Straight Talk Advice

Mar 26, 2013

Getting past a false reputation in high school

Dear Straight Talk: I’m 16 and my sister (a senior) has the deserved reputation of a "slut." Our mom is an alcoholic who will sleep with anybody, even with my sister and me right in the next room, so I think my sister learned from her example. I am determined NOT to be like them. However, their reputations have rubbed off on me. I'm known as the "slut's sister" at school and many kids assume I'm also a slut. Decent guys (and many girls) want nothing to do with me, the guys who are jerks make sexual comments, and my best friend's mom won't allow her to sleep over. I've done nothing wrong. Please help. — No Slut, Sacramento, Calif.

Brie 21, San Francisco Ask me a question

I hated high school. Numerous rumors were circulating about me. It was terrible. I stopped hanging out with the “cool” kids and joined those who accepted me. It made me much happier. All you can do is demonstrate that you're not your sister. (Once she graduates, this will be easier.) Take heart that high school is a blip in time and afterward, you can create your own reputation. In college, there’s no such nonsense. Your friend is better off not sleeping over, though. Your home environment is toxic.

Savannah 19, Boston, Mass. Ask me a question

We cannot control what people think about us but we can control how we think about ourselves which helps others change. Have you confided in anyone your feelings about being labeled by association? An honest conversation with a couple of people could get the word out that you are your own person. Talk to your sister, too. Approach her lovingly about why she is acting out. Tell her how sad it makes you to see her disrespecting herself. Simple conversations can really help. So can therapy.

Colin 19, Whittier, Calif. Ask me a question

When rumors are flying, it's easy to say, “Screw these people. They aren’t useful to me. They don’t treat me with respect, why should I respect them?” This Machiavellian mindset makes us forget that we need love, not just “useful” people. Rise above the gossip. Reach out and be friendly. Show respect, even to those not respecting you. Pick one positive thing about who you are, or want to be (smart, funny, artistic, compassionate, etc.), and start showing that side of you. Identify people with social sway who you might be able to “turn.” Little by little, without being obvious, confide in them and make them your friends.

Omari 19, Washington, D.C. Ask me a question

Create your own reputation. Do something that gets you recognized for YOU. If you play sports, be the best. If you’re an artist, donate a painting to the school. Offensive slurs are only true if you make them your reality.

Liva 23, Villach, Austria Ask me a question

The way you talk about your mom and sister is disturbing and unkind. Clearly neither is in the best emotional place, so have compassion rather than being mean and judgmental. Don't join the slut-shaming culture of your peers. Our sexualized culture also makes fun of girls who remain virgins. Slut-shaming is a huge societal problem. Step one toward healing: Don’t take part in it.

Katelyn 18, Azusa, Calif. Ask me a question

Even if you're considering moving schools (which is a great idea), I would speak up when someone makes sexually suggestive comments or teases you. Involve the faculty if necessary. Find support through a mentor, club or church.

Dear “No Slut”: Reputations in high school can stick like glue. If possible, switch schools. If you can’t, the panel’s advice is deep, practical, and varied. I hope something clicks for you. Fallback position: Keep believing in yourself. It really does get better after high school.

Editor’s Note: High school. The social pecking order is about as toxic as it gets. Now and then, later in life, you run into social circles with a "gossipy," "macho," or "mean-girl" vibe, but then you're older, wiser, and free, and you can run as from the plague from these unhappy groups posing as happy. In high school, most of you are neither old, wise, or free and you're stuck with these "leaders," the labels they assign, and everyone under them stepping on each other trying to get a leg up.

Machiavellian mindset, High School Edition.

Today's column dropped several floors deeper with Colin's remark about this. He is correct about the power of rising above the gossip and being friendly and respectful anyway. This is what Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other spiritual leaders did and why so many followed them then — and now. If you can do this in high school, my hat is off to you. I truly believe that, as humanity evolves, this kind of wisdom is being demonstrated more and more by our young.

Take the astonishing movement against slut-shaming. It's an example of this evolved stance to stop casting stones. We are all imperfect and wounded and have no place judging others. In fact, the fastest way for someone to become emotionally healthy (and thus have no interest in things like inappropriate sex, since that is today's topic), is for us all to stop meeting trauma with more trauma. I flat-out guarantee if you investigated "No Slut's" mother's childhood, you would find horrific traumas and abuse. You don't become an alcoholic "who will sleep with anybody" next to your teenage daughters' room without it. If love isn't there to halt things, patterns of abuse pass to the next generation. Witness "No Slut's" sister. The further abuse of these sisters from many of their peers in high school just adds more trauma and less chance of healing. Don't be part of it.

