Teenager stereotyping learned first-hand

Deborra Brannon
Weed High School senior Destinee Jones

Destinee Jones’ emotions are still running high after revealing to her Weed High School community last week that she had pretended to be pregnant this summer as part of her senior project.

The WHS senior was the subject of gossip, direct insult, and negative Facebook and text communications when word of her supposed pregnancy got around.

Destinee said people told her to her face that she was stupid, that she was throwing her life away, and that they were very disappointed in her.

A couple of family members texted her to say they didn’t want to see her or talk to her.

“When I reached out to them saying that the experience was overwhelming, their response was ‘you brought it on yourself.’ They didn’t talk to me for about a month,” she said.

A lot of people she’d thought were her friends “didn’t invite me to hang out, because I was pregnant.”

“It was shocking how you are down because you’re young and pregnant and people just want to push you down even more instead of helping you through a tough situation,” she said.

Origin of project

Destinee decided to do the project so she could experience first hand stereotypes about teenagers and learn how they affect people.

One of her cousins had gotten pregnant at 15, Destinee said, “and she was always telling me how hard it was and how she didn’t want me to go through the same thing.”

Destinee researched and found out that a teenager in Oregon had done the same project. She rented a movie called “The Pregnancy Project” based on the girl’s project and decided to do it.

WHS Principal Mike Matheson said that even though deception was involved in the project, Destinee was clear from the beginning that “it was not an ‘I gotcha’ project but rather an awareness project. She documented the feedback she got so she can learn and help others be aware of the impact stereotyping has on teenagers.”

Her parents were among the handful of people who knew about the deception.

She said her dad, who was only 18 when Destinee was born, thought it was a “really good idea.” Her mom was supportive too, but told Destinee, “People are going to say a lot of bad things about you and to you. Just be careful.”

Destinee said her mom was absolutely right.

“I didn’t think it would be as hard as she thought it would be, but it was. Definitely,” she said.

Long summer

Destinee faked her pregnancy for three months over the summer.

Her fifth grade teacher reached out to her, reminding her that she still had options to complete high school and go to college.

Destinee said that was the most supportive communication she got from people who heard about her pregnancy because, “she didn’t judge me. She didn’t see me any differently, didn’t treat me any differently.”

She said her boyfriend knew about the project and was supportive, but “he said it was hard to watch me go through it all.”

When people asked her who the father was, she told them it was her boyfriend. But she said as far as she knows, no one talked to him about the pregnancy or talked behind his back about him.

Not only did people say things to her face, she said, they also talked about her behind her back, saying she was probably faking the pregnancy to keep her boyfriend and that she didn’t “dress like a mom.”

Destinee said one of the most hurtful things she found out some people were saying was that “if anyone would get pregnant, it would be me.”

As the summer went on, Destinee said, she wanted to hang out with her friends but didn’t want other people to see her because “people look at you like you’re just a disappointment.”

The direct and indirect feedback as well as the automatic assumptions that she wouldn’t graduate from high school or go to college, that she’d “end up on welfare,” and that she was “just a disappointment” took their toll.

Destinee said that, over time, people’s reactions and responses caused her to doubt herself even though she knew she wasn’t pregnant at all.

“When you’re told multiple times that you’re stupid, you start to think maybe you are. And you start to think, is this how people really think of me? Is that supposed to be me?” she said.

Destinee said Matheson told her that “some people just play the stereotype in their heads without even realizing it. They don’t see the real person, they see the stereotype.”

Early ending

Originally the pregnancy deception was supposed to last until the end of volleyball season, she said, but when school was about to start she’d had enough.

“It was too overwhelming at that point,” she said. “It was hard keeping the story going with people saying ‘you’re stupid, you’re not going to college’... hard to sit there while they’re throwing that at you. I just wanted to tell people the truth so they’d stop saying those things.”

She talked with Matheson and arranged to reveal the truth at an assembly on Sept. 2 during an enrichment period at school.

Destinee said he was concerned that some people might be mad to have been deceived and suggested she tell everyone why she’d done her senior project and what she’d experienced.

So Destinee presented a slide show revealing what people had been saying to and about her.

She thinks that, after the assembly, her friends and others “realized they’d been wrong, that what they’d been saying had been hurtful.”

Reflecting on what she went through, Destinee said, “Just thinking about it I can’t imagine what my cousin felt like. I wasn’t even pregnant. I can’t imagine what teenagers feel like who are actually pregnant.”