'How Teenage Bullying Made Me The Person I Am Today'
The Debrief: Almost half of children aged seven to 18 have been bullied - but how does that shape the type of adult you become?
Standing in John Lewis the day before I started secondary school, I knew I’d be bullied in Year 7. I knew because 1) I’d been bullied in my junior school and 2) my mother was buying me the geekiest bag I’d ever seen.
To make it clear, I’m not blaming my mum or the green-and-tan-suede oblong laptop-case-cum-rucksack she praised as ‘sensible’. It’s just, I was going to need all the help I could get, and the bag was as good a reason as any for my new classmates to call me a loser.
Sure enough, they duly spent the next few years doing just that: to my face, behind my back, with facial expressions, by laughing near me, and by making pointed remarks about my ‘babyish’ face and my ‘fat’ little body.
This was upsetting but it’s also worryingly normal. A recent survey conducted by OnePoll shows that 49.6% of children aged seven to 18 have been bullied. That means almost half of all children have endured physical or emotional torment at the very place that’s meant to enlighten them and turn them into ready-for-the-world adults.
Thankfully, I was never beaten up, but the grinding misery of going to a small all-girls schools was terrible. Between Years 5 and 8, I was picked on every day. Sometimes it would be sarcastic remarks about my clothes (‘You’re the chicest girl in school’), other times it’d be whispers when I put my glasses on. And then there were the fits of giggles if I dared say anything in a lesson.
Even girls who were my friends put me down constantly – one opened my pencil case and shrieked, ‘That’s so sad!’ when she found a lipstick in there. Another would laugh at me because I had no tits. One made me go and fetch her bag every lunch break for two years, and would shout at me and say I was a ‘bitch’. Whenever I tried to stand up for myself, she threatened to cut me off as a friend.
I became so anxious around my classmates that I went through a year-long phase of wetting myself aged 13. I’d either be so happy they were talking to me or so scared to leave the conversation in case they started bitching about me. I gained a lot of weight when I was 12 because I’d spend the evenings comfort eating and losing myself in fantasy novels and episodes of Blackadder.
If nearly half of all children have been bullied, I wonder how many other girls in my school were going through the same as me. Did half of them learn to hate their reflection and cringe at everything they heard coming from their own mouth? Did they too spend hours before bed having pretend confrontations with their bullies?
If so many people have been bullied, it stands to reason that a LOT of people must have also been bullies. Despite being on the receiving end of taunts, there were at least two girls in my year I routinely made fun of. They were easy targets and I was insecure. I still feel bad about it.
But at the time, bullying was such a part of my life that, to deal with it, I either blocked out what was happening or justified their treatement as fair. I only properly realised I’d been bullied when, aged 18, I revisited my primary school and my Year 6 teacher hugged me and said, ‘It’s so nice to see you smiling. You always walked around here looking sad because the other girls were so horrible to you.’
At that moment, I realised that I wasn’t ‘a loser’, but that my contemporaries had gone out of their way to make me feel like one.
In university and still now in my twenties, I still find it difficult to make friends, particularly with women. I’ll normally stand on my own rather than initiate conversation with new people. And if someone I meet says anything I don’t like, I won’t give them a second chance. This probably means I miss out on a lot of great interactions and new friends, but it makes me feel safe.
Being bullied is something I’m glad I went through, but not because I think it made me a better person. I’m glad I was bullied because I couldn’t tie my personality to anyone else’s, so I developed my own. It made me read loads of great books and watch endless comedy on Channel 4 and write stories in my spare time.
And, perhaps best of all, it made me understand how truly resilient I am. It sucks that it’s so ubiquitous, but, unfortunately, there probably isn’t a single better test of character in schools.
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