To anyone mistreated in high school, or pigeon-holed with a label that keeps you down, it does get better. I say that a lot because it's true. Not all young people have the confidence and skills to remedy their high school mistreatment. We all evolve at different rates and I, for one, was way too shy. Truly, if all you do is keep believing in yourself and graduate with your light shining (even if you're the only one seeing it), you've won. —Lauren

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  1. By C.N., age , from Santa Ana, CA on 03/26/2013

    I actually have the opposite problem, but I still think it’s relevant to this week’s discussion.  I am demeaned not because my older brother and sister have bad reputations, it’s because their reputations are so good and I cannot live up.  My brother who graduated last year was a star athlete and a very good student.  My sister who is a senior is one of the top students in the school and may even be the valedictorian.  I’m terrible at sports and only an average student.

    All my life, I’ve been compared to my brother and sister by parents, teachers, and other kids.  I constantly get questions like “How come you can’t play football (or baseball or basketball) like your brother?”  or How come you’re not as smart as your sister?”  How do you answer questions like that?  I really wish that I went to a different school where it would be OK to be just another average student, but my parents won’t let me.  Our parent’s proudly display my brother and sister’s awards in the living room and there’s nothing of mine.  My mom says I could do just as well in school as my sister if I made the effort, but I do try as hard as I can. 

    Inferior Little Brother

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  2. By Callie, age , from Rancho Cordova, CA on 03/26/2013

    I know what its like to be branded for things that aren’t your fault.  Were on welfare, don’t have decent clothes to wear and live in a trailer park, so me and my sister are called “trailer trash” and it really hurts.  Our dad left us and our mom doesn’t have any job skills, so I have a hard time trying to tell myself that things will get better.  The room my sister and I have to share is so small that we have to share a single bed and our mom probably couldn’t afford anything better anyway.  My sister and I are very close because all we have is each other as nobody else wants to associate with the “trailer trash.” I think most of the panel members are being to “Pollyannaish” and have never faced situations like this themselves!

    Callie

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  3. By Becca, age , from Redlands, CA on 03/27/2013

    I was in a similar situation and understand how “No Slut” feels.  My sister was both known to be promiscuous and as a drug user, and her reputation rubbed off on me.  I had to share a room with her which was pure hell, as she did everything she could to make my life miserable.  My friends wouldn’t sleep over, and many would not even come to our house because they couldn’t stand to be around her.  I’m now in college where no one has ever even heard of my sister, so things are much better now.  So, I think it’s true to say that things will get better.  However, I don’t think it would have been much consolation to be told that when I was in high school and having to suffer because of my sister.

    Becca

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  4. By Anonymous, age , from California on 03/28/2013

    I’ve never been in as terrible a situation as ‘No Slut’ or some of the others who have commented below… but I have been ostracized. 

    A agree with Callie… I don’t think most of the panelists really know what it’s like.  Some of them may, Brie clearly has, but most of their advice comes across as something someone on the outside would say.

    Brie’s advice is great, because it does get better once away from high school.  I escaped early by taking my CHSPE.  Also, telling ‘No Slut’ that it is better for her friend not to come over is spot on.  Bringing friends into such a toxic environment might drive them away.

    I don’t know how to feel about Savannah’s comment.  Confiding in teenager’s is dangerous.  Hell it can be dangerous to confide in people when you are an adult to.  Some people are good at putting on a mask, then stabbing you in the back.  I confided in one girl, and became very close to her, only to have her begin lying about me, telling people I had threatened to kill her and commit suicide.  I was lucky enough that my mom knew me better than that.  All I’m saying is be careful who you confide in, even the brightest smile can hide a monster sometimes.

    Colin’s advice… where do I start?  Confide in people with ‘social sway’?  Really?  Those are the people who are often abusers themselves!  How is associating with the people spreading the rumors going to help at all?

    Liva, so it’s that easy is it?  It’s that easy to be all lovey dovey with the people making your life hell?  Yeah sure, I get it, clearly they have their own trauma, but ‘No Slut’ should be concerned with her own mental health, not that of her mother, not that of her elder sister.  Only when she feels safe, emotionally and physically, should she even consider revisiting her relationships with her mother or sister.

