Slut Shaming and How it Wrecked my Self-Esteem

A Reflection on Sex, Gender, and the Catholic High School Experience

By Anonymous

When I was fourteen, the only friend I had made in high school told me (over a phone call conversation) that she could no longer be my friend because she did not want to be associated with a slut. She did not like the rumors that classmates and members of neighboring high schools had to say about me, and did not want her reputation to be affected. This event, along with a plethora of teenage stresses, led to a downward spiral of self-loathing that eventually resulted in me having a skewed perception of sexuality and what it meant to be a woman. 

Feeling too ashamed to tell my mother, and too afraid that the other girls at school would abandon me as well, I suffered in silence. Was hooking up really that terrible? Surely it was, since that alone was grounds to terminate a friendship. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had subconsciously decided that the only way to defeat my sadness would be to embrace the rumors, despite many of them being untrue. Since my true self apparently wasn’t remarkable enough to redeem me from the virgin-whore dichotomy so prevalent in the culture of Catholic high school, I adopted being a so-called “slut” as a personality trait. It was who I advertised myself as. I took pride in cultivating a social media following of fellow high school students who screenshotted my pictures and talked about me in group chats. I reveled in the attention, although most of it was bad. I soon found that, although us young ladies were taught to preserve a chaste body and mind, sex was all anybody ever wanted to talk about. Even though I knew that the people I surrounded myself with secretly judged me, I enjoyed sharing vivid, vulnerable details about my encounters. Getting to third base was extremely exciting to a lunch table of eight or so freshman girls; I took whatever attention I could get my hands on.

Despite the frequent rushes of dopamine that posting a thirst trap to Instagram or getting a text from a cute boy would give me, I was miserable. I hated my body, I couldn’t seem to get the one guy I actually had feelings for to care about me (past the late night “u up?” texts) and I was starting to feel like I had been used. Although I desperately desired to take the reigns of my narrative and embrace the names and rumors, I did not feel in control. This went on for most of my high school years. By the time everyone had the time to grow up a little, hooking up became less and less impressive; I had lost my luster. I felt like nothing without the attention. I came to realize that no one knew who I really was. I didn’t even know who I really was. Did anyone know that I was smart? Wait, am I smart? Do smart girls let boys treat them this way? When was the last time I read a book? I no longer had the desire to do things that once interested me. I felt so alone. 

Looking back now, I’ve come to understand that a lot of my self-hatred stemmed from internalized misogyny, that was projected onto me by fellow teenage girls as well as by myself. I had a bad case of “I’m not like the other girls” syndrome, and my obsession with comparing myself to other women and constant need for male validation only further deteriorated my mental state. I believed that I was only worthy if a boy had deemed me so. The scale, you may ask? Probably how fat my ass was or how long it took to get me into bed, really compelling stuff, I know. Additionally, not only did I have no formal sex education, the things you did learn about sex in an all-girls Catholic high school were downright scary. Talk of a woman’s loss of purity and damnation to hell only furthered my belief that I truly was a terrible person. God surely thought I was a whore, too. I later learned from my boyfriend who attended an all-boys Catholic high school that the boys’ curriculum surrounding sex and sexuality was much warmer and inviting. Shocking. This age-old double standard that shames women for being sexual while exalting men has not been lost even in the wake of third wave feminism.

It took a lot for me to come to terms with the fact that my skewed perception of women and sex contributed a lot to my unhappiness. The best thing I did to help myself recover was disabling all my social media. It’s not a revolutionary step, I know, but it did help. It’s an ongoing process, and I’m sure I’ll continue to learn new things about myself every day. I’d like to end with a message to every girl that’s a part of our community: uplift fellow women, we all need a friend.

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