I was bullied for about a year, in junior high school. It was a while ago, and it didn’t last long, but it did happen. I wasn’t the victim of a mob of mean girls, or a school yard tanning. It was one boy, known by many for his malicious verbal slingings, and it has stayed with me, even 20-years later.
I have stood on the other side of the fence too; been part of a group doling out unkind advice to other kids, and in keeping with my upbringing, I crossed the fence every time. I was taught words can be hateful, and hate can be hurtful, so I stood up for the other kid, most often alone. Yet instead of alienating myself, this usually brought events to a close, and off we went, my bullying friends and I, back into our own world of oblivion.
It’s different being the recipient of such taunts. Call it karma or what you will, but someone stood up for me too. While her support and defense will be forever remembered as bravery in the eyes of an 11-year old me, they cannot deafen the cruelty of a mean, angry little boy only minutes earlier. His words, directed at my appearance, have held lasting impact on how I’ve viewed my body.
I’m no shrink, and I’m not even going to begin to attempt to understand why a child would harbor so much hate for anyone carrying additional weight. I admit after multiple injuries, major surgery and a broken ankle I had gained a few extra pounds. It was tough on me already, working through the changes in my life due to a prematurely failing body (more on that another day), and compounding it with the aspect of starting junior high. But I digress, because in reality there is no reason that would justify his behaviour towards me, or the other victims of his verbal lashings. There is just no excuse for his behaviour. There is also no excuse for dignifying him with acknowledgement.
The thing is, we allow others to denigrate us, by accepting their words. Perhaps we don’t know it, but we often hold ourselves to the standards of others, and in that wake, we lose sight of what is truly important to us. In working so hard to regain my physique, I let go of the skill and ability that had made me a good dancer. I had misplaced my values for those of aesthetic mandates, and accepted appearances at all costs.
Over the years I have come full circle; I place value on achievements that are important to me. I accept at full value what my appearance means: I am healthy; I have a body that is well cared for, I am beautiful just the way I am. And yet that has come as no easy task, as I have often heard a voice so clearly remind me, perhaps my physique isn’t desirable at all. Perhaps my small frame would be better off smaller, or enhanced. At times of struggle, that same voice has been known to sling insults telling me I can’t make it, or that I won’t be enough. That voice, so familiar, so precise, can strike at the centre of emotion and bully me to near submission. I’m not alone; we all have this voice. No longer the vicious boy two lockers away, but a voice we all know as our own. We are each our own worst bully.
I attended a conference several months ago and the keynote speaker opened up with some personal stories of trial and triumph. Yet his focus was not his accomplishments: an internationally known writer, a well respected creative mind, an innovator, an Ironmaner. His focus was centered on the presentation of what he considered his overly distended belly. I could see an Ironmaner, he could only see an overweight 40-something. Self deprecation has become acceptable, and I no longer accept that.
So rather than focus on what you do not do, focus on what you do. Instead of looking in the mirror and demeaning what you do not have, treasure what you hold. Substitute the value of a slim physique with the importance of a healthy mind and body. Love the you you see, not the you you want. Whether it comes from someone on the outside or a deep voice from within, bullying is bullying and it has to stop.
Have you been the victim of bullying? Do you self-bully? How do you handle self-deprication? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave them in the comments below!