), and I don’t care if someone has a problem with me if I deem the cause of that problem silly or baseless. I’ve worked on this in young adulthood, but I’ve historically not been afraid to make a joke at someone else’s expense. I wear battered shoes and didn’t brush my hair until I was fifteen. I’m feral, basically. Especially by Jackson’s standards. I’m the opposite of the girl who gets 700 likes on an overly-saturated VSCO photo of her and her ~bestie~ in front of a decorated wall. That will never be me.
All of that considered, I still think I’m worthy of love and life. I think a lot of people perceive me as a package of absurdities and shortcomings, but, if you perhaps think of me in that way yourself, do you really know me? You might, in which case I’m probably just a crazy b-word. For the majority of those who judge me, though, can you pinpoint what it is that makes me so abhorrent to you? When we’ve interacted in person, have I acted in ways that have made you feel justified in that abhorrence? Again, I very well may have, in which case, power to you.
I just think it’s time we, speaking to young women mainly here, realize that we have been pitted against each other in a popularity contest we never signed up for since we reached the age when we could go to ballet class. It has been ingrained in us to be as perfect as we can be — to have the best style, be the “best Christian,” act the most honorably, have the best body, find the most eligible bachelor — for as long as we can remember. But for what? All that pressure does is end up pushing us against each other, forcing us to compete to see who can satisfy her mother’s egos to the fullest. I know that a single blog post from a 23-year-old degenerate isn’t going to dismantle the misogynistic competition we girls are placed in overnight, but I do want to say that I think it’s a load of b u l l. I also think it’s why girls like me — who fit the norm just enough to be in a lot of people’s social circles but are different enough to piss people off — have a really hard time in social settings in places like Jackson.
The last thing I want to post is a self-pity manifesto. I’ve had a great life with great friends. I just know that a lot of people really shy away from all that is Ethel Ann, and I want those people to know that I don’t think I’m any better than you are. I don’t think I’m funnier or prettier or brighter. I’m just a girl trying to get through the day.
I really love animals, like to an abnormal degree. I could be silent and stare at my pigs or a horse for two hours. I consider my dog my best friend and confidante. I have ADHD, so I actually struggle in school a lot of the time. I worry about my ability to go to law school while battling mental illness and ADHD all the time. I randomly started breaking out with acne at age 22 for a hot minute. I watch the Bachelorette alone every week. I feel lonely often. I try to do the right thing, believe it or not. I’m a human being, not a Facebook crusader or a high school hero who got diagnosed with bipolar disorder and fell off the map. I’m a human being who still has dreams and aspirations, who still loves despite having lost almost everyone dear to me, who continues to trudge through the everyday muck in hopes that some cosmic force may throw me a bone one of these days and show me what the fudge I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m not an unflattering snapchat you saw of me one time. I’m a person.
I’m not asking anyone to change his or her opinion of me or to do anything at all really…except think. Just think for a moment about how you might have been victim of a system of competitive pressure and desire for social dominance. Think about how you may have been pushed to conform to those around you and to shun those who couldn’t fit that mold.
Please don’t let me stop you from despising me; I genuinely do not blame you. I’m more concerned about the social hierarchy responsible for all these venomous judgements about one another. I think misunderstanding someone, in the way that I mean it, comes from subscribing to the rules of that social structure. I hope we can teach the next generations to lead with hearts and hands open.
In the meantime, I’m happy to be your Huckleberry.
P.S. That final line is borrowed from the movie Tombstone. Watch it if you haven’t seen it. I may be a mentally unstable harlot (lol just kidding), but I do know a good movie when I see one!