    Katelyn’s advice on the other hand is just flat out good.  If at all possible moving schools seems like a very good idea.  Also, if someone sexually harasses ‘No Slut’ she should report it.  Sexual harassment is unacceptable.

    Altogether a lot of the so called advice bothered me, a lot.  Brie and Katelyn were the only two I felt seemed to know what they were talking about. 

    ‘No Slut,’ if you are reading this, please hold on.  Don’t follow your mother’s, or your sister’s examples.  Hang onto who you know yourself to be.  Try to find some people with a common interest, in or outside of school.  Do you love reading?  Computer Games?  Fashion?  Find something you love, and find people who love that to.  Anyone who treats you with disdain, don’t be rude back, but feel free to write them off.  Your dealing with enough stress that you shouldn’t feel obligated to cope with such insensitive people.

    Someday you might be ready to face your mother and sister, and the pain they are putting you through, but that day does not have to be today.  Try to remember, that they do love you, even if they have a crappy way of showing it.  Beyond that, take care of yourself, and let them worry about them.

    Sincerely,

    A Soul who Cares

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  5. By S.T., age , from Carmichael, CA on 03/28/2013

    I am ashamed to say that I was like “No Slut’s” sister and it made things hell for my younger sister.  Now that I am older and more mature I have changed and feel terrible about it and wish like anything I could make it up to her.  In addition to having a terrible reputation that also gave her a bad reputation, I did everything I could to make her life miserable.  Because of me, she had a hard time making friends, but when she was able to, I did everything I could to drive them away and since we had to share a room she had no way to escape me at home.  Since I didn’t like having to share a room with her, I took it out on her even though she obviously had no choice in the matter.  She was slightly overweight, but not really that bad, and I would tease and laugh at her when she was naked and tell her that her body was “gross.” I thought is was funny when it made her cry. Similar to the recent column, we only had one bathroom and our mom made us share the bathroom in the morning and I was so terrible I would actually tease and laugh at her when she was trying to have a bowel movement.  She even begged our mom to let her share a room and the bathroom with our younger brother, since she would be more comfortable sharing with him even though he was a boy because at least he wouldn’t humiliate her like I did.  However, our mom wouldn’t allow it.  She thought my sister was exaggerating things and brushed it off as “sibling rivalry,” and said that we just needed to learn to get along.  She said she and her sister fought when they were younger and had trouble sharing a room, but now are very close and that the same thing would happen with us when we got older.  I now feel terrible about what I did and want to tell my sister how sorry I am and beg for her forgiveness so maybe I could forgive myself, but I don’t know how to approach her or if there is any way the damage could be undone.  We hardly see each other any more and only at unavoidable family occassions and she will hardly speak to me and I can’t say that I blame her.

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  6. By Anonymous, age , from California on 03/29/2013

    S.T.  I just want to say, it’s huge of you to admit how much you hurt her, and that you want to apologize.

    I know you don’t see her often, but she is clearly still hurting, she wouldn’t be avoiding you otherwise.  Try to reach out to her, but not in a setting around other family members.

    You should call her, or email her.  Say explicitly that you want to sit down and talk to her, apologize to her.  Offer to let her pick the time and place.  Offer to buy her coffee, or lunch. 

    If she is angry, and she very well could be, try to stay calm.  If she doesn’t accept your apology, and she might not, try not to let it hurt too much.  She may not be ready to let go of the past, but you can’t force her to do that.  Only she can decide when she will be ready to try and move on.  All you can do is offer the olive branch.

    I don’t have any siblings, but I have been bullied by peers.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just wished some of the people who hurt me would come forward and say they wished they hadn’t.  She may be angry at first, but I think if you express remorse to your sister, it will not only help her, it will also help you.

    Thank you S.T.  When I read comments from individuals like you, it restores my faith that even when we cause pain to one another, we can always learn from our mistakes, and make restitution.

    Also… on a separate note.  I’m sorry your mother didn’t listen.  Although you were the one teasing your sister, you yourself were a child.  Children are notorious for cruelty, teenagers too.  The brain has not yet fully developed, the very reason those who are not yet adults are tried on a different court system for crimes.  It is inexcusable that your mother would not listen or pay attention to what was happening.  Your sister may be avoiding you, but don’t doubt she is also angry with your mother.  I know I would be.

