Review: Author Shares Middle School Diaries to Fight “Slut Shaming”

Just a quick glance at the cover and it’s clear that the memoir by Emily Lindin is not your typical autobiography. Song lyrics and diary entries, scrawled in the hand of her 11-year-old self, take up every inch of the front and back, and spill onto the spine. Phrases stand out — “purposely slice,” “hurt too much” and  “watching myself cry hysterically” — that lead you to pick up the book and turn to the first page. There, the title jumps out at you: UnSlut: a Diary and a Memoir.

Lindin is an adult now, but on a recent trip to her parents’ house, she found the diaries she meticulously kept  during middle school. Reading the entries brought back memories she had long buried, recollections of being bullied as a “slut” after stories of her first experiences with a boyfriend were spread around school. At a time when she and her young classmates were adjusting to major physical, emotional and social changes, Lindin was basically harassed for growing up.

In her childhood town,  an unnamed wealthy suburb of Boston having a boyfriend was everything. Courting and dating were almost team sports, as squads of girls would ask out boys for their friends– when they weren’t competing with each other. Girls would use their newly developing bodies to get attention, and then be scorned as “sluts” for it. At the same time, boys confused by their raging hormones would use a girl’s reputation as an invitation: if a girl was considered a slut, they seemed to think, surely she’d put out or, at the very least, not care if he grabbed or groped her.

Lindin didn’t do anything outrageous to be labeled this way, at least nothing that countless other young people hadn’t done. Yet once the rumors escalated and the label stuck, her self esteem plummeted. She felt every boy was only interested in how far he could get with her, and when uncomfortable situations or outright sexual abuse occurred, she blamed herself for somehow bringing it on. The way she dressed, the things she did, and even the things she was only rumored to have done were used to taunt and belittle her through three years of middle school. She grew so desperate for acceptance that she’d go farther with a boy than she wanted to because she was afraid of losing him, and eventually she began identifying herself by the cruel word that others used against her. She began cutting herself to numb the pain and considered suicide. Only when she went to high school, and began discovering in herself talents for writing and singing, did she stop identifying herself as a “slut.”

Reading Lindin’s diaries may remind some readers of the mistakes they made as they stumbled through adolescence, although some may feel that Lindin’s experiences with boys started much younger than their own. But what makes the book so interesting are the comments that the adult Lindin adds in the margins of each page. With the wisdom brought by 10 years of life experiences, Lindin alternates between mocking her younger self for being flaky about boys (“he’s my soulmate.” “I hate him.”) to expressing disgust at the social structure in her school which promoted what she calls sexual bullying.  She also offers advice to young people facing the same issues today and the book includes resources about suicide prevention, bullying, sexual health and self-injury.

Lindin discovered that her experience is not unique. After she found the diaries, she published excerpts on a blog and received an overwhelming response from other young women who had experienced “slut shaming.” Those women described being harassed for their developing bodies, something over which they had no control; being made to feel dirty or inferior by cultures that believe a sexual woman is sinful; or feeling at fault as victims of sexual abuse. The response led Lindin to create the UnSlut project, a website devoting to sharing stories and resources for women. The project includes the book and a documentary film where women tell their stories. The goal, Lindin says, is to eliminate sexual bullying and “slut shaming,” and maybe someday remove the harmful label from our language.

Reading the book may make you stop and think about how we pass judgement on each other, how the rumor mill gets out of control and how young women struggle with the changes that accompany growing up. The book may help you sort through your own experiences, whether as victim or perpetrator of bullying. At the very least, the book is a look into one girl’s resilience: as bad as middle school was for Lindin, she recovered to become a successful author and adult.

For more information about the UnSlut project, visit www.unslutproject.org

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