How I Overcame Bullying
I was thrilled to learn that October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it seemed like as good a time as any to share my story.
I moved to the U.S. from England in 1976 at age 7. My parents were American but we lived in England because my dad had a business there. From an early age, I felt like an outsider — a chubby Jewish American kid living in a relatively small city in England in the 1970s. All my friends were skinny British kids with straight hair and proper parents. I was short, a little overweight and had curly hair that refused to behave. My mom was an artist and often dressed in the hippy attire of the day much to my dismay. That meant bell bottom jeans and a macrame purse instead of the conservative attire of my friend’s parents.
When we moved back to the states, to Washington, DC, I was again an outsider — a kid with a weird English accent that the other kids made fun of. They teased me so much that I successfully lost my accent in a few months in an effort to fit in. But by then, the energy of being vulnerable and different seeped out of every pore. I would enter a room afraid of standing out. I chose clothes designed to help me fit in, and to this day, I rarely take big sartorial risks. Fast forward to seventh grade. I left public elementary school and went to a small private junior high school. There were about 15 kids in my class. And several of those kids were big bullies. They sussed me out as a target early on and my life was never the same.
Two boys, Sasha and Zane, taunted me every day, making fun of anything they could — my hair, my height, the way I talked, what I said. Nothing was off limits. The more they bullied me and the more I showed distress, the worse it got. I quickly became even more of an outsider. I remember crying most days, and I sank into what I now recognize as depression. The other kids would sometimes join in, and I recall only one girl ever coming to my defense and then she got bullied too.
Back then, when you were bullied, there wasn’t much that you could do. My parents spoke to the teachers but the teachers essentially didn’t do anything. Speaking to the kid’s parents only made things worse. I had a few friends but mostly, those two years were miserable and demoralizing.
After two hellish years, I transferred to a different high school but by then the damage was done. I was deeply sad, self-conscious, and uncomfortable in my skin, and even though I was considered by many to be a pretty girl, I never felt like it. My self-esteem was shot.
Although I wasn’t actively bullied in high school, I was never part of the in crowd and continued to feel like there was something wrong with me. Terms like “feeling seen” or “inclusiveness” weren’t used in those days, and there were no public awareness campaigns about bullying. If you didn’t fit it, then it was tough shit.
The atmosphere at my elite private high school in DC didn’t help matters. There were popular teachers and those teachers cultivated certain kids to be even more exclusive and insider-y. There was a lot wrong with that environment but that’s a story for another time.
I never had a boyfriend and didn’t really kiss a boy until I got to college. I had a terrible self-image, and actively hated a lot of things about myself from my body to my hair to how I spoke. The list was endless and even though there were days where I felt OK, I never truly felt accepted or loved outside of my family.
Looking back, I feel so much compassion for that young girl, and also so much sadness. How different my life would have been if I’d just been shown a little kindness and acceptance by my peers?
All of this self-hatred led to an eating disorder that started in 10th grade and that I didn’t fully overcome until my junior year in college. The roots of a poor body image went all the way back to as early as I could remember. They say you learn self-esteem and confidence from your parents, and my mom, a wonderful, beautiful, talented and kind woman was also never comfortable in her skin. I remember her always being on a diet and struggling with her own body image. Even though it didn’t register with me back then, it deeply affected me.
Years and years of self doubt, bouts of self-hatred, and depression followed and it wasn’t until my early 40s that I finally made peace with myself. I’m not exactly sure why or how it happened. Maybe I was just tired fighting with my inner demons. Maybe it was a shift in the culture to one of more acceptance for all different types of people and body types. Maybe it’s the wisdom of age and not giving as much of a crap about what others think. I finally learned to appreciate the woman I’ve become and the person I always was — a sensitive, kind, and intuitive soul. And for this awakening into self-acceptance, and even on occasion, self-love, I am truly grateful.
Bullying is a terrible thing to experience, and there are so many people out there who have had it much worse than I did. I’m writing this in the hopes that by sharing my story, one person will feel that they aren’t alone and that things can and will change. I encourage anyone who is suffering from being bullied to reach out to resources for help. And if you see someone being bullied, please, please speak up.