I remember the first time I thought I was ugly. I was eight years old and in second grade. My second grade teacher didn’t really care for the second graders in her classroom. It was a combination grade classroom and the majority of the students were first graders. I don’t remember the details but my mother does. She favored the younger children and often treated the eight of us second graders unfairly, not choosing any of us for student of the week, not focusing any attention on us and primarily teaching the first grade students.
It was this year that I began to feel big and awkward. I didn’t start to feel fat then (that would come later) I just felt like I took up a lot of space and for reason I was ugly. I’m not sure where the thought came from that I was ugly. Maybe a child told me I was or maybe I assumed I was because my teacher didn’t pay much attention to me. I could speculate but the honest answer is I don’t know. And I probably never will know why I began to think of myself as ugly and a large waste of space.
I do know why it continued. When I was ten and in fourth grade students actually began to call me ugly. My haircut was too short, I wore dresses instead of jeans, I liked wild printed skirts, I had huge glasses, my teeth weren’t straight, my shoes weren’t right – I was just wrong. And I felt big. Again – not fat just large like I took up too much space. I was too noticeable. If only I was smaller perhaps they wouldn’t see me and wouldn’t pick on me.
And then middle school came. I was a girl percussionist. I was ‘manly’. I still had short hair. I had no idea what designer jeans were. I didn’t wear a speck of makeup. I wore baggy jeans and ‘mom’ sweaters. I had a rolling backpack. I was a target. And then it occurred to me that not only was I everything they said I was (ugly, manly, a dyke,) I was fat as well.
High School: No longer were the tuants just quick insults or jabs they became innuendoes, suggestions and harrassements.
“wear spagghetti straps and short skirts – no girl wears chorderories and sweaters”
“let me take you to the mall, I’ll make you sexy”
“wear something lower tomorrow okay? I want to see your breasts”
“your butt would look better in something tighter”
“if you dress like we say you won’t be ugly anymore. You’ll be sexy. No boy will be able to stop looking at you. You’ll actually have someone like you for once. We’ll like you. Listen to us. We’ll fix you.”
I couldn’t dress like they said. But I could do something. I knew I was large. I knew I took up space. I knew I was fat. So I began to fix that. And I did eventually fix it. I fixed myself.
But my fixing myself? What did it lead to?
Near death. Hospitals. Tubes. Wheelchairs. Loosing all of my dignity. A year and a half spent in residential treatment far from home. So the question is would I have tried to fix myself if those bullies from my school days hadn’t spent so much time taunting me?
I think the answer is probably no.
Words hurt. Bulling hurts. And it leads people to places they never thought they’d ever be. It led me to depths of despair that I never in a million years thought I would reach.
October is anti-bulling month. Spread the word. Stop the hate.