    Thank you so much for reaching out to this wonderful community.  I hope things work out.  Please keep us posted, I want to know if you and your sister will be alright.

    Sincerely,

    A Soul who Cares

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  7. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 03/30/2013

    There are so many amazing comments on this post! “A Soul Who Cares” has pulled everyone together with such sweet comments and wise advice. I really want to thank you “Soul” for doing that!

    Callie, I wrote you a long email a few days ago to invite you to join the panel, but the address you listed wasn’t real. If you read this and want to join, write me through the contact form. (This invitation goes for any of you reading this; those who have been through tough times often have the most to teach.)

    You are correct that none of the current panelists grew up in poverty, but Pollyanna-ish, they aren’t. Some have watched their parents lose everything in the recession and are completely on their own financially as young adults—which is very tough today. Others have watched their mothers taken from them as children because they were unfit. Others had siblings or parents die in front of them. Still others have been debilitating addictions or tried to take their own lives. I, personally, understand growing up with lack. I was teased horribly for my clothes in high school, too. I threw my only coat away at school one year because of the comments it got and was very motivated to start working ASAP.

    To C.N. from Santa Ana, here are a couple of columns devoted to the topic of one sibling feeling overshadowed by another. Let me know if you are helped by them. http://straighttalktnt.org/teen-advice/entry/life_in_popular_siblings_shadow and http://straighttalktnt.org/teen-advice/entry/daughter_hurts_in_silence_when_dad_favors_son.

    Becca, thank you for testifying to the fact that it really DOES get better. Nothing like hearing it from the source. Sometimes there is little you can do. For me, I just held onto my light, put my head down, did my homework, and got through it. I had an inner sense that once I got free of both high school and the crazy home life I was born into, I could start fresh and build myself how I wanted. Everyone has their own ways of navigating meanness at their various life phases, and that was mine.

    What I want everyone to be careful of is spreading more trauma. Everyone has a home life they are born into – not by choice. And it determines our development and personality to a HUGE degree. But because one child is poor, doesn’t mean the rich child is bad. Because one is teased doesn’t mean those NOT teased, or with social sway, are bad. We could have just as easily been born into opposite places. There is incredible power in the persecuted having a forgiving heart and not holding grudges. Obviously, you don’t want to let someone keep hurting you; you try to remove or protect yourself. But kids in high school grow up and most become nice people who can’t believe how badly they behaved. Don’t let yourself grow up be NOT a nice person because of holding grudges.

    Similarly, once we become independent of an abusive parent or sibling, we get the rest of our freedom when we drop “hating” them and realize that they were acting out the damage of their own childhoods (they really are). To carry around the hate is to be still in the pattern. That’s what Colin and Liva are trying to say.

    Once you have your freedom, this not holding a grudge, but rather having empathy for one’s persecutor, is, I believe, the secret to how to navigate childhood trauma and come out the other side relatively intact. Honest.

    To S.T. from Carmichael, you are in an amazing position and I urge you with everything you’ve got to put your heart on a platter and apologize to your sister. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And I hope her heart isn’t locked in a freezer somewhere and she can thaw it out and love you again anyway. It may take some time to build up her trust, so be persistent. Don’t get angry if she doesn’t forgive you! Just keep loving her. It’s like taming a feral cat. You don’t get mad at the cat for not letting you pet it! I’d like to use your situation as one of our upcoming questions and see what the panel and our readers have to offer as inspiration for you. Keep an eye out in a few weeks.

    Love to all, Lauren

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  8. By Liva, age , from Austria on 04/02/2013

    Sometimes Lauren has to condense the panel members’ answers out of necessity…some of us have a tendency to write essays. So I’d like to share the full text of what I actually said. Specifically regarding Anonymous (#4)‘s comment—I didn’t say she should get lovey dovey with her mom, or her sister. I said she should have some compassion—which she should! She should understand (as Lauren talked about) that her sister and mom are facing some major issues and aren’t terrible people. We act on our experiences—clearly, a mom who does these things is a mom who has had some really awful experiences and is reacting to how they’ve affected her.

