Freak. Fast. Grown. Womanish. Easy. Crazy.
Despite a young girl’s best laid plans and intentions, despite her careful carriage, her modest dress, her censored language, she can still rather easily find herself on the receiving end of a bad reputation. Trusting the wrong boyfriend, hanging out with the wrong cousin or friend, or being born into a family of women who’ve also shouldered the burden of bad reputations can all lead to some frustrating childhood years. All it takes is a single, insidious rumor to undo every attempt a young woman makes to be “good” or “respectable.” All it takes is premature physical development to make some cynical older woman on your block assume that you’re far more “experienced” than you’re even thinking about becoming.
Once one has been assigned, a bad reputation can be nearly impossible to live down. Either you spend every waking moment trying to convince your peers what they’ve heard about you isn’t true, you internalize and pretend to embrace the reputation, or you ignore the rumors as they persist and long for the day when you can move someplace where the rumors can longer reach you. No approach does much for the emotional damage.
I was fortunate, in that the only reputation that followed me throughout my K-12 career was for being “too quiet.” So many of my other little-girl friends weren’t as lucky–and it was heartbreaking to watch them cycling through those three responses: deny, embrace, ignore. It was such an unfair fight, one small voice against so many.