Breaking Up the Girl

How bullying affected me

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

He reminds me of me before the weight of the world crushed my spirit.

— The Simpsons

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I didn’t laugh when I heard that line recently even though it’s delivered hilariously on the show. It was more of an uncomfortable chuckle followed by a pregnant sigh. It took me back to a place where I could pinpoint when own spirit-crushing moment. Being bullied will do that to you.

Even before I was eleven has issues with self-esteem and anxiety, but everything culminated in sixth grade. I was struggling not just with the insecurities of burgeoning adolescence but the loss of a loved one coinciding with persistent and constant bullying at school.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

— An Idiot

Words do more than hurt. They can enrage, incite and do as much damage to a head as a sucker punch. One thing I’ve been grateful for is the fact that the world wide web was not in everyone’s home, workplace or hand when I was young. It’s a luxury today’s youth doesn’t have.

Of all the things I was called two I remember the most: “ugly” and “dyke.” There were more offensive things said to me, but they aren’t worth discussing let alone printing.

I first heard the slur, “dyke,” when I was thirteen. I cut off my long hair and wore it in a short pixie cut for most of eighth grade. I had to actually ask my best friend at the time what that word meant. As I’ve grown older that one didn’t stick. It wasn’t said to me in high school after my hair grew out but the reason it didn’t stick was because I’m not homosexual. Considering the people I’ve personally known LGTBQ community it now feels more like a badge of honor than an insult. That being said, I lived with that slur for a year, not a lifetime.

“Ugly” stuck. “Ugly” still sticks.

“Ugly” led me down a path of self-loathing that included toxic relationships, eating disorders, distrust, disdain, self-sabotage, and hatred of myself and others. It led me to refuse more often than not, to be photographed. It’s a path that could’ve ended me.

As far I was concerned “ugly” wasn’t an adjective. It was my name. I was called a lot of other things. But ones like “stupid,” didn’t stick. I felt I had proof I wasn’t stupid. Beauty is subjective. Ugly is subjective. I just couldn’t see that for myself.

When I look back at the few pictures that exist from my teens or twenties I feel that I was pretty and I was also not fat, as I constantly told myself. I was thin, and in some cases too thin as others constantly told me. When I tell others now that I was constantly called ugly, they look at me with incredulity and say, “Really?”

Yes. Really.

It takes two to make a fight.

— Possibly the Same Idiot

In high school when the bullying continued and began to get physical, I fought back. Even back then the rule was if a fight started both would be punished regardless of who instigated it. So in my sophomore year at school when a teenage girl who had been torturing me for weeks finally shoved me on the bus. I shoved her back and began to pull her hair.

She then the stupidest thing she could say in this situation:

“Ha. Is that the best you can do?”

So I did better. Gripping her hair I took her head and slammed it into the bus window. After that, the fight was broken up. I was going to be in trouble anyway. What difference would it make? I was even approached by one of my teachers who said in a quiet voice, “I’m glad you stood up for yourself.” This may have been the consensus but none the less I got an in-school suspension. Thanks for the kudos, teach. Words are meaningless without action.

It’s a myth that in most cases the bullied prosper while the bully fails. I’ve had the misfortune of running into some of my bullies in the decades that have passed. One even had the chutzpah to try to friend me on Facebook. Another is quite financially successful, married, and expecting their second child with his beautiful wife. The best I can say is: I hope your child is treated better than you treated me.

It’s so easy to laugh/It’s so easy to hate/ It takes strength to be gentle and kind

— Morrissey

So…Where do we go from here? If following the golden rule of, “treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” means you’re less likely to succeed then why bother? Because it’s the right thing to do?

Yes.

Maybe it’s saccharine. Maybe it’s naive but standing up for someone is worth something. Being kind to others is worth something. Another life is worth something. You are worth something.

I’m afraid that there’s much to be afraid of…

— Andrew Greig

That being said, I’d say between the internet and the era of Covid, we as a society have become so anti-social and so hateful towards everyone. Bullying has become the norm. I’ve worked in customer service since I was 15. The extremely irate, agitated clients that go on profanity-laced rants were something that would occur a couple of times a year. I deal with it on a daily basis.

However, it took a while to get this bad, it’s going to take even longer to get any better. The corny saying, “it starts with you,” is the truth. Start with yourself. Teach others: your friends, your family, your children. Don’t wait for someone else to do something. By the time someone else gets around to it; it’s over.

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