    My full response to “No Slut”

    First of all, I’m going to address your use of the term “slut”, which I take real issue with. Slut shaming is a serious problem in our society these days and it needs to stop!  What is a slut? Your sister has made the choice to sleep with a lot of people—it is exactly that, her choice. No one, not even you, has the right to judge her for it, or call her names that imply that her choice is somehow bad. You have chosen not to sleep with a lot of people—great, good for you, that’s your personal choice. You are individuals, you are allowed to do as you choose and judging people based on their personal choices is just not ok, ever. Reverse the situation—because this is something that definitely happens all the time. Plenty of girls who choose to remain virgins or just not to “sleep around” in high school or beyond are ridiculed and made fun of in our sexualized culture. Is that ok? NO!

    Specific advice for how you can deal with this: don’t fall prey to the slut-shaming culture of your peers. And stop judging your mom and your sister! The way you talk about both of them is disturbing and pretty unkind. Clearly your mom is not in the best emotional place, but have compassion, don’t be judgmental and mean!

    Be comfortable with who you are and the choices you’ve made. You are not defined by your family or by the opinions of others. Regarding the specific situation with your friend and her mom not allowing her to sleep over—there’s not much to be done. If your friend’s mom is dumb enough to think that your sister will somehow influence her daughter, that’s too bad—she needs to recognize that the choices her daughter makes are her choices, and at some point she won’t be able to control her. Just sleep over at your friend’s house if she can’t stay at yours. And maybe get yourself some therapy.

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  9. By Katelyn, age , from California on 04/14/2013

    LIVA,

    While I understand where you’re coming from, I have to disagree with your full response. Have you ever had your reputation ruined by a family member or a friend? It is hard to be compassionate when no one shows compassion to you, and “No Slut” is hurting just as much as her mother and sister. But instead of considering her feelings or helping her get out of the situation, you called her out on being “judgmental,” “unkind,” and “mean” instead! Don’t you think that’s a little unkind on your part?

    Also, when you implied that her sister’s lifestyle is not bad and said that her friend’s mother is “dumb” for believing it will be influential… First of all, her sister’s “choice” is (at least) unhealthy. I’m not saying this to judge her; I’m saying this because promiscuity has been shown to increase the risk of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and unhealthy or cheapened relationships. With this in mind, it would be better if you helped “No Slut” find a way to love her sister while still disagreeing with her. Because loving disagreement is possible. Secondly, the friend’s mother is partially right in believing that the situation would have an influence on her daughter. Even if it doesn’t have a visible impact on “No Slut“s friend’s choices, it may still impact her somehow. And even if it doesn’t have an impact on her choices, it will still impact her reputation. So calling the friend’s mother “dumb” was uncalled for.

    CALLIE,

    I’m sorry that you think I was “Pollyanna-ish” in my (shortened) response. I may not be on welfare, but I have had to deal with bad reputations before. I’ve had to tell myself over and over that being “well off” is not a pass for others to hurt me emotionally over other characteristics, such as my introverted personality, my tomboyish tastes, or even my race. I did have to move schools because I didn’t “fit,” and at one point I did tell my teachers what was going on. So I tried to speak from both common sense and experience.

    Best Wishes,
    KATELYN

    P.S. Here is my full response:
    ” ‘Slut-shaming’ often happens because people don’t know the reason behind the promiscuous sex. Most people I’ve met shamelessly have sex for recreation, and they’re the ones who prevent others from getting help*. In your case, your sister is probably acting out because of your mom, though she may also be acting out because she is friends with or feels pressured by the less decent crowd of your school, who probably do it because it’s ‘right for them.’ Even so, don’t let yourself continue to be a ‘slut’ by association. Face your peers. There’s nothing you can do about your sister’s actions, and even if you’re considering moving schools, you might as well clear the air. Speak out directly when someone makes a sexually suggestive comment towards you or when they tease you about being ‘the slut’s sister,’ and if necessary, get the faculty involved. If your best friend’s mom won’t let her go to a sleepover at your place, be content with having sleepovers at her place. Also, find someone to mentor you, or if you can’t, a group that can support you – whether it’s one available at school, at a local church, or just around town. A group related to a hobby or interest might also give you an opportunity to find good friends as well as a time to shine without your sister’s influence. False bad reputations are hard to shake, but given some time and effort, your true self will show through.”

    *Notes (just to clarify): 1) when I say ‘shamelessly,’ that’s their actual attitude, not my perception or opinion. 2) I’m not trying to judge or pity anyone; I’m trying to say that promiscuity is an action or reaction, both of which can be unhealthy.

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