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Being Bullied Probably Made Me Who I Am

We want to think that we can outgrow and move on from the bad things that happened to us as kids, but something will always stick. That’s how I feel about being bullied: I’d like to say that I’m over it, that it happened more than 15 years ago, but really, there are parts that have stayed with me and are probably a big part of the adult I became.

I was the fat kid. I’m still a fat adult. From the ages of 7 until 10 the other kids in my school took it upon themselves to make my life as miserable as possible. While I’ve apparently blocked out a lot of specifics, there is one incident I still remember.

I still think of it as one of the worst days of my life. Yes, other awful things have happened – broken hearts, deaths of loved ones, watching 9/11 unfold on TV – but when I think of terrible things that have happened to me, this is always one of the first places my mind goes. I don’t really remember how it started, but it was in fourth grade, I think it was toward the end of the year, and it was in the music classroom. I had been taking part in some college study about overweight kids and as a result had lost several pounds. Somewhere along the line I’d divulged my weight to a girl I thought was a friend. She apparently told someone else and the whole class suddenly knew the number (I should point out I still don’t know if she told someone to mock me or to defend me, so I can’t assume nefarious motives on her part). Suffice to say, it was ugly, and I went home feeling worthless and probably crying.

I lucked out. It got better after fourth grade because most of my bullies went to a different middle school and the ones that remained sort of left me alone. I guess losing the mob mentality helped. So it tapered off, and while I had to deal with the occasional obnoxious person in middle and high school, it was nothing near as extreme.

Of course, a lot of the damage was already done. I’ve had low self-esteem for about as long as I can remember. I still have a hard time making friends and I freak out when people try to get too close to me. Plus, I’ve battled depression. I know I can’t say for sure what caused that, but I’m certain bullying can’t have helped.

It isn’t all gloom and doom. There are good things that have likely developed from it. I have abundant empathy toward anyone who is marginalized. I don’t suffer fools or put up with anyone who abuses others. And I developed a strong sense of not caring what anyone thinks about me, which probably came about as a defense mechanism.

Hard as it is to talk about, I bring the subject, and my experience, up because it seems like it’s only getting easier for bullies to do their work. I can’t imagine how much worse my life would have been if I’d had to contend with idiots on Facebook after school instead of escaping to books or the few friends I had. There were no national outcries that kids like me were damaging the economy to empower my bullies. Don’t get me wrong – teaching kids how to manage their own health is important and I believe Michelle Obama means well. However, the language being used across the board rings a little too closely to the things that used to get shouted at me on playgrounds.

Maybe, in a weird way, being bullied helped my health, too. Because so many bad memories come up when I hear about weight and dieting, I figured out I needed to escape the damaging fat stigma and focus on what’s really important — health. Health At Every Size, to be exact. My “I don’t care what you think” side helped me find HAES, fat acceptance and fat fashion, all of which have provided boundless support, just by existing, and brought me closer to actually liking myself most of the time.

That is, of course, not to imply that everyone who is bullied has a happy ending — if this even qualifies as one itself. There are still suicides, years of therapy, and people who just aren’t happy. But we need to talk about it, about the bad sides and the parts that made us stronger. We need to teach kids not to bully and teach the victims that it isn’t their fault. And we need to consider how all of our words and actions have impact, even if it isn’t the impact we intended and even if our hearts are in the right place.

By [E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

13 replies on “Being Bullied Probably Made Me Who I Am”

I was raised by my dad from the time I was 6 til 19. He never remarried, and my mom wasnt much a part of my life in those early, crucial years of a little girls development of self esteem. My dad, bless his heart, just didnt know how to dress kids, let alone a little girl. So, my brother and I shared clothes. I wore non matching, mostly boys clothes to school. That right there made me a target. I didnt wear name brand, so my non-Nike shoes, my Wal-Mart bought shoes, made me a target. I have a small mark on the side of my face, called a Cafe-au-lait spot (its a symptom of a disorder I have called Neurofibromatosis). I remember in 5th grade, when the mark started showing up, a little boy in my class, who knew my dad was raising me, told EVERYBODY that my dad beat me, and thats where the mark came from. Middle school was worse. High school, I was pretty much a ghost…the bullies had either quit school or moved away or just left me alone.
But, like you, I think it made me a better person. I have a heart for the underdog, and when I work with kids I gravitate towards not the “popular” kids, wearing the expensive clothes and snubbing the kids that dont wear those same expensive, name brand clothes, but the ones that are sitting alone, the ones that just have that “look” about them. The same one I carried with me throughout my childhood.

I’m glad you have such a healthy perspective on things. I felt terribly bullied and picked on in junior high, and I still cling to an unhealthy amount of resentment, bitterness, and shame over it; I wish I could say I overcame it and am a stronger, better person, but honestly, I think I’m just a sadder person.

The thing is, I don’t even know if what I experienced was truly “bullying”; it’s just as likely that I was an overly sensitive kid with low self-esteem who internalized too much.

When I think back to some of the things my friends said to other kids, I am shocked and disgusted with childhood me.

I remember this girl, Heather. She moved from Kentucky to Michigan, was poor, and had crossed eyes. On her very first day of school, she threw up on the playground. After that, no one wanted to be her friend. We would find any reason to laugh at her and make sure she knew she wasn’t “one of us.”

I feel so terrible about that now. I knew that what my friends were doing was wrong. I lacked the self-confidence to stand up for her, though, because what if my friends lumped me in with her? I was terrified of being friendless. It was easier to just stand to the side and laugh.

On behalf of bully sidekicks everywhere, I am so sorry. I know that doesn’t even begin to make up for everything that victims have suffered, though.

I managed to get through elementary school without being bullied, but once I got to junior high, it was on. I managed to mostly stand my ground but it still hurt and led to a lot of crying in my room at night. I do think that being bullied helped me to develop empathy and the eventual ability to not be afraid to fight back as an adult. I’m glad I was strong enough to hang on and believe that things would get better. Being a kid is just damn hard.

Of course it’s not all unicorn giggles and Precious Moments figurines, but the one good thing that I got out of the experiences is the ability to analyze something objectively and critically. Not to be “well, I’m not like those people,” but I’ve found that people who had happy childhood social experiences more often than not don’t question the cultural status quo, e.g. physical attractiveness is everything, feeling that one must marry by a certain age, etc.

I vividly remember a group of girls walking up to me during recess and telling me “you’re fat, and we’re thin.” We were six at the time. It still shocks me that first graders were capable of being blatantly mean. Bullying taught me to ignore the haters, something I’m quite grateful for now.

This is a realization I came to a long time ago; and it did a lot to help me progress as a person. Basically, I like me, I like my friends, I think the topics and things I like are interesting. Without those years of bullying I would have been a very different person.

For years I tried to blame everything on my being bullied, but that’s just it; you’re not the only one. Every situation is different, but being caught up about it for the rest of your life won’t help a thing. Around sixteen I decided that I didn’t want to give my bullies the honor of being such a big part of my life. That really helped.

Every story of someone being bullied still hurts a bit though. Because you’re still a bystander, even though you can (try to) help with words and actions.

“Because you’re still a bystander, even though you can (try to) help with words and actions.”

This, so much. I remember how little it helped when people tried to tell me it was going to be OK, which makes it harder to hear about it happening to others. It was, like, you can say all the nice things in the world but I still had to get up the next day and go to school. I think that’s the hardest when it happens to someone else. There’s only so much comfort you can really give.

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