I was a sensitive young girl of 15, who couldn’t find anyone with whom to eat lunch at Winthrop High School. I was chubby, wore glasses, and bought most of my clothes at rummage sales and thrift shops, but I loved to write! I enjoyed my own company and that of my family and a few close friends.
I had been the victim of bullying, finding it almost impossible to get a seat on the school bus. One girl even held up a mirror to my face so that "You can see how ugly you are.”
I was the girl who was never asked to the prom. You’ve probably known someone like me, who found that a good book on a Saturday night was consolation enough to being dateless or running with the crowd.
In 1956, AND GOD CREATED WOMAN was released starring French Actress Brigitte Bardot. The steamy motion picture captured the imagination of many of my adolescent male classmates.
I found that “the boys” would call out "Brigitte" when I entered the classroom. Everywhere I went, the boys would refer to me as Brigitte, in class, at lunch, walking through the halls. Their comments were always accompanied by laughter. They were saying to me, “You are the furthest thing from Brigitte Bardot. You are a joke.”
I was so innocent, I didn’t know anything about Brigitte’s new movie, and not very much about Brigitte.
When I entered my English class, I was greeted by a chorus of “Brigittes.”
I noticed one of the younger male students had taken up the chant. He was a nice kid, and I couldn’t understand why he had joined the others in ridiculing me, so I asked him why he did it.
“Well, the other kids are doing it," he said.
“Don’t you understand how hurtful it is to me?” I asked him.
“I didn’t realize,” he said.
I had learned a very important lesson. Go to the weakest link and confront him.
I heard a voice above all of the chanting, and it was that of Philip Anderson, our outspoken English teacher. “She too will grow old!” he said, referring to Brigitte Bardot. Wise from his years of dealing adolescent boys, he knew what he was talking about, and no one ignored him when he spoke.
Brigitte Bardot is 84 years old. She holds controversial views. She is an animal welfare activist. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
Looking back, I realize that my confrontation of my classmate and Mr. Anderson’s comment helped put a stop to my being bullied in the classroom.
Two years later I passed around my school yearbook, THE ECHO, for my classmates to sign. I was a senior and graduated with four years of honor, was the Editor in Chief of our school newsletter, and Editor of our school Magazine. Most of the yearbook comments were the usual ones, saying how much fun we’d had in high school, and how we were all going to do great things.
Years later, I found my copy of the yearbook and read through the comments. One young man had written something very nice, but as I read to the end, I noticed in parentheses and written very small, the word, “Brigitte.”
POSTSCRIPT: It is 2018, and I am 76 years old. I never married by choice, nursed three people through terminal illnesses, have been given the chance to write books on antiques, cooking, and baking, and became a Co- Executive Producer of my own television series on PBS.
My sister, Sheila, and I have a large extended family of friends and colleagues. I like to think of my experiences in high school as a training ground for the challenges I would face later in life.
My experiences in high school were painful, but looking back 62 years, I realize that they were a very small part of my life then and an even smaller part of my life now.
Pandora wasn’t the only one who found hope!
THIS IS MY YEARBOOK PHOTOGRAPH MY SENIOR YEAR AT NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY IN